I presented some of the findings of our work on the G8 dementia summit to the Digital Leaders the other week. The story I had to tell was about sustained open policy engagement over many months, using a range of digital techniques and channels - end to end digital engagement.
But I was surprised by how many of the comments in the meeting and afterwards were not about that at all. They were about the fact that we used a non-GOV.UK hosted page to present the live content on the day of the summit, rather than the GOV.UK topical event content format.
I've been talking to a few people recently about the proposition for GOV.UK. I have a fairly minor role in the work to refresh it, and I'm not sure what the final result will be, but I hope that a refreshed statement of what GOV.UK is for will be bold, clear and short.
It'll be tempting to use a refreshed proposition statement to describe every version of every type of service and every type of content. Or to use it to provide comprehensive answers to particular issues raised by people (like me) in departments and agencies.
But I reckon there are only really 4 or 5 broad types of thing that GOV.UK is for, and that they are relatively easy to describe. If a short statement of the proposition describes them well it will be memorable, and therefore useful.
And it should be possible to use those 4 or 5 things to guide decisions about what goes on GOV.UK and what does not, and what is prioritised for development. If a thing is consistent with the proposition, then GOV.UK is the default place for it. If it's not it's not.
But there is a grey area. What if something is consistent with the proposition for GOV.UK, but the GOV.UK platform can't support it? What if there isn't yet a content format that meets the user need?
Just because a good idea hasn't been prioritised for GOV.UK yet doesn't mean that work should stop until it has.
Since we moved the old dh.gov.uk site to GOV.UK last year we have always retained a platform to host the handful of things that GOV.UK isn't ready for yet. We use it to host the kind of things that we're expecting to be able to do on GOV.UK at some point.
When we have a new need (as we did recently when we needed to publish the government response to the Francis Inquiry - a document with 290 recommendations and responses, for which existing GOV.UK formats weren't suitable for meeting our users' needs), we do the work, fill in a form, and if the case is clear but the need can't be met in time by the GOV.UK team, we find a way to do it ourselves.
We're about to commission some work to rationalise and improve the ways we present this kind of pre-GOV.UK content. The list of things we need is short, and I expect it to get shorter over time.
At the moment it only includes:
- complex publications, particularly non-linear publications that we expect people to need to read, or refer to, in different ways (like the Francis response or our Autism strategy)
- commentable documents, for consultations or government led engagement exercises (like our official consultations, or like the engagement site we used to invite responses to the Vulnerable Older People's Plan, or the site we used to invite clause by clause comments on the draft Care and Support Bill)
- policy campaign landing pages, for government led campaigns that are run in partnership with others, and for which content comes from a range of sources (effectively the need here is for landing pages containing curated content on a subject, from GOV.UK itself, but also from exempt NHS sites and other partners)
For now, our task is to make sure that anything we do in this way meets GOV.UK style, design and other standards, and that it is integrated as far as possible with related content.
If I'm right that all of the above will be consistent with the refreshed proposition, I'd expect our non-GOV.UK platform to be unnecessary sooner or later.