On reflection, if you’re going to put two of the most forward-thinking people in e-government into the same department, great things are probably to be expected. BERR (as was)‘s Neil and DIUS (as was)‘s Steph put their heads together on Monday afternoon, and on Wednesday, they launched a new corporate website for the newly-created Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It’s based on WordPress, with a bit of RSS magic, and the help of a few (free) web-based tools. And it’s brilliant.
Steph documents the work with characteristic modesty:
It won’t win any design awards, and the downside to Heath Robinson web development will no doubt be some quirks in reliability. But happily, we can say we haven’t spent a penny on external web development or licencing costs, and we got something up within 3 days. Compared to the static, hand-coded site DIUS had for the first 18 months of its life, it’s a start, and a little bit innovative too.
Actually, I like the design: it’s forcibly simple, but that’s no bad thing, and is something they should try to maintain in the long run. There may be quirks; but that doesn’t make it any worse than some of the £multi-million CMSes in Whitehall. Yes of course it’s work in progress, but isn’t everything – or rather, shouldn’t it be?
I can’t think of a better case study for the power of open source, web tools, pretty much everything I bang on about here. And if my work for the Wales Office was any kind of inspiration, I’m delighted to have been a part of it.
Oh, and just for the record… that’s now the Prime Minister’s office and the Deputy Prime Minister First Secretary of State’s department running their websites on WordPress. I’m just saying… 😉
A key element of the (re)statement of UK government open source policy the other week was the need to ’embed an open source culture of sharing, re–use and collaborative development’. That may have seemed like a waste of ink/bandwidth to those outside government; but I can assure you, I’ve sat in too many wheel reinvention seminars in my life already.
So Puffbox is glad to do its bit to get the wheels turning, by building and launching a couple of commentable documents using Steph Gray HM Government’s Commentariat WordPress theme, as seen on the (draft) Power Of Information Taskforce report. One is for DFID, on the elimination of world poverty; the other for Neil Williams at BERR, on the Low Carbon Economy. Wow, weighty subjects or what? – WordPress saving the world?!
Both are instantly recognisable as variations on Steph’s basic theme, give or take a bit of branding. This was a deliberate choice: I felt it was important for the sites’ origins to be immediately evident, as they needed to send a clear message about re-use, and the benefits in terms of speed and cost.
The DFID site was just another WordPress installation in an existing environment – the same one we’re using for DFID Bloggers, as it happens; the total cost to them will be one day of my time, covering WP setup and tweaks to the theme. And when you look at the functionality they’re getting for just a few hundred quid, it’s a pretty good deal.
The BERR project was slightly trickier. It was a new WPMU environment, always a little trickier to set up; and because the document wasn’t as long as other Commentariat instances have been, I had to re-engineer the theme to work off pages rather than categorised posts. I finished my bit in the final hours before dashing off on a week’s holiday; seeing the finished product on my return, I’m really impressed by how well it’s come together. Massive credit to Neil and the BERR team; the use of pictures really makes a dramatic difference.