Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Content Together

This week the Department for Education (DfT) changed twenty or so pages on their site, so I thought I'd write about it.

Seriously, that's what this piece is about.

So you're probably thinking, why does it matter, it's the department's site they can do what they like, and you'd be right. You're probably thinking, twenty pages, we've published more in one go before, it's not a big deal, and you'd be right.

So why on earth am I writing about it?

When it comes to digital, Central Government and local governments need to work closer together. The LocalGov Digital Content Standards promote this idea, and there's a whole section called "Is the content original" which basically says, if it already exists, link to it.

I've seen whole parts of local governments' websites that have been lifted from others' including those of Central Government. In almost all cases, this is a complete waste of time. Why reproduce what a credible source has published, potentially four hundred plus times across the country?

But there is another side to this, and it's the biggest argument for maintaining the wasteful practice I described above.

On Monday morning twenty emails from our Content Management System were sitting in my team's inbox telling us we had broken links to the DfT site. This means, that we had to try to find the new pages and replace the links. This isn't a huge amount of work, but sites change regularly so this happens reasonably often.

Not every organisation has a method of checking links like this, so they'd have to wait until someone came across them to find and replace them.

What would have really helped is to be told in advance when they were changing, and what they were changing to. This isn't a criticism, just an idea to make things better. There are technical solutions to solve this problem like persistent URLs that Legislation.Gov already use, but I suspect we might be a little way off this being enabled for all Central Government sites.

So here's a proposition. If LocalGov Digital continue to promote not recreating, but linking to Central Government content through our Standards, slimming down local governments' sites and only publishing what really needs to be there, perhaps the Government Digital Service might promote better communication with local governments.

I realise this only one minor part of how Central and local governments could work better together, but it could be another piece in the jigsaw.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.