From: Dan Jellinek [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: 28 April 2008 12:47
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Subject: E-Government Bulletin, 28 April 2008 - Digital exclusion; Public bodies sell on eBay; Common web accessibility problems.
- ISSUE 262, 28 April 2008.
- A Headstar Publication
IN THIS ISSUE: Digital exclusion; Public bodies sell on eBay; Common web accessibility problems.
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++Special Notice: GIS In The Public Sector
- Countdown To EU's INSPIRE Directive
- 14 May 2008, Central London
The European Union's INSPIRE Directive lays down the ground rules to enable spatial data from separate databases to be combined seamlessly, paving the way for geospatial data to be shared by public bodies across the EU. It is set to come into full force in the UK in May 2009, but the countdown begins now.
Headstar's flagship annual event 'Geographical Information Systems
(GIS) in the Public Sector: the Countdown to INSPIRE' promises to be an essential day for anyone from the public or private sectors involved in the collection, management and use of geospatial data.
Places cost 295 Pounds plus VAT for public sector and 395 plus VAT for private sector. For more information and to register see:
And for information about sponsoring or exhibiting please email Will Knox on:
[log in to unmask] or call him on 01273 267974.
[Special Notice ends].
++Issue 262 Contents.
01: Digital Exclusion 'Is Ongoing Problem' For UK
- gap has social and economic consequences.
02: 'Fantastic User Experience' Is Future Of Web Accessibility
- Narrow technical measurement of access is no longer enough.
03: State Government Uses eBay To Sell Surplus Stock
- Online auctions bring greater efficiency and transparency.
News in Brief:
04: Gateway Shifts - authentication portal moves to DWP; 05: Pleasure Measure - citizen satisfaction tool; 06: Sea Change - Open source perception boost.
Section Two: Policy - E-Government Metrics.
07: Introducing The Great E-mancipator: Back in the days before Implementing Electronic Government Statements (IEGs), a local authority IT manager filled some of his evenings writing a thesis entitled 'Service delivery using internet technologies.' Today, Mick Phythian - for it is he - has launched a blog to carry on the research...
Section Three: Focus - Web Accessibility.
08: The Power Of Five: According to a new report from the Society of IT Management (Socitm), five errors account for 76% of all website accessibility failures. In an edited extract from the research, Robin Christopherson outlines all five and how to avoid them.
++Special Notice: Shared Services In The Public Sector
- 4 June 2008, New Connaught Rooms, Central London
- Early Bird Offer: 100 Pound Discount to 30 April
With a dual focus on improving public services and enhancing efficiency, Shared Services is a vital policy area for public sector bodies of all sizes. The sharing of both back-office and front-line services between different public sector bodies, and between public and private sector bodies, can create economies of scale and pool valuable expertise and resources.
Building on our high level online summit in March, our June conference aims to provide insights into the benefits and challenges of sharing systems and services; to identify good practice; and to provide a forum to share experience amongst those involved with planning shared services.
Places normally cost 295 Pounds plus VAT for public sector and 395 plus VAT for private sector, but register before the end of April to gain our 100 Pound Early Bird discount:
And for information about sponsoring or exhibiting please email Will Knox on:
[log in to unmask] or call him on 01273 267974.
[Special Notice ends].
++Section One: News.
+01: Digital Exclusion 'Is Ongoing Problem' For UK.
Digital exclusion - the inability of a significant proportion of UK citizens to access new technologies - is an ongoing problem with serious social and economic implications, a major London conference on the issue will hear tomorrow.
Stephen Dodson, national director of the DC10plus group of councils which are pioneering ways of combating digital exclusion, will tell the National Digital Inclusion conference (
that there are examples of good practice in the field but it has not yet been fixed strongly enough into national policy.
The appointment by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in January of Paul Murphy as the minister for Digital Inclusion, in addition to his duties as Secretary of State for Wales, was a step forward, and showed that digital inclusion is moving up the national policy agenda, Dodson told E-Government Bulletin.
"But the problem hasn't gone away - it's going to take a while," he said. "In this, we are in the same position as Europe and the rest of the world. Technology is one issue, but cultural and sociological aspects are slower to change. To reach the final third of society, we have to convince people of the benefits, and come up with a credible rationale as to why UK should invest in digital inclusion."
