Govt IS heads eschew own web guidelines

The website of the government IS manager's organisation does not comply with the government's good design guidelines, or its own.

The website of the government IS manager's organisation does not comply with the government's good design guidelines, or its own.

The website guidelines published last week by the SSC’s e-government unit draw heavily on those put forward last October by Govis, the Government Information System managers’ forum. But Govis convener Michael Pearson frankly admits that its own website is not up to scratch. “I suppose we don’t have to, as we’re not a government department,” he says.

The Govis site until recently was a very bad example of design, requiring the user to scroll horizontally to read the full width of a line of text, even with 600 x 800 resolution. The site was redesigned earlier this year and is now rather easier to read.

The Govis guidelines were “New Zealandised” from a set of principles devised for UK government, says Pearson. “Now [the e-government unit has] ‘governmentised’ them, I suppose you could say.” This renders Govis’s original guidelines irrelevant, he says, and they have been removed from the web page to be replaced by the e-government unit’s guidelines.

The guidelines are at present in the form of a "consultation draft", intended for internal consultation and debate within the public sector. Both users and site providers within government are asked to comment, over a period ending 15 March.

The SSC e-government unit has adopted "85% to 90%" of the Govis guidelines, says Mark Harris, site manager for NZ Government On-Line. In some ways NZGO was more specific, he says. Govis advised following W3C (the international world wide web consortium) standards, but didn't specify which to adopt.

"There are a lot of them. So we've specified which W3C principles we we should adopt." W3C's pressure to use XML, for example, was judged inappropriate to the stage of evolution of many government departments. The unit's guidelines stop at HTML 4.0.

The Govis guidelines were really designed for "a bunch of individuals", he says."We have a responsibility to design something acceptable to government as a whole," and that requires a different approach.

The privacy aspect of the Govis principles was rather too liberal, Harris says. The government guidelines hold the privacy of the individual citizen absolutely sacred, except in cases where such trespassing on privacy is essential for government to function.

Harris says email addresses should not be collected. "But there might be a time when, say, IRD needs to do exactly that. While respecting privacy, we don't want to place unreasonable limits on what we can do in the future."

The UK government guidelines on which the Govis guidelines were based will be relased in a second version later this month. Any changes will be incorporated into the consultation process, Harris says.

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