First, the trend
While this approach was used by the province of Ontario and the City of Calgary (among others) the best example is likely that of gov.uk, which consolidates government information from over 350 departments and agencies and prioritizes search (citizen input) over government organizational structures (hierarchies) and nomenclatures (taxonomies). I’m not really interested in debating the sceptics but rather making the most of what I consider the opportunity.
Second, the opportunity
If you want to understand the magnitude of the opportunity in the consolidation of government websites, then you need look no further than a couple of the core innovations of one of the most successful online business models of the last twenty years: Amazon.
“Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought …”
What if the Government’s website could dynamically serve up complementary information on programs and services the way that Amazon recommends related products?
Citizens who were interested in this information were also interested in …
Citizens don’t care (and likely don’t know) which department or business unit is responsible for a given service or program — they only care that they can access that service when they need it.
Why should students have to jump around from departmental website to departmental website in order to get information on student loans, bursaries, skills programs, tax credits, employment prospects, or industry safety standards?
Or someone preparing to travel abroad when looking to secure their passport, notify the high commission, or get travel, health and safety advisories?
Or small business owners when looking for information on hiring subsidies, grants, regulation, temporary foreign workers, or ombudsman or trade-marking/copyright services?
I could go on, invoking other likely personas: new Canadians, Aboriginals, persons with disabilities, job seekers. I think you get the point. The old technological solution to these problems was to create portals. The new one is to consolidate information, overlay great search functionality and build an iterative algorithm behind it that tracks what citizens are looking at in aggregate and use it for the purposes of predictive analysis; to get out ahead of citizens expectations and fill the gap between government services and citizen awareness of those services.
Moreover, what if citizens could simplify a transaction with government to a single click? Am I eligible for this program, service, or tax credit?
Last year 76% of Canadians filed their taxes securely online. What if the government could use that information to help tailor the delivery of information to citizens? Why don’t we simply re-purpose secure file technology and the tax information to help tailor the delivery of information to citizens, allowing them to, with a single click, find out if they are prima facie eligible for a particular program or service. People make more significant privacy trade-offs with private for profit corporations (Facebook, Google, et al) on a daily basis — I doubt they would be unwilling to make it with their government so long as their personal identifiers were respected and protected.
This innovation is completely achievable
I would encourage anyone interested in helping move forward this idea to contact me by email or Twitter; I’m of the view that this needs to move from the theoretical to the practical, and fast.