Tag Archives: government

Sharing is Caring: Dutch government promotes re-use of open data

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Government of the Netherlands promotes re-use of open dataIn recent years, the Dutch government has made some bold choices to open up its online information in many different ways. This resulted amongst others in 2010 in a brand-new website rijksoverheid.nl, the main site for communication between the Dutch central government and its citizens. This site is based on open-source CMS technology from Dutch CMS specialist Hippo. In 2011 a unified intranet for all government ministries followed.

Since its launch in 2010 the website rijksoverheid.nl applies the Creative Commons zero declaration (CC0) to the content of the website, unless stated otherwise. This means that all content available on the site is in the public domain and is free from copyright or other usage restrictions. This is important in order to facilitate the re-use of the data/content. Other government websites have taken the same approach, for instance www.government.nl and www.answersforbusiness.nl

More recently, the focus has shifted to what comes after openness: the sharing – in electronic, computer-readable formats – of various types of open data produced by government agencies and public institutions.

So what exactly is meant with ‘open data’? What type of information is made available, and how is this being re-used in commercial websites and mobile apps? Read on to find out the answers and get inspired to apply ‘open data’ in your own context.

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Governments have too many websites

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Why don't government just have one website

Today most countries are drowning in central government websites. In a small, but highly digital country like Denmark with just over 5 million inhabitants there are currently 1000+ government websites and in the US the number is 24.000 websites.

There are certainly more government websites out there than necessary.

To put it another way – time has come for central government to reduce the number of websites, maybe all the way down to 1.

This would be particularly beneficial and sensible given the current tough economic climate.

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Government: Please start ‘speaking human’

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Most governments don't have to worry about winning and retaining customers. Perhaps that is why they have such a very long way to go in terms of speaking human. Today, many government websites reflect this and are very difficult to understand and use for the average citizen. This leads to complaints, negative press and excessive numbers of phone calls, which could have been avoided or handled much cheaper and more efficiently over the web.

At our Philadelphia conference earlier this month Eric Karjaluoto made a very compelling case for organisations to 'speak human' in order to better connect with customers. He illustrated his keynote with best and worst practice examples from large and small enterprises that made it clear why you can no longer “lie, cheat, steal” your way to making it big. This advice applies equally well to government administration, which would be able to make real progress if they became better at connecting with citizens.

A few stories to illustrate the potential and how the web could help:

  • In Denmark with a population of 5 million, the Danish Tax and Customs Administration receives about 4,5 million phone calls every year with questions about taxes. In a a story in a Danish newspaper, a government representative says that the Danish tax rules are particularly complex. That might be true, but a good content strategy making the website much easier to use should be able to reduce the number of  calls greatly.
  • In the US, The New York Times recently reported that doctors, once used to answering patients’ questions about their hearts or other matters physical, have lately spent up to half of their time answering a range of different questions — about the new health care law. Needless to say, substantial policy changes will always lead to questions. Better websites with plain language texts should help answer most of these.

Part of 'speaking human' is about using plain language. In the UK, The Plain English campaign has been campaigning since 1979, "against gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information." Here's an educational example from their website:

Before:

High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.

After:

Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

Plain language will indeed get you far in terms of speaking human. You've probably seen plenty of examples like the above in both paper and online communication if you have had to deal with government. Plain language in a sense is the easy part, the difficult one is the "connect" part. This is where you actually listen and builds a relationship - regardless of whether online or offline. I can name several enterprises that do this well at the moment and Eric Karjaluoto also named a few.

Please, dear reader, can you mention just one government agency that 'speaks human' today?

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Is Plone a good CMS?

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New Plone logoAccording to the Danish Government, Plone is a good CMS. It seems unfair and unhealthy for competition when the government has a favoured system, whether open source or not, in particular in a marketplace as young and dynamic as the CMS marketplace.

To quote Shakespeare: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark".

The statement on Plone is from the Danish National IT and Telecom Agency, which belongs in the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. You'll find the innocent looking quote as a part of an IT dictionary on their website.

I agree that Plone is a good CMS and I've also previously called Plone a popular open source CMS, but that does not mean I would blindly adopt it for any web project or recommend Plone on any shortlist for a CMS selection. As you probably know, there are many relevant open source alternatives, e.g. Liferay, Typo3 and Umbraco. On the commercial side I compare Plone to Microsoft SharePoint, mainly due to product strengths behind the firewall, in particular with collaboration. Interestingly SharePoint is very popular with government projects, including in Denmark.

For the government based buyer, please remember that the consulting firms with Plone experience tend to be quite small in size. Also, Plone requires Python knowledge for advanced customisation and is known for having a steep learning curve.

There is a potential role for government in this market. What would be very helpful for government buyers are:

  • 3 - 5 recommended content management systems with strengths and weaknesses for each CMS when used in particular types of projects
  • a listing of unsupported systems and a good reason for why the system is on the list

To be fair, it is an improvement for the Danish government to recommend Plone rather than having a gov't funded proprietary CMS, which was the case back in 2005.

Does your country's government have publicly stated preferences with regards to CMS? If so, what are they?

UPDATE 30 July: Plone has been removed from the IT dictionary

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