A NZ-Uk op-ed

An op-ed in The Guardian by NZ Minister and UK Minister on digital services:

At the Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit in London in November 2013, New Zealand became the 61st member of a rapidly expanding global movement.

The OGP is all about making governments more transparent, accountable and responsive to citizens. International co-operation and the exchange of ideas are essential to embedding openness and transparency across the world. In different ways Britain and New Zealand are already world leaders in transparency. They have a great deal to learn from one another. And we are already partners in the digital revolution that is helping to make open government an everyday reality for citizens. …

Both our countries have taken significant steps towards a new digital world. After the election in May 2010, the UK established the Government Digital Service (GDS) to drive a new “digital-by-default” agenda through Whitehall. In 2013, the New Zealand government launched a new ICT strategy and action plan focused on using technology to deliver better services. Whether in Britain or New Zealand, the cornerstone of digital transformation is a user-friendly domain for government information.

Until our governments embarked on a new digital push, neither country had a digital portal which met the acid test of really meeting users’ needs. Directgov in the UK was an entry point into a confusing maze of additional sites. It was hard to navigate, duplicated information and had confusing design, presentation and language. User research in New Zealand showed that the newzealand.govt.nz portal could also do a much better job of meeting the needs of users.

I didn’t even know we had such a portal!

New Zealand’s project to replace their portal is called Govt.nz. The site is now in beta stage, for public testing with real users at beta.govt.nz. As was the case with the groundbreaking GOV.UK, Govt.nz is being built through an iterated, user-tested design.

GOV.UK was built for sharing. Most of its code is open source so other countries can use it, rather than having to develop their own. The New Zealand team adapted GOV.UK’s basic design elements, saving time, money and resources.

At the same time, ideas and information are flowing back to the UK. Research in New Zealand corroborated similar studies in the UK which highlighted the need to simplify website design. The Govt.nz team routinely shares the results of its research with its counterparts in the UK, so they can learn from it as well. We know that there’s greater scope for co-operation as independent research and user testing often throws up the same challenges. We look forward to working together ever more closely.

After testing and feedback from the beta site, New Zealand expects the new Govt.nz site to go live in 2014, and by 2017 wants all new government services to be digital-by-default.

Sounds excellent, and good to see the two countries learning from each other rather than operating in silos.

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