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Why I can’t subscribe to AlphaGov

June 20th, 2011 | Posted by GovDelivery in E-Government | GovDelivery | Government 2.0 | Web 2.0

By Dave Worsell, Director, Government Solutions, GovDelivery UK

There have been a lot of things said about AlphaGov since its launch in April. For the most part, reaction to AlphaGov has been very positive. The accomplishments of the team have been highly impressive given the scale of the nut they are trying to crack so all the praise they’ve received is well deserved.

It’s still in the very early days for the AlphaGov concept, so what should they include as they move into the #BetaGov phase? The solution could be both very simple and very effective.

Paul Clarke tweeted at the recent MailCamp event, “A #mailcamp thought: if @alphagov got into the business of catching an email address for alerts/tailored comms,wd that be useful experiment?”

Neil Williams made similar comments in his recent blog post “If you started today, you would never build what we’ve got. You would build Alphagov.” where he identified the lack of content alerts in the current iteration.  

So why are subscription services important? 

AlphaGov, like many other government websites, doesn’t address the need for proactive public communication. AlphaGov is certainly visionary in its approach, but is still reactive in the way it communicates with the public. 

Many government websites rely on users finding information when they know they need it.  In this respect AlphaGov moves the game on significantly as the content I know I need is very simple and easy to find. 

The trouble with this approach is that users often get essential information when it’s far too late…or never at all. For example, I’ll look for flu information when I or someone I know is taken ill, however, prevention is much better than the cure. Ideally it would have been much more beneficial to have this information before the onset of illness. 

There are lots of examples like this. How do you find out about changes to the Highway Code?  Do you know you need to renew your photo ID driving licence every 10 years?  How do benefit changes affect you? Proactive communication is essential. An informed public makes better decisions and this substantially reduces costs.

To address this issue, governments need to maximise direct connections with the public. An anonymous visit to a government website isn’t a direct connection; it’s a fleeting, transient interaction that doesn’t lead to long-term engagement. There is only a small lasting benefit. 

By direct I mean the ability to develop relationships and send highly personalised communications to known individuals on specific topics of interest to them. Personalised, proactive communication keeps the public informed, enables them to make informed decisions and encourages more cost effective use of public resources.

Governments must encourage the public to subscribe to the online services they offer. This doesn’t need to be a complex user registration form. Capturing a simple email address or mobile number can be enough. 

Once government has established a direct connection with its audience it has the keys to the digital communication door. Government can then use this connection to encourage subscriptions to other areas of interest to maximise communication reach and promote efficient and effective engagement.

Like most members of the public, I won’t use AlphaGov every day. Checking for new public service information is very unlikely to be top of my daily agenda. When updates do occur I won’t have the time or awareness to go looking for them even if they impact me directly.

For AlphaGov to become a useful tool in meeting my ever-demanding needs as a U.K. citizen, wouldn’t it be fantastic if it could inform me proactively when the information I need to support my daily activities is available before I need it?

I’d definitely subscribe to that.

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4 Responses

  • Dave Worsell says:

    Agreed, but subscriptions are better when they are topic based rather than page based (if this is what you mean?).
    This avoids the issue where content spans multiple pages or websites e.g. some content might be on AlphaGov with supporting content elsewhere e.g. YouTube or Facebook.
    The multi-channel communication approach you describe is certainly the way forward.

  • Adrian Bool says:

    Perhaps the title of your post would have better been “Why can’t I subscribe to AlphaGov?” – this may suggest a model where people who have visited a page on AlphaGov can easily click on a link to ‘Keep up to date’ . This would instruct AlphaGov to contact that user (by facebook / twitter / email / rss?) when there are meaningful changes to the data they’re just read.

  • Dave Worsell says:

    You’d be surprised at how many members of the public already sign-up for these type of proactive alerts. There are lots of examples where this is working already.
    The trouble is subscription options are dispersed across the government online landscape.
    At @GovDelivery we’ve got over 16 million members of the public subscribed to government agencies worldwide, over 550k of those are in the UK with the numbers growing each day.
    It clearly proves there is demand for this type of service and its been very successful for both government and subscribers alike.
    A centralised approach is better still and AlphaGov is the way to do this.
    You always have the unknown, unknowns [I know that;) ] but experience tells us that people always sign-up for more than one alert topic, not just the one that is relevant to them now.
    As subscribers have requested the alerts its not treated/viewed by them as spam – they’ve welcomed the information in.

  • Peter Jordan says:

    Certainly a need for more proactive engagement, but whilst I’m sold on the idea for people who need to engage with government professionally (as laywers, accountants etc.); I’m not convinced it would be that successful for the general public:
    - lack of trust in giving an email to thecgovernment for general purposes
    - lack of interest or viewed as spam
    - and perhaps most importantly, unknown unknowns – you don’t know what you need to know till you need to know it – so why would you sign up



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