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‘Digital by Default’ will be a complex and costly transition but the initial infrastructure is now in place

LSE - The launch of GOV.UK was accompanied by extensive hoopla, some of it markedly self-congratulatory in tone, that hailed the site’s revolutionary approach to service delivery in putting the needs of users rather than the needs of government at the core of its functionality. Martha Lane Fox, the UK Digital Champion, described the arrival of the new site as being “as profound a moment for us as citizens as the laying the first railway track or the designing the first school curriculum – it’s the beginning of the blueprint, values and style for the next wave of services that we will use into the next century”.

Putting hyperbole to one side, there is no doubt that GOV.UK represents a step forward in the organisation of the government’s digital resources. The design team (the Government Digital Service) built and utilised an application to map and prioritise typical and unusual user needs from the webpages, which they titled – wonderfully – the ‘Needotron’. The outcome of this work is a website that is informed by user-centred design principles in a way that its predecessors weren’t, and, if its been done well, that will exceed previous levels of usage and satisfaction.

Alongside the benefits from increased usage are the potential for cost savings and further economies as more government departments adopt the GOV.UK standards for online service delivery. Frances Maude claims that the new pages will cost taxpayers £70 million a year less than the services that it replaces. It is hoped that the open source technologies used will make web publishing simpler for government, and therefore allow them to deliver more – and better – services online.