To build this rationale digital inclusion must be seen as an economic opportunity, driving up GDP and reducing worklessness, Dodson said.
Ensuring as many people as possible can access ICT will also be a key factor in the success of 'transformational government' projects using technology, he said.
This month DC10plus launched the Connected Neighbourhoods Forum ( http://www.connectedneighbourhoods.org.uk ), a website allowing public, private and community sector stakeholders to share ideas to ensure all UK communities can access a modern communications infrastructure, including next-generation broadband internet.
+02: 'Fantastic User Experience' Is Future Of Web Accessibility.
The need to move beyond pure technical 'accessibility' of websites to the creation of 'fantastic user experiences' for disabled people online was the keynote theme at last week's E-Access '08 conference on access to technology by people with disabilities, hosted by the publishers of E-Government Bulletin.
Julie Howell, Director of Accessibility at digital agency Fortune Cookie and former digital policy manager at blindness charity RNIB, told delegates the simply ensuring the special access technologies such as the text to speech screen readers used by blind people could read information on a website was no longer enough.
"We should be creating rich, engaging, fabulous user experiences for disabled people," Howell said. "It's not about taking text and just having it read out loud."
If accessibility is defined as the ability of any person using any technology in any circumstance to access content, it will mean that for example a blind person's screen reader can find the content and read it out, Howell said. "That, however, is no guarantee that blind person will be able to do their shopping in a reasonable amount of time, or complete their task at the same cost as a sighted person would.
"My definition of equality is the ability of a disabled person to achieve a goal in the same time, at the same time, at the same cost, and at the same convenience as a person who doesn't have a disability. I've never understood why I, who can see, should have it easier on the web than my friend, who is blind."
Howell outlined plans for her work as chair of a new British Standards Institution technical committee to create the first British standard on web accessibility (see E-Government Bulletin issue 257, 18 February 2008).
She said a draft standard would be released for consultation in September and pledged the final version would be published in the first quarter of 2009. The standard will cover key recent developments in internet technology such as 'Web 2.0', rich internet applications and the need for modern websites to work across platforms including mobile phones, Howell said.
NOTE: To view the slides used in Julie Howell's presentation, see the programme page at:
Further coverage of E-Access '08 including the keynote presentation will appear in our sister publication E-Access Bulletin. To register for this free newsletter see:
+03: State Government Uses eBay To Sell Surplus Stock.
The use of online auction sites such as eBay to sell off surplus stock can save public sector bodies money and improve their customer service practices, according to the latest edition of the European Commission's Journal of ePractice (
The report, by Italian academic Enrico Ferro and US academic Lucy Dadayan, says that in Western countries, where government spending on goods and services amounts to about 20% of GDP, sales of surplus could generate huge revenues for the state. Sellable items include anything no longer needed, for example if goods are damaged or departments are merged.
The paper focuses on the experience of New York State, which has used eBay to sell its surplus stock since 2002, including computers, furniture, helicopters, a Hammond organ and a lobster boat (see
Previously goods were sold in live auction, but by switching to online selling the state government has reduced the cost of selling items almost five-fold five times, now raising around 57 dollars per dollar spent on auction administration compared with a past figure of 13 dollars per dollar spent.
Online sales also removes the cost of transporting goods to live auction, and with the ability to sell to a larger and wider market - New York's buyers now hail from as far away as Sweden - less stock remains unsold, generating further savings on disposal or destruction of unsellable goods.
The authors of the report also say the buyer feedback system used in online auctions drives up customer service, since sellers who receive the best feedback receive higher average prices, incentivising them to treat customers better.
News in Brief:
+04: Gateway Shifts: Responsibility for running the UK's online
'Government Gateway' - a central registration and authentication portal for more than 153 online public services - has shifted from the Cabinet Office to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). In a statement the department said the move reflects its growing cross government role in improving access to online government services.
