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E-Government: Interview with Directgov

By: NMK Created on: May 15th, 2009
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Government information site Directgov celebrates its fifth birthday this year and recently enjoyed its one billionth page impression. New Media Knowledge caught up with the site’s chief executive to learn about its ever changing role and the future of e-government.

Directgov was launched in 2004 as a portal for UK citizens to access information from government and received 400,000 hits in its first month. It has now surpassed a billion hits and is crucial to providing information to the public, for example, during the recent Swine Flu outbreak.

Directgov provides information to the public from 18 UK Government departments, non-departmental public bodies and local authorities. The site also enables members of the public to complete tasks online, such as ordering passports and paying car tax.

NMK caught up with Directgov’s chief executive Jayne Nickalls to talk about where Directgov’s role lies in 2009 and where it goes from here.

directgov

What was the thinking behind the creation of Directgov?

Directgov was created to bring [Government] services and information into one place and provide a common editorial style making the information more accessible for users.

In 2006 Sir David Varney published the ‘Service Transformation Review’ which set the vision for Directgov to be, by 2012, the primary online destination for citizens to interact with Government online. Directgov was placed at the heart of the service transformation agenda with all citizen facing services due to converge by 2011.

What department does it fall under?

Prior to financial year 2008/09, Directgov was a part of the Central Office of Information (COI). In April 2008 Directgov moved to become part of Department for Works and Pensions

What are your user numbers like? What’s take-up been like since launch?

Since its creation, Directgov has seen steady growth. In the first month of its existence it received 400,000 visits. Now it receives 18 million visits a month (March 2009) and recently we had our one billionth page impression. In February 2009, Directgov became the most-visited government website in the UK, and was ranked as the 54th most popular website in the UK overall.

We have been especially pleased with how positive the public perception of Directgov is. In March 2009, our brand tracking research [conducted by Jigsaw] revealed that visitors rate Directgov as better than BBC, eBay, Amazon and Tesco for comprehensive services and information, and on a par with the BBC site for being helpful.

Web convergence continues to be a top priority for Directgov. In the last three months, the General Records Office and the Jobcentre Plus citizen facing content have converged onto the site. As more sites move content across, Directgov will continue to attract and retain visitors.

Which areas of the site are the most popular?

The most popular pages during March 2009 were Directgov Jobs and Skill search, which received 4.1 million visits. This was followed by the Electronic Vehicle Licensing service at 2.5 million. The Driving Licence Application service, the Schools Finder and the 'Act On CO2' section are also very popular services.

Is it ‘party-independent’ and simply relays impartial, factual information from the UK Government?

Exactly.

Do you have any plans to introduce interactive or social media aspects?

Directgov is already on Twitter and in April we launched our first tool for use in the social media space – Moneyspeak. Moneyspeak finds explanations for confusing terms around financial jargon then points users to content on Directgov which could help them. Essentially it takes the Directgov services into other online spaces to reach target audiences. There are plans for a number of social media tools to be developed throughout 2009/10. Making Directgov available on new media which people use every day is enormously important to us.

Campaigns which are hosted on Directgov often trial new technology and communications. The current Health in Pregnancy Grant campaign, “money 4 mum 2 be”, has been very successful and combines an online application with a mobile text alert to ensure users have the right information at the right time during their pregnancy.

What has Directgov planned for the next year or so?

Over the next two years Directgov’s top priority continues to be supporting Web convergence. The breadth and range of content and services coming into Directgov will enhance the overall offering to citizens, bringing with it a range of new tools and services as well as additional content and rich media.

How do you think the UK is positioned with regard to e-government compared to other European Union countries and the US?

Each government will define and build online services that fit with their overall public service strategy, and as such each government offering will have a different approach to how it uses the internet and other digital channels. Directgov is only a part of the UK Government’s e-government strategy. We believe that Directgov compares favourably with its contemporaries across the globe.

What is the future for e-government? When do you think we’ll have electronic voting procedures, for example, even at a local level? What other elements can we expect to see?

The Government’s view on the future of e-government has been set out in a number of strategy documents including Digital Britain, Working Together, Excellence and Fairness and Sir David Varney’s Transformational Government paper. Directgov, as an enabler of online public services does not include e-voting, but our view of the future is very much in line with the statements made in these documents.

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