The usual caveat – I work for the Government Digital Service but everything here is my personal opinion only.
The UK Parliament Digital Democracy Commission published its report Open Up in January 2015 following a year of consultation and deliberation. I have written a number of times about the process and my reflections on the report. At the time Parliamentary Speaker, Mr John Bercow, suggested that the Commission meet again one year from publication to track progress of its recommendations. I attended that meeting on Monday morning at Portcullis House.
Overall it appears that Parliament has started to make significant strides in some areas to develop more modern ways of working. However, it continues to be potentially limited by an over-strong adherence to ‘tradition’ and back lack of digital capability in the both Members and staff. That said, I was mostly impressed by what I heard with one exception – the areas in Parliament involved in this work continue to be unnecessarily poor in the communication of the good work they are doing. If they improve this I believe it will encourage good feedback and lead to further partners seeking to help.
There is much transformational work still to do at Parliament but with a new Director General for the House of Commons, the same for Services within Parliament and the new senior management of the Parliamentary Digital Service there is lots of opportunity for change.
I will go through each of the ten areas highlighted by the Commission today below but for those who do not wish to read the full extend of the details I am also including the following section on my personal recommendations.
- Senior members of departments within Parliament that are responsible for implementation of sections of the DDC should be given objectives to ensure that their staff blog about the work that is taking place in regard to that at least once a month. As is often the case the current situation is an example of “good people, doing good things, that no-one knows about”.
- Members of staff within departments in Parliament should be trusted to communicate with the general public via blogging and other social media with as little oversight as possible (e.g. possibly head of department but not routed through any ‘comms teams’).
- Parliament should publish an departmental / team organisational chart on its website to allow those outside of the institution to further understand its structure.
- Departments in Parliament should be strongly encouraged to publish delivery roadmaps and proposed spending of the work they are going. This should be especially encouraged if this involves outsourced spending on IT services (e.g. the costings for the ‘lobby voting system’).
- PDS should be encouraged to share IT architectural proposals and digital prototypes with colleagues in other areas of government for feedback.
- PDS should consider whether it would like to take advantage of the GDS Service Standard assessment process to provide some “friendly feedback” on the prototypes of their new services.
- PDS should continue to work with the GDS Common Technology Services (CTS) workstream on areas such as the stated issues related to wifi reception.
- The “combined comms team strategy” for Parliament should be published as soon as possible.
- Parliament should work to gain certification for its open data.
- Members of staff should be strongly encouraged to participate in communities of practice related to their role. These include, but are not limited to, communities structured around the revitalisation of the cross-government IT profession (such as user researchers and content creators). This should be encouraged in all departments, not just PDS.
- As part of joining communities of practice members of staff should be encouraged to attend meetings and workshops outside of Parliament and join in with colleagues in online forums such as the cross-government Slack.
- There was some mention of user needs and user research at today’s session. It would be highly encouraging if the amalgamated set of currently identified user needs and an ongoing overview of performed user research was posted on the Parliament website or regularly blogged about.
- Mr Speaker stated that he wishes to “digitalise his community visit work” – by which I take it to mean he wishes to blog about his work. Hopefully this will encourage other senior role holders in Parliament to do the same.
- The Commission should organise a regular, perhaps bi-monthly, session where the topics covered today, and others related to the DDC, can be discussed in a many-to-many less formal environment.
The specific areas covered today were as follows.
Ensuring the everyone understands what happens in Parliament
A combined strategy for the various communications teams in Parliament has been developed. This contains a five year plan with a focus on a different audience every year. Improvements have been made in delivering real-time information such as tweeting divisions. Efforts have continued to introduce “plain english” into as many publications as possible. The comms channel called “Your Parliament” continues to be improved. Publishing to YouTube has increased. Working with users in pre-existing communities (e.g. Mumsnet) is starting to take place. Parliament and the National Archive won a BETT aware for Parliament in the Making. An evaluation framework for content and usage analytics is in development with academia.