Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The simple, useful, beauty of Gov.uk

A journalist rang today asking me to take him through the basics of the UK pension system. To get myself up to speed, I clicked on www.gov.uk, which is a shining example of how a government should interface with its citizens. Within minutes I had the answers, the journalist briefed. Behold and see the stunning Google-like clarity of the home page. [Click to enlarge.]

The page is divided up not by individual ministries (or Departments of State as they are known in the UK), but by categories of information that citizens need. What a revolutionary idea! Before you say "this could never happen in Poland", please note that Gov.uk did not appear overnight, but is an extention of the previous UK Government portal. Directgov.uk, launched back in 2004. While - unlike its successor - Directgov.uk never won prizes for design, it did make a start on bringing all government services under one umbrella.

Polish ministries are so disjointed that there's no link between, say, the foreign affairs ministry (MSZ) to the ministry of the economy (MG) or to the Premier's Chancellery. 'Silosowość' (silo mentality) is still all-pervasive, with ministries squabbling among themselves - typically the 'spór kompetencyjny', either 'pozytywny' or 'negatywny' - "No, this is not that ministry's business, it's our ministry's", or else - "it's not our ministry's business - it's that ministry that decides."

To get to Gov.uk, heads had to be bashed together, monstrous egos soothed, obstacles removed from way - but more importantly there needed to be the top-down will to get the job done.

Another example of British online public service excellence is the National Health Service's check your symptom website. Rather than bung up the Accident & Emergency wards of hospitals up and down the land with people worried that they might be suffering from chronic thromatoid phlebosis, you click onto this excellent service. It will talk you through your symptoms in easy-to-understand English ,and diagnose quickly whether you need to take an aspirin and go to bed early or to phone immediately for an ambulance.

NHS Direct is saving the UK Government millions - each month 1.5 million people come here to see whether or not their symptoms are indeed serious. I've used this service here in Poland for family and friends, and it has saved the Polish national health fund (NFZ) several hundred zlotys in unnecessary visits to the doctors being forestalled. (Food poisoning or allergic reaction? The latter. Forget the ambulance.) But just compare the above page with the NFZ's home page:

Oh dear how dreadful. Do not even consider clicking on this page (full of important administrative communiques) if you are feeling unwell. You, the patient, know that you're simply not wanted here.

Poland's e-government initiatives are going nowhere fast. Minister Michał Boni, who was meant to bring about a great revolution in the way government delivers services online, was relinquished of his post as Minister of Administration and Digitalisation in November. Whether his successor Rafał Trzaskowski will manage to drag the Polish government into the 21st Century remains to be seen - I can but wish him all the very best. I'd love to see Polish public services delivered online with the same clarity and usefulness as the UK ones are.

This time last year:
My brother at 50 - and as a child

This time last year:
First snow in the Old Town

This time two years ago:
Blood on the tracks, again

This time three years ago:
Views from Książęca footbridge - winter and summer

This time four years ago:
The Most Poniatowskiego


Sigismundo said...

Excellent blog-post Michał, one of your best ever!

Have you thought about translating it and getting it published on one of the big Polish news portals or papers? The only way to get things moving in PL seems to be to stir up some controversy, preferably by throwing something at a fan.

Sigismundo said...

The PKP (Polish Railways) website pkp.pl is another of those hideously cluttered public service portals in desperate need of a redesign (tho better than it was a few years ago).

Recently, they've added a gif of a weird-looking actor dressed up as a train conductor who gurns at you alluringly, in a most disturbing manner awaiting your chat questions. Something to give you nightmares...

On the other hand, the Allegro website, especially the mobile app, is now almost up to par with the likes of ebay's offering.