London Web Performance Group – Helping Transform UK politics?

Date: 17th January 2013
Author: Deri Jones

I had a great time at the London Web Performance Group last night.  Good to network with a bunch of like-minded folks with website performance as an item on their agenda.

But was most fascinating to hear about the www.gov.uk project from Gareth Rushgrove of the Government Digital Service, which is an agile team of around 200 online savvy civil servants transforming the websites of UK government departments.

They are doing this by:

  • pulling them into one CMS central system (saving money against the one site per department model)
  • running a very modern Agile platform, cloud based, with ‘Infrastructure as Software’ at the core
  • Less is more.  This is a Content Editing issue more than technology, but aiming to drop as much of the content as they can from the mainline pages, aiming to answer simply and directly the questions the 99% of citizens have

This team may be showing up some of the big companies out there!

The group is only a few months old, but is making very fast progress, especially when you consider the size of the civil service community they are trying to serve and steer towards good online practise: nearly 500,000 civil servants!

Their challenge for 2013 is to bring online a central access to all the transactional services for citizens. It will be interesting to see how  the new risks in this pan-out and what flavours of  ‘do what the customer does’ monitoring assist in that.

I asked Gareth afterwards how it was that the behemoth of the civil service was persuaded to embrace this new, agile, non-bureaucratic approach to online.

He says it was a  modernising agenda  driven by Francis Maude, politician and Minister for the Cabinet Office. It is the Cabinet office, it seems, that is at the centre of the civil service management.

Gareth suggested Maude was (perhaps unusually for a career politician) more interested in actually changing the system for the better, not just talking sound-bites about change!

That’s probably also uncommon among  career-motivated managers at any large commercial organisation too!

In addition, a key role in the online transformation was also played by another very energetic personality: Martha Lane Fox. Marths is the well known founder of lastminute.com, and since 2010, UK Digital Champion to government advising how online public services delivery can help to provide better, and more efficient services. She is the author of Manifesto for a Networked Nation.

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