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Saturday 10 October 2009

'Common look and feel', rationalisation and egov success

Public Sector Forums (PSF)'s Ian Cuddy reports that Worcestershire's councils have gone with a 'common look and feel' policy (aka 'standardised').

In the Twitter conversation it's been pointed out that the common design fails some standards and a link to a policy document explaining what they've done in detail hasn't yet been found (Cuddy is planning a story for PSF on Worcestershire's move).

Also mentioned thus far is the obvious link to rationalisation and savings: centralised web teams. Also procurement savings on Content Management Systems (and is anyone really pitching the wonders of Wordpress at local councils was my thought).

My first thought, though, was have they got the idea from the Singaporeans? People whose egov development is so good they are now seriously trying to export how they do what they do?

Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada (and NASA) all have what's called a 'common look and feel' policy. This is a set of standards which all government websites are required to adhere to.

Here's Canada's policy, interestingly run out of their Treasury department:
Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet (CLF 2.0)

The Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet were approved by Treasury Board ministers on December 7, 2006 and are mandatory for all institutions represented in Schedule I, I.1 and II of the Financial Administration Act with a two-year deadline ending December 31, 2008, for the conversion of existing sites. Web sites launched after January 1, 2007, must conform to the new standards.

The Internet is an increasingly important communication tool providing an effective means for the public and the government to exchange information and for the government to offer its services in the official language and at the time and place of Canadians' choosing. The consistent and predictable presentation of government services and content offered by Common Look and Feel standards facilitate effective online interaction.
The new Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet were developed to reflect modern practices on the Web, changes in technology and issues raised by the Web community over the past six years as well as to improve navigation and format elements. The standards were rewritten to eliminate duplication and conflict with other Treasury Board policy instruments and were reformatted to improve their structure and organization.

The new standards comprise:
Resources to implement CLF 2.0, including the template package, can be found in the Toolbox. A crosswalk table outlining the evolution of the policy requirements is also available on the Common Look and Feel Web site.

The Cabinet Office when drawing up its guidance (not 'standard', note) for government websites - Last Updated: 4/5/2007 - makes mention that EU policy has a recommendation for adoption of 'common look and feel' "in line with the Canadian model".

But this is only placed within the context of accessibility.

In my experience there is very little interaction between UK egov and the world outside and what there is is limited to the US and occasionally the EU. It's also my experience that the concept of a 'common look and feel' policy is practically unknown (though not entirely unknown).

Why aren't we seeing examples from places like Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong at UK egov seminars and conferences? Wouldn't it be useful for those in local government like those in Worcestershire to know that others have 'been there, done that' and 'worn', with justified pride, 'the teeshirt'?


  1. Hmmm... Not sure on this common look and feel thing. Many council's residents have a sense of pride in where they are and standardisation of this nature can make it seem like someone is trying to take away their 'uniqueness' as it were.

    Also, it can be confusing about just what site you're on - imagine if you're on the Bromsgrove website and click to a county webpage, apart from a subtle change in colour scheme and a new logo, you could be forgiven for thinking you were on the same website - people have enough trouble understanding what each council does as it is without counties and districts having similar websites!

  2. Well, that's an assumption and also a misunderstanding I've often heard of what these policies are about.

    This explains the Canadian one further:

    Creating a “common look and feel” for an extended family of related Web sites holds enormous challenges. The programs and services offered by Government of Canada institutions are incredibly diverse and each may serve a specific purpose, for a particular audience. In some cases, the purpose of a site may be strictly to provide information; in others it may facilitate delivery of a particular service. This standard is balanced so as to maintain an appropriate degree of consistency while giving institutions the freedom they need to develop Web pages that serve a variety of functions.

    Developing a Web site is not a one-time effort: well-designed sites are continuously evolving. Revisions are prompted by visitor feedback, better understanding of usage patterns, clearer focus of communications objectives, development of new material, modifications to existing documentation, and new interactive options. In the same way, the Standard on Common Web Page Formats will continuously evolve.

  3. A (very) minor point of clarification: the Canadian Treasury Board is not, as an innocent UK reader might assume, the equivalent of the Treasury. It has functions more akin to a civil service department and thus, in UK terms, overlaps with Cabinet Office as well as Treasury - it is separate from the Department of Finance. The Canadian govt CIO is based there.

    I think you may also be over-estimating the level of UK insularity. I don't know enough about thinking in local government to comment, but there was fairly widespread knowledge of the Canadian model in central government going back quite a few years. The creation of Directgov and Businesslink was a deliberate attempt to respond to the same challenge by a different means: with those in place, it became much less important that residual departmental sites should be homogeneous.

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  6. Interesting post. Didn't know Canada's CLF was influencing other countries. As a new version's is being considered the CLF's being discussed in a few non-government blogs.

    Also, this may be a better way to search for CLF references in the UK with ' "common look and feel"'

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