WRITTEN ON December 8th, 2011 BY William Heath AND STORED IN Uncategorized

IdealGov started in 2004 to talk through the gap between the reality of government IT and smart people’s aspirations of what it could be like. It was a fun conversation, many interesting people listened and took part, but government IT got steadily worse. The archive is there to read (maybe I shd get it bound into a book). But I’m now working on other projects and IdealGov is pretty much dormant.

But guess what: I scored an invite to today’s Government Digital Service launch. I feel I don’t need to do IdealGov any more. What they’re now up to seems exemplary, rapidly closing in on ideal. I watched, learned and loved it.

Francis Maude came across at the launch as informal, well-informed, tough, natural.
Photo: Paul Clarke

The government IT problem wasn’t just about competence or overspend, about the toxic mix of mediocrity and arrogance, or about greedy suppliers grown fat in the war on terror. The problem was one of intention. There seemed to be no sense of service, no empathy or warmth in what government was trying to do: just a language of coercion, targetting, and endless plans incorporating surveillance by design.

This has now changed out of recognition.

What we have in the new GDS is a team of breathtaking talent, design-driven, wearing their considerable power lightly, engaging with tenderness and respect, speaking with humility, mindful of their customers: those most in need of public services were repeatedly present in what was said.

The country is now broke. Yet this team moved into new offices in four weeks and has the best IT in the business – Apple laptops, LibreOffice, mobiles and phat pipes – and they reckon it cost 18% of what standard issue non-ideal government IT would have cost. The development work is done in house. They use standard interoperable and modular tools. Anything they in turn produce is open sourced.

Full praise to all involved: Francis, Martha, Ian, Mike, Tomski and the teams. Good to see Etienne and Emer there, and to catch up with the noble Lord Allan, Nigel Shadbolt, HarryM, Jerry, paulclarke, pubstrat and others. Tom Watson and Ruthie should have been there – you’d have both loved it.

Let’s give some credit to those who started the change in the previous administration. Let’s spare a thought for those left out of the celebrations or already dislocated by the changes to date. There will be many more; this is the start of something big. But it’s something important and exciting, and I’m much looking forward to what is to come. Beyond the glimpses we saw today of new maternity and universal credit services I’m looking forward to a new “power of personal information” agenda. Instead of giving our personal data away (far from #ideal) I look forward to the convergence of ID assurance, midata and personalised, participative online services when we put structured data and building trust on the side of the individual. But that’s another story, starting properly in 2012…

GDS Launch
In her own image: Martha Lane Fox, appointed under the previous administration as UK digital champion, was credited for her original vision and unstinting support of what has become the GDS.
Paul again (who else?)

Other refs
Martha’s blog
Mike’s blog


Here are Tom Loosemore’s single government domain slides, with sneak previews of what new services such as maternity pay and universal credit might look like (embedded from Slideshare, in the new spirit of openness).

4 Responses to “This is more like it: #GDSLaunch”

Two worlds, not quite yet colliding | Public Strategist wrote on December 9th, 2011 9:25 am :

[…] There was an enthusiastic crowd of supporters twittering furiously and other blog posts are starting to appear. The dress code was smart casual, with a lot more emphasis on the casual than the smart. […]

Presentations from #gdslaunch | Government Digital Service wrote on December 9th, 2011 12:57 pm :

[…] William Heath: This is more like it: #GDSlaunch […]

net.wars wrote on December 9th, 2011 8:48 pm :

Reversal of government fortunes…

What if – I say, what if? – a country in which government IT projects have always been marked as huge, expensive, lengthy failures could transform itself into a country where IT genuinely works for both government and the people?……

William Heath wrote on December 10th, 2011 10:38 am :

Indeed. Dare we hope? Well of course. Let’s take nothing for granted. And let’s make plans based on the contingency that this might actually work.