Relying on entrepreneurs instead of bureaucrats

British government leaders encountered an interesting fact a few years back: Entrepreneurs tend to do a better job than bureaucrats when designing things that customers like to use. The latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek reports the application of that discovery to British government websites.

I don’t know if you’ve ever used a government website, but typically no one wants to hang out there. No one’s ever paid a tax and then said, “Brilliant! What else can I pay while I’m here?” Before we came along, there were more than 1,700 different government websites in the U.K. Each one had a different look and feel. Each one had a different user experience. In each one the language was different.

Our goal at the Government Digital Service was to create one site and one user experience. And what that means is, if you schedule your driving test, that should be the same user experience as booking to go renew your passport. If you buy something, that should be the same all across the government. You shouldn’t have to learn how government works to be able to interact with government. You shouldn’t have to relearn how to do something every time you need to get something from government. Typically people visit government websites once or twice a year. We need to make it really simple and really obvious.

We exist because this lady, Martha Lane Fox, who is a dot-com entrepreneur in the U.K., was asked by the government three years ago to look at government digital stuff and write a report. [Lane Fox is currently chair of Go On UK, a coalition helping small businesses and individuals get online.] She wrote this brilliant report—brilliant partly because it’s really short: 10 pages long. It’s like a long letter. And also brilliant because she called it revolution, not evolution, and that’s kind of all you need to know. We can’t just change little bits. We kind of need a revolution.

I’m trying to think of another website that might have benefited from a reliance on entrepreneurs rather than bureaucrats. It seems to me there’s one that’s been in the news recently.

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