Why I can’t subscribe to AlphaGov

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.