The Gateway joins the government's main public service web portal, DirectGov, which earlier this month also moved to the DWP from the Central Office of Information:
+05: Pleasure Measure: A new tool to allow councils to measure
citizen satisfaction with their services has been released by the local government Society of IT Management with specialist software provider GovMetric. The Customer Access Improvement service is an automated feedback tool that measures customer satisfaction whether they interact with a council in person, online or over the phone and allows managers to compare channels and identify weaknesses and areas for improvement. The results can also be compared against similar councils and established benchmarks:
+06: Sea Change: Open source software is undergoing a 'sea change'
in popularity, from something perceived as 'super-specialist' or the preserve of enthusiasts to a mainstream tool supporting the PC industry, according to a leading developer. In a BBC interview Mark Shuttleworth, whose firm Canonical software sponsors the distribution of the Ubuntu version of the open source operating system Linux, cited two recent public sector deployments of Ubuntu, in the French police force and Spanish education authorities:
[Section One ends].
++Special Notice: Building the Perfect Council Website
- Third Annual Event, Headstar With Socitm
- Major International Keynote Speaker
Following the huge success of our last year's conference, we are pleased to present our third annual event on how to create the perfect council website: easy to use, working first time, compelling and engaging.
A partnership between E-Government Bulletin and the Socitm Insight Programme, the event will draw on the collected wisdom of a decade of Socitm's annual 'Better Connected' review of all UK council websites. Interactive workshops will cover issues in detail including boosting web service take-up, and the procurement of third party software.
Our keynote speaker this year is the celebrated international web usability guru Gerry McGovern (http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/about_gerry.htm). Secure your place today to ensure you don't miss out on hearing Gerry in a rare UK appearance. Register online at:
[Special Notice ends].
++Section Two: Policy
- E-Government Metrics.
+07: Introducing The Great E-mancipator
by Mick Phythian.
Back in the days before Implementing Electronic Government Statements (IEGs) and Priority Service Outcomes (PSOs), a local authority IT manager filled some of his evenings writing a thesis entitled 'Service delivery using internet technologies.'
The data, to which many district councils contributed, was shortly afterwards subjected to further analysis and with Bill Taylor the manager published it as a paper entitled 'Progress in electronic service delivery by English district councils.' He also wrote a piece for E- Government Bulletin in 2001 entitled 'Fighting their corner - the problems of territorialism', which argued for greater co-operation between government bodies to further e-government.
As the IEGs wore on and wore him out, the manager was sure things could be done differently, but had less and less time to ponder great thoughts. He worked in sub-regional and regional partnerships, Socitm, the ESD-Toolkit and Exchanging Information with the Public (EIP) but the frustration with the duplication haunted him. Then one day, long after the heady times of IEGs and PSOs, he felt another piece of research coming on.
What had been missed during that period, the manager believed, was some way of obtaining a wholesale view of what the public, citizens or customers wanted or did not want from electronic service delivery, and having some way of measuring it. Lacking the steely will and discipline to just start the research the IT manager floated the idea of making it a doctoral dissertation and as the outline developed the concept found some moral support from colleagues and academics, which instead of dissuading him, simply encouraged him further.
Thus it was that this manager became an addict of Google Scholar and various university libraries, as well as a subscriber to a range of mailing lists and web forums on the various topics within electronic or transformational government. He pulled a title together, tidied up the outline with some academic references to satisfy the university paperwork, and read and read and read.
And so to today. With currently over 200 references and approaching 20,000 words, I - for I am that manager - have arrived at the stage of asking people for answers, instead of just looking in books and journals. The literature, so far, has indicated that improvements for the citizen are dependent upon organisational change involving the end-to- end processes, that benchmarks or metrics have been absent but that customer satisfaction may be of use in determining movements in public value or social capital brought about by transformation. It has also suggested that there is a strong historical basis for many of the government structures and care needs to be observed when changing them. The latter is a nod in the direction of New Public Management
(NPM) that was, and still is in some places, a fad prior to electronic government and which has created some of the issues that transformational government potentially has to resolve.
The research methodology that I settled on was Action Research. This enables me to consult directly with the community of users and feed back to them without the probable wait involved for the completion of the research or inaccessible academic papers.
