e-democ / e-gov

Taking the time to get things right

Despite the widely reported Accenture survey which showed the UK government slipping down the e-government performance league table, I say let the government departments take their time to get things right.

The original government gateway was horribly rushed (PDF) resulting in all sorts of problems including the exclusion of non-Microsoft browsers and some wacky PKI implementations. The methodology of these surveys is open to suspicion but that doesn’t prevent them exerting some pressure on departments. I wish they wouldn’t… just slowing down a little would help immensely in making good design decisions which we’ll probably have to live with for a long time. That isn’t to say that like many long time Internet users I’m impatient for the government to be a bit more like!

My current favourite example of a British e-government transactional service has to be the Court Service’s Money Claim Online which is simple and easy to understand. I was owed some small sums of money and probably would never have found the time or inclination to file a Small Claims Court case. Too much hassle, I’d need to find a court to file in, probably involve a solicitor and so on. With Money Claim Online I pay a small fee (£30) and type everything in online then bang off the claim goes. Fantastic.

There’s one small niggle in that your claim details explaining the situation have to be typed in a box which states that no more than 24 line are allowed. But it seems that when the box wraps a line of text this counts as an additional line of text, instead of just when I enter a line-break as one would expect. So I had some fun re-formatting my claim to get past the error messages. Other than that it worked wonderfully… well I haven’t got the money yet, but I’m hopeful.

The Money Claim Online service reduces the transaction costs of individuals wanting to get some justice but have previously felt that it wasn’t possible due to the cost and complexity. Making litigation easier may not be that desirable in the end, but making access to government services in general is highly desirable.