Alpha.gov.uk: UK Government goes Agile

It was interesting to find out more the other day about alpha.gov.uk a new site by the UK Government. At first I was confused; “wasn’t there already a central online hub for the UK Government’s services in the form of Directgov?” Directgov was only established a few years ago and enables users to search and complete a range of tasks, for example pay Council Tax or find childcare. So how is alpha.gov.uk different?

  1. It’s all about creating a single web domain – Similar to BBC.co.uk the site aims to host a range of tools addressing the most popular user needs.
  2. It’s a prototype! Rather than spending years (and a lot of public money) on creating a full-fledged site, alpha.gov.uk is just a prototype to gather feedback from users at a very early development stage.
  3. ‘Real feedback from real users’ – The beauty of releasing a site as a prototype is that you can generate real-time feedback from actual users who come to the site for a real reason (and not because of user testing purposes).
  4. It’s all about how it was built – Creating a change in the way gov.uk sites are developed was an important goal behind alpha.gov.uk. The site was developed in an agile way, using cheaper, open source software technologies and concentrating predominantly on meeting as many user needs as possible.

In the space of about 10 weeks, Tom Loosemore and his team have done something which probably would have taken any UK government body ages to achieve: the creation of a single platform which integrates a whole host of apps, APIs and bits of content. Even though alpha.gov.uk is only at the prototype stage, it shows the promise of a platform that can be extended rapidly and easily.

Main learning point: even though alpha.gov.uk is by no means the finished article it does show a lot of promise. It’s very candid in what it is not but it gives the user a good flavour of what a single government website could look like. The fact that alpha.gov.uk is a single platform which can be built upon relatively quickly and cheaply is a massive achievement in itself. I guess what I like most about the site is that it was created using an iterative approach, with a healthy dose of pragmatism and user focus.

Related links for further learning:

http://blog.alpha.gov.uk/blog/agile-does-work-in-government

http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/directgov-2010-and-beyond-revolution-not-evolution

http://www.netmagazine.com/news/prototype-launches-single-government-site

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2011-05/11/alpha-gov-uk

http://ukcampaign4change.com/2011/06/02/alpha-gov-uk-shows-how-agile-can-work-in-government/

http://dxw.com/2011/06/how-alphagov-might-change-uk-government-for-the-better/

http://mikebracken.com/2011/05/on-becoming-executive-director-of-digital-in-the-cabinet-office/

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