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Wednesday 21 March 2007

Egov's disconnect from the Web

I posted earlier about a debate amongst eGov workers prompted by the arrival of NeighbourhoodFixIt.

The new site allows people to report common 'street' problems (like Potholes) on a map, via a simple interface. This fires off an email to the Council or Councils (sometimes two local councils share responsibilities for an area). The problem for eGov workers, as articulated, was simply that systems have been set up for people to fill in a form on the council website. Firing off emails reporting problems which don't follow this route throws people.

The debate about this has been raging on a Board I participate in. It's now pretty circular: the same 'issues' keep getting repeated and it became clear to me that many posters simply didn't understand the complete normality of a site such as neighbourhoodfixit and — as my earlier post explains — that this isn't the only site acting as an intermediary for reporting problems to the council.

My suggestion (actually a reversioning of an earlier point) was for people to consider creating widgets. These would send people directly down the correct reporting structure, only they'd start off on other sites.
Widget example

Not only would this solve the issue which seemed to vex people the most ('please use our lovingly created form'), it would also promote electronic reporting ('transactions') directly to a key audience and undoubtedly result in far greater 'take-up'.

This is a completely 'left-field' suggestion though. Not something which would have been considered, or, more importantly, suggested by those driving eGov.

For years, everything pushed at local government web development has been tailored to our little 'walled garden'. Very little has come through from any direction (Whitehall, SOCITM, or favoured suppliers) about the reality of the web and almost nothing which keeps us up-to-date with web developments (e.g. widgets are common ecommerce practice).

What we get told is important is either very particular to us (metadata/our processes) or dated, basic stuff which should have been prioritised years ago ('your site must be usable').
  • Much of the 'take-up' advice (what exists) is way out of date or misleading.
  • 'Bibles' like Better Connected encourages stats use and comprehension — but where's the advice on that?
You can always see easily what's engaging eGov by simply looking at what conference organisers are pushing, they make money by giving us what they think we want. So where is there any session/conference/workshop etc. organised by any of SOCITM/DCLG/TGOV/ECITIZEN/PSF/ESD etc. about Google?

As far as I can tell there's another huge annual eGov shindig coming up at Excel where there's nothing about Google. The elephant isn't even in the room.

At the rate eGov moves it'll be Summer next year before anything remotely addressing the vital and huge areas of Search or Ecommerce is organised by anyone in the entire sector. This is simply an enormous disconnect.

The rest of the web might as well be another planet as far as eGov is concerned — yet the demonstrable gains from even a bit more common understanding are enormous.

As far as I can tell, few local councils are doing serious work with something, for example, as important as Google but then we have no advice from the sector about how to deal with it — when Google is the key gatekeeper for 'transactional' content. This background explains to me why the reaction to NeighbourhoodFixIt has largely been, 'Why weren't we consulted?' rather than 'How can we take advantage of this?'

If eGov workers don't understand that this is how the web works or that this is how the web's developing, I blame Whitehall.


neighbourhoodfixit seems to have received a good reception from web 2.0 practitioners in London, if this post and this post are anything to go by. And from what comment there is in the blogosphere.

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