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Beyond the publishing machine

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The publishing machine is a relatively small part of our corporate digital effort at the Department of Health. We try to service it as efficiently as we possibly can so that we can focus more of our creative energy elsewhere, where we think we can be most useful.

Crop form the corporate publishing concept diagram

The work on the corporate beta has (so far) focussed on the publishing machine - those things that all government department websites should do, like stating policy intentions, and publishing news and publications.

At DH we have a strong interest in how the single domain will help us to do some of the other things that we want to use digital for, in particular the solutions that emerge for policy participation, specialist guides and campaigns.

Here are some of the things that we use our website for now that fall outside the publishing machine, and therefore probably won't feature at first in the beta. I'd expect to be able to do most of these somehow in the single domain by the time we switch over.

  • Blogs, eg Kate Billingham's blog - we have handful of standard blogs like this one, David Behan's and my own.
  • Engagement sites, eg Caring for our future - this was a time-limited site that ran during an engagement exercise on changes to the social care system. It contained lots of contributions from people outside government, news and webchats, and a formal route for direct comments into the policy making process, although it wasn't a consultation.
  • Consultations, eg An Information Revolution - we've had a go at using Citizen Space as our online platform for formal consultations. I'm not sure we've got the best out of it, but it's a step on from a PDF and an email address (we still do some of those too).
  • Crowd-sourcing exercises, eg Maps and Apps - this was an exercise to identify the best health apps, using Ideascale to do the crowd-sourcing bit.
  • Email bulletins, eg Chief Nursing Officer bulletin - we have a few of these, targeted at particular sections of the health and care workforce, with tens of thousands on the subscriber lists.
  • Curated content, eg Health conversations - this is just an alternative way of presenting existing content at the moment, but we have plans for using things like this to present curated content from elsewhere.
  • Circulars and letters, eg circulars for NHS staff - we have lots of circulars and letters to staff sitting in our corporate website repository - they contain current information, although some were published a fair while ago.
  • Pledges, eg the Public Health Responsibility Deal - we use a system to collect, manage and publish pledges from our responsibility deal partners.
  • Online stores, eg the Campaign Resource Centre - used to store and share materials from our public health campaigns. Our publications orderline does something similar.
  • Public bodies, eg NHS Commissioning Board - we have a few public bodies - like the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Care Quality Commission - who have had good reason to run separate websites in the past. We also have new shadow bodies emerging as a result of changes to the health and care system, some of which use DH tools and platforms for their websites.

Most of the above now use a version of our HealthPress theme for the bit that users see, with a few different things going on behind the scenes to meet particular needs.

I'm pleased with some of what we've done in the last year. But I won't be precious about repeating the methods or using the same tools next year - I'm sure we could do it all better, differently. Some of the tools may not be available to us anyway when our contracts with current suppliers end.

What is certain is that we will have more ambitious objectives for our digital work next year - particularly for policy engagement, and engagement with the health and care workforce - so I'm looking forward to finding out what new possibilities emerge as we move towards the single domain.

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  1. Comment by Neil Williams posted on

    Very helpful list, Stephen. It's certainly true that we have focused on publishing so far. We're laying the foundations. But that's not to say we're ignoring these other, important parts of the digital government offer.

    We have done a fair bit of thinking and talking - including a half day workshop with some of the most active digital engagement practitioners in and outside Whitehall - about how we turn the Alphagov vision for 'digital by default' consultation and policy engagement into reality.

    For my money, it's a space where departments/agencies and SMEs are best placed to drive creativity and innovation, with GDS playing a nurturing and enabling role. I want us (GDS, Depts, SMEs) to be working together to take the best approaches and make them the new baseline.

    The detail of how we do this is all to play for. We need to focus more on this in the coming months to start taking the ideas forward. There's a lot to do!