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Sometimes it feels like the world is very small.

Let me explain. At the Department of Internal Affairs we’re preparing to redevelop newzealand.govt.nz. As part of our initial research we have been talking with other governments—the bits that run their national portals and digital services.

We’ve found that the issues we face are global. We are all dealing with having less money and resource, while still delivering to growing expectations of government online. The old patterns of siloed agency behaviour aren’t working. We can’t afford not to collaborate.

That’s why it is truly salutary to talk to other jurisdictions, to learn about what they have implemented, what’s worked and what the ‘lessons learned’ are.

United Kingdom

We’ve all been inspired by the work of the Government Digital Service (GDS) in the UK. Their commitment to user centred design, site iteration based on feedback and transparency is awe inspiring. We were lucky enough to have the lovely Lana Gibson from GDS visit us earlier this year (she is a Kiwi and was home on holiday). So we got to pick her brain about the really different approach GDS are taking.

They’re working in agile mode, like a start-up, engaging with digital innovators like the BBC and the Guardian—on the back of assertive political engagement at the top level of government. This can be seen in their ground breaking (for government) approach to designing ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ GOV.UK sites. The site will be fully live in October.

United States

There’s a sense that the global recession has provided government with an opportunity to throw out old ways of working. It’s a chance for government to show leadership—like the US with their Digital Strategy.

We had a great conversation with Gwynne Kostin from the Digital Services Innovation Center, Shelia Campbell from the Center for Excellence in Digital Government and Sarah Crane of USA.gov. They’ve got ambitious ‘milestone actions’ with target timeframes which focus on mobile first, making open data the default, user centred design, customer satisfaction performance metrics and more. They’ve instituted a .gov domain freeze to control the growth of unconsidered websites and the related spend.

Australia

Closer to home, we had a visit from the super Rita McPhail from South Australia. She’s been instrumental in the adoption of the franchise model for collaborative content development on the South Australian government’s sa.gov.au.

Recently, we’ve also talked to Tom Canning from New South Wales about their plans for Service NSW, a one-stop-shop for government services replicated across all the channels—from face to face to digital—to improve service delivery and reduce costs.

Lessons learned

So, lessons for us? Here are a couple:
  • Change the way we work in government. Whether it’s using the franchise model or working like a start-up, it’s plain to see that only by changing our work structure will we be able to transform the outcome.
  • It’s all about you. I can’t think of one government who isn’t shifting the focus away from what government agencies deliver, to what people want. Part of this is working in an agile, iterative way, making changes based on feedback and user testing.
The great thing is, no matter who we’ve approached, they’ve all been happy to talk, to share strategies, pitfalls and successes. We’ve even had some laughs along the ways, usually about the common challenges that we face working in government in 2012.

So, when you’re stuck on a problem, remember to reach out. It could be to an agency in the same town, or to another government. In this ‘small in a good way’ world, it feels like we’re in this together.

Who do you reach out towards to share information and solve problems?

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