05
Mar 12

Inside Government

The second of the three GOV.UK beta releases was unveiled last week. “INSIDE GOVERNMENT” is the promised “corporate publishing platform” designed to bring together the core web publishing activity of all government departments in one place. Neil’s written very eloquently about it on the Government Digital Service blog, outlining some of their core challenges, and James Mead has added the developers’ perspective on the Free Range blog about their involvement in it.

It’s a strange release for me—it was the first of GDS’ launches that I didn’t press the button for, or even attend as I’m currently out on paternity leave—but I’m really delighted to see it out there for the world to feed back on. Since I first heard about the vision for the single domain I’ve been excited about the possibility that government information could be published in a way that allows it to be sliced along axes other than ‘department’ and “INSIDE GOVERNMENT” begins to give some life to that.

It’s also a really interesting counter to the citizen end of our emerging publishing platform. Where the citizen content is conceptually very flat with very few formal connections, the content in the corporate system is very much a series of nodes interconnected in numerous ways. Free Range’s work on the app, guided by Neil and co’s careful analysis, is especially fascinating for the way it lays out an encoded domain model for such a notoriously complex world.

This commit is a good example of the level of thought going into the process:

“First Secretary of State” isn’t really a role, so we can’t use its name directly to order.

Ideally we’d model which minister was also the “First Secretary”, but that introduces more problems. If we’d made “First Secretary of State” a ministerial role, William Hague would appear twice in the list of cabinet members. If we’d made it a non-ministerial role, it wouldn’t have been sortable in the set that MinisterialRole.cabinet returned.

This is a quick, pragmatic solution, but more thought probably needs to go into whether or not the lists of ministers are lists of roles, or should instead be lists of people (along with the roles they currently have).

My only involvement in the code to date is a fledgling branch that started to map out what our API for this side of gov.uk might look like. As it worked out there wasn’t time to do that justice and ship the website so we left the API to return to later (Paul Battley’s working on part of that now, and taking a slightly different tack). My time on it was enough to really appreciate the amount of insight captured in the code.

It’s also been a delight to have Free Range in leading the development of the ‘whitehall’ app that drives “INSIDE GOVERNMENT”. GDS is committed to building a world-class team of in-house developers, designers, and the like, but we’re not going to achieve the transformation we’re aiming for on our own. So we need talented outside teams, small companies, freelancers, and the like to help us. This release is our first evidence of just how well that can work.