163: Digital Government and Content on the Moon - Hugo Pickford-Wardle

At the 2014 Government ICT 2.0 conference in London, I gave a presentation on Drupal and open source software as an essential facilitator in the practice of good digital government today, "Code for a Better World: Open Source Drupal + Government." (presentation slides embedded below). Hugo Pickford-Wardle, Chief Innovation Officer at Matter Digital, helped me out by speaking for ten minutes about Matter's activities and experience on the front lines of government transformation in the UK today. Afterward, we got the chance to sit down and talk in front of the camera about all this and a lot more.

This podcast includes parts of our conversation and as a special bonus, Hugo's part of the presentation from the event, talking about helping government work better and more efficiently with open source software, "working to create digital services that are going to meet the new [UK government] standards, where they need to be so good that people actually want to use them. It's all about digital-first."

Why Drupal for Digital Government?

"We're very much about putting the customer right at the heart of what you're creating. And so you need a lot of flexibility when you do that. What we see with Drupal is that there's a lot already done, so you don't need to reinvent the wheel. It's got the extensibility, so that you can go and refine the bits that you need to refine. And there's a huge community out there who've already solved a lot of the problems; so if a problem's already been solved well, that's not one we need to look at. We actually need to look at solving the problems that haven't been done well ... and it means that we get a lot for free." And those are the hard, interesting, valuable problems to solve, "Those are the customer's problems."

"What we see when we're designing services working with government organizations is that there is definitely a drive towards using mobile devices. The interesting thing about the need to support mobile is the move away from apps and towards responsive design. One of the things we often see if someone's caught on to the idea of the need for mobile starts talking about the need for an app. But what they mean is that they need to support people on a mobile device." And they are often unaware of the cost of supporting apps for multiple devices and platforms compared to the efficiency of a single, responsive website or application that works on all of them.

"Having a platform [like Drupal] that gives you responsive design as standard is critical to reducing the cost of implementing the processes that you need to support mobile devices."

Technology v Communication / Widgets v Benefits

"A lot of the time, we might just be focused entirely on content because what we find is that people think technology can solve problems, when often it is actually about people being able to communicate with people that's going to solve the problem."

"We think that technology should be an enabler for those human-centered aspects of change that you are trying to create. A lot of my friends are massive techies and they get a buzz out of solving the hard tech problems. What we can then do is to take those hard tech problems and tie them together to create [solutions for] the hard human problems. And that is where we see the power of open source really coming into its own. I think it's also one of the challenges of open source: Because there's such a tech community behind it, sometimes it's hard for non techies to enter the realm. Techies are not always designers, so there are times when it can be hard for open source projects to explain themselves to the people who might actually want to use them. That's an interesting thought back to the open source community: How customer-centered is your open source project? Could you be getting more support for it by thinking more about the wider range of people who would actually participate?"

Presentation slides: Code for a Better World: Open Source Drupal + Government

I'm not a developer myself ...

"... but I have done a lot of drinking with a lot of developers, so I can talk a good game." :-D

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