The mindset shift in open government online

govuk

The British Government has launched GOV.UK, a new website that is designed to be the single place online for access to wide-ranging information and other content about government services available to citizens.

The new website replaces the public sites Directgov and BusinessLink; and websites of all government departments and many other public bodies will be merged into the new site in a new Inside Government section between ‘soon’ and 2014.

Yesterday’s announcement, issued under the name of Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, makes a big play of how it’s been created – and how much taxpayers’ money will be saved – putting users’ needs at its heart, not the needs of government. It has been planned, written, organised and designed around what users need to get done, the statement says, not around the ways government want them to do it, adding:

[…] GOV.UK is a platform for future digital innovation. In stark contrast to the way IT has been delivered in government in the past, GOV.UK can rapidly accommodate new standards for development and security, catering to emerging technologies and user requirements quickly and effectively. It has been built the way Amazon built Amazon, and in the way that BA transformed their online business, by being agile, iterative and focused on users. GOV.UK has also been built using open source technology, which means we don’t have to pay expensive software licensing costs.

The release of GOV.UK is a key element in the Digital by Default agenda. Digital by Default aims to transform public services online – making them better and cheaper for taxpayers and more effective and efficient for government.

The changes marked by such a launch are profound, especially when you consider the breadth and depth of information scattered across the web in websites that will no longer be at the locations they’ve been at for years. For instance, one tweet today mentions redirecting 42,000 page addresses from Directgov and BusinessLink to their new locations on GOV.UK.

One really interesting element to the new government information presence is how the matter of copyright is being addressed.

In the past, almost any public information published by any branch of government was “Crown Copyright reserved” with all the restrictions on others’ fair use, a matter that’s increasingly at odds with the concepts of social sharing in our contemporary, highly-connected society.

That’s changed dramatically with GOV.UK which embraces the new concept of the Open Government Licence.

opengovlicence

If you think the certificate above looks remarkably similar to what you see when you review a typical Creative Commons copyright license (such as this one), you’d be right, as the licence’s explanation makes clear:

[…] These terms have been aligned to be interoperable with any Creative Commons Attribution Licence, which covers copyright, and Open Data Commons Attribution License, which covers database rights and applicable copyrights. Further context, best practice and guidance can be found in the UK Government Licensing Framework section on The National Archives website.

This approach clearly embodies the spirit and understanding of openness in sharing information. Such an open mindset is extremely encouraging when you see it in practice, especially by government.

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