A-consulting we will go

Way back in September, I blogged about a consultation that some of my colleagues in the Digital Policy team were running on which browsers government clients should test their shiny new websites against. That process proved controversial at the time but had a very happy ending with most everyone reassured that the team had taken on board and listened to the feedback, and incorporated it all into the finished draft that went live in January 2009.

For the next round of guidance review, the team wanted to ensure that they drew from all the lessons learned and used social media in a proper, comprehensive and integrated way so that the final results are even better and smoother this time around than last.

The new round of guidance is related to measuring the costs, usage and quality of government department websites: COI has launched an Improving Government Online microsite publishing the guidance so far and inviting anyone interested to submit comments and ideas on what’s there and how to improve it. This review will run for three weeks starting from 17 March 2009 with the final date for comments is 7 April 2009.

It’s based on the WordPress theme called Commentariat which has been created by the team at the Department of innovations and Skills in the appropriate spirit of true innovation. It’s available to everyone under the GNU Affero licence and is a terrific asset for anyone running a public engagement consultation. Kudos as ever to Steph Gray, DIUS’ Head of Social Media and Stakeholder Engagement. The same set-up was used very successfully for the Power of Information Taskforce Report.

Among the team involved, Ross Ferguson has blogged a background briefing on the project which adds an extra layer of insight into the initiative, in which he notes “this will be the first time that COI has used the social media for the purposes of a consultative review” as opposed to conducting such communications projects for our clients – it’s always very different doing something for yourself rather than for someone else after all.

It was all launched last night (Tuesday evening), and the team’s using a Twitter account (digigov) to both promote awareness of the review and also to act as a general contact point for people who don’t necessarily want to comment on a specific part of the document yet. Digital Engagement Minister Tom Watson’s lent his considerable Twitter influence to the launch, too.

Of course, this is still very new ground for COI. Normally we do communications projects for clients and have no need of reviews, consultatons and public blogs of our own, but times they are a-changing and clearly this sort of social media project is moving much closer to COI’s core business than has previously been the case. Steph Gray has already commented that it feels like “the next logical step would be to seque into some kind of blog for the team for the likes of me to keep in touch with their emerging work and standards” and that’s certainly something I’d be keen to see the Digital Policy team branch out into eventually. They have a lot of interesting things going on and it’d be great to see them get the support and appreciation due.

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