So in order to establish a conversation with those at the t-government coalface I have established a weblog entitled The Great E-mancipator - http://greatemancipator.wordpress.com - containing extracts of the research, models that come to mind, with the opportunity to comment, along with linking off to occasional surveys that can get some background to what is happening and what is wanted, which enables me to propose or develop any models with some sort of consensus support.
The title of the blog refers to Abraham Lincoln, known as the 'Great Emancipator', who was assassinated on 14 April 1865, precisely 143 years before the creation of the blog.
Everyone is invited to contribute opinions to the site (I'm an IT manager, I have no feelings!) and local government practitioners are begged to respond to an initial thirteen-question survey. Although the quantitative data is not expected to be representative, it would be useful to have as many practical solutions or propositions from the real world as possible.
[Section Two ends].
++Section Three: Focus
- Web Accessibility.
+08: The Power Of Five.
The local government Society of IT Management (Socitm) last week published a report on website accessibility which included a round-up of the five most common accessibility errors.
The society estimates that these five errors account for 76% of all website accessibility failures, and it asked Robin Christopherson, Head of Accessibility Services at the charity AbilityNet, to describe their impact. Robin is blind and uses the popular 'JAWS' screen reader software to access the web.
An edited version of Robin's assessment follows.
"Common failure 1 is to have no alternative text for images.
"This is an extremely common occurrence. I visit a website and am confronted with numerous unlabelled images. For mouse users this 'alternative text' is what pops up when you hover over the image. The average web page has dozens of images, from photos and adverts to 'eye-candy' such as spacing graphics and design flourishes. Many of these images are also clickable links or buttons, and not knowing what these are makes navigation impossible. Imagine trying to drive from A to B where the signposts at every roundabout or junction are blank. A disaster!
"Every single image on a website should be properly labelled. You don't need to begin captions by saying "Picture of.", as I already know it's a picture. You don't need to label 'spacer' or 'eye-candy'
images (but give these a default caption so that the page still passes the accessibility checkers) and, above all, make sure that all images that are also links or buttons describe what will happen when you click on them, eg alternative text as "Marilyn Monroe - click to read her life story".
"As well as revolutionising the site for blind users, labelled images will also help those with dyslexia and literacy difficulties who use text to speech software (they hover their mouse over any text or image and the content is spoken out). It will also help those with images turned off (many hand-held users do not display images) and, last but by no means least, Google loves labelled images.
"Common failures 3 and 4 are errors in simple and complex data tables.
"Thankfully, these days most websites use style sheets rather than tables to style and arrange the blocks of content on a web page. Where data tables are concerned, however, it is still the case that most are not coded in such a way that the relevant headings are spoken by a screen reader when moving from cell to cell. I hear '1327' and '1727' with no idea of whether these are sales of widgets or notable dates in history.
"The solution is to make sure that all headings of columns and rows are coded using the 'th' tag instead of the 'td' tag. A screen reader will then announce these along with the contents of the cell, putting the data in context (eg "Widgets sold in June, 1327").
"And finally, common failure 5 is the use of features with a lack of accessible alternatives.
"Here you are confronted with an inaccessible bit of content or function and you search for a way around the obstacle, but to no avail.
A classic example is 'CAPTCHA'. A CAPTCHA is a type of security test used to determine whether the user is human (and so exclude automated spamming programmes). A common type of CAPTCHA requires that the user type the letters of a distorted image. Since the image is by definition unlabelled (as otherwise it can be read by malicious software) an alternative (such as an option to register by phone or email) is essential.
"When it becomes clear that you have content or function that cannot be made accessible, offer an accessible alternative. For example, the Google accounts sign-up process that uses CAPTCHA also has a link to an audio version of the code to be entered plus a link to contact customer services for those who cannot access either the visual or the auditory option.
"Always remember that an accessible site is a popular site - and not just for the disabled community. Research has shown that a site that is designed with accessibility in mind is also easier to use by all."
NOTE: 'A world denied: a supplement for Better connected 2008 on website accessibility' is available from Socitm. It is free to subscribers to the society's Insight programme; £50 for non-subscribers in the public and voluntary sectors and £99 for private sector non- subscribers.
[Section Three ends].
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[Issue 262 ends].
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