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NSW shoots for the Holy Grail of government websites


It is being modelled on the UK’s gov.uk, which under then minister Frances Maude crashed through deep resistance from the big departments to force a consolidation of content. Gov.uk is designed broadly around user life-cycle needs, such as the birth of a child.

In Australia, several states and the Commonwealth have been operating consolidated portals for several years, under their top-level domains, but NSW is the first jurisdiction, backed at cabinet level, to close down websites of smaller and mid-size agencies.

Not every NSW government website will be closed, with high-visibility web brands like the Opera House and agencies that need to be seen to be separate from government not within the project scope.

The first beta version will go live in about a month with content from within Mr Dominello’s customer service and regulation portfolio, including birth death and marriages and fire relief packages. It will use the Drupal content management system, consolidating its hold on the public sector, where Drupal’s purpose-built Gov CMS (and versions thereof) has emerged as the open-source publishing system of choice.

Shrinking pains

The federal government in 2015 launched a beta version of gov.au modelled on the UK using a series of exemplars, but it was shut when then CEO Paul Shetler left. He met deep resistance from the big departments, which thwarted any attempt to cull the Commonwealth’s estimated 900 websites.

The NSW move heralds a broader system redesign that would see government delivered through highly automated centralised service and publishing sites, making potentially redundant many of the smaller and mid-size agencies that have supported these services.

The newly formed Australia Data and Digital Council (ADDC) of digital ministers has prioritised work around life-cycle events, opening the opportunity for state and federal governments to begin creating common Australia-wide content across all governments.

The move to a consolidated easy-to-use web presence for users has challenged all governments, with a mix of governance, technical, design, content and maintenance issues thwarting moves to try and create integrated, easy to understand information for users in an ever-changing world.

The Victoria Government has been building out its single presence site around the services offered through the Department of Premier and Cabinet, but has not mandated its use by bigger agencies.

Produced after a long period of research around citizen user needs, it is built on a sophisticated open-source publishing stack that integrates into the front end of other websites – so-called “headless CMS” – enabling agencies to share development and maintenance costs.

This enables multiple agencies to use common publishing elements and functionality. Treasury and Finance, Victoria Police, and some divisions of Education and Health have moved to the platform.

Embracing commonalities

This approach also promotes a common look-and-feel, information menus and web architecture, so citizen users do not have to relearn how to navigate every new agency’s web site.

Rather than build a whole new tech system, it exploits the use of common technical interfaces (APIs) to easily connect agencies services and content into a single front end.

Importantly, this approach has been adopted by the ADDC, with the council late last year adopting national API design standards that will allow “all levels of government and trusted third parties to securely share, re-use and enhance data in real time”.

The bigger challenge is the curation and maintenance of content around user needs. This includes the management of a federated publishing model that enables agencies to distribute and maintain their content across multiple channels and web sites.

Gov.uk invested heavily in well-written content, curated around common citizen problems and concerns – a process that has taken several years to complete.

Research has suggested users use search for one-off questions about government, but typically browse government web sites, using the navigation to find what they think may be the solution. By ensuring this information is in one place, citizens will no longer be unsure if they have the latest or best information.

A working group from around Australia and NZ will meet in Melbourne this month to consolidate learnings from the various research and work around the development of life-cycle content and services.



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