e-democ / e-gov

Death of the Department

Just posted over at Ideal Government:

Peter Reed's earlier post addressed the challenge of creating joined up government by proposing non-governmental intermediaries aiming at specific markets of citizens.

I would like to offer readers a different model. But first, why is 'joined-up government' desirable? I think it's pretty straightforward to see that most of us don't really care who supplies a service, we just want it to work. So when I renew my car's tax disc at the Post Office I'm not concerned over whether it's Royal Mail, the DVLA or the Department for Transport responsible. I just want the disc so I don't get fined.

The sames applies for any kind of service I can imagine. Need a new kidney? Fine, give it to me and fast. Information on whether Brighton beach is safe for swimming? Yes please. And so on… as long as the service is of a good quality, accountable and available I'm not fussed. Of course for logistical purposes and to ensure accountability we need ministries, agencies and so on. Government would be just unmanageable without it and Parliament would be incapable of keeping tabs on matters.

But when it comes to service consumption we want it to be easy to find and use – in other words joined up. We don't need departments for online service delivery. What we need to do is use content management technology and XML-based standards like Resource content:encoded Framework to connect services and pull information from departments together into a single government portal.

Not portals again you all cry! Well actually yes. But instead of just always pointing to somewhere else this new site would actually do the services itself. Let's look at an example. If you visit Directgov looking for work you are presented with external links to the following brands which seem to offer overlapping services: Jobcentre Plus, Worktrain, Jobpoints, Jobseeker Direct, New Deal, learndirect… Confusing to say the least. If we travel into the future and visit the new government portal and look for jobs what do we get? Immediate access to jobs listings, advice and locations of the nearest office to visit for more help. No more external links, just services right there and then. If we want we can personalise the portal to our needs. I own a small business so show me the VAT return services. You are a single parent, you want to see how tax credits work and when you'll get yours. We all need to feel confident that such personalisation isn't at the cost of our privacy. Such confidence won't be built by technology but by processes and legislation.

Directgov is complicated and it really doesn't do much at the moment itself… Directgov currently has 76 links on its homepage compared to 13 for Google. While the search on Directgov is pretty good few would argue that you can go to more places with Directgov compared to where Google can take a browser. Simple, standardised technologies could reach across all the government silos to provide easy access for citizens.

This isn't about bashing Directgov, it's a MASSIVE improvement on what went before. I'm just painting a picture of what we could have: simple, easy online government which is department-agnostic. That's what I'd like to see in my ideal government.