e-democ / e-gov

Alan Mather on the Government Gateway

In celebration of the Government Gateway’s 4th anniversary Alan Mather has posted a look back on how the Gateway came to life.

The Gateway’s birth was controversial to say the least. I made my own contributions to the fuss through my work with LinuxUser magazine, especially the Gateway to failure article [PDF]. By making a Freedom of Information request (scroll down to see request and response) I managed to squeeze some information out of the Government but also got shouted at the next time I went to visit the Office of the e-Envoy. Ah well… I did get my first mention in NTK and The Register!

Let’s be clear… the Gateway works and four other countries are using it. I can’t judge if it does or doesn’t lose messages – Alan claims not a single message has been lost by the system. Of course there could be more features, better usability and so on – there always can be. For a Governmental IT project, once the initial Compaq mess was cleaned up, the project was fairly successful and there are millions of registered users.

The issue in my mind still is that for a project so fundamental to the future of all e-government interactions things should and could have been done differently. An Open Source, collaborative approach with community buy-in would have been a more citizen-centric way to proceed. And this isn’t a pipe dream – Estonia have taken just such an approach for the development of their digital identity scheme. Governments build hospitals, schools and technology for the people who empower authorities with votes and money. An understanding and respect for this should be evident throughout the life of our government’s IT projects.