This is a little blog post about a big spreadsheet. I’ll understand if you click onto the next item in your reader.


Still here! Well, one of my early consulting projects over the summer shortly after setting up Helpful Technology was for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, helping the digital team there to assess their compliance with the standards and good practice advice issued by the Digigov team at COI. The Digigov team are an unusual bunch, tasked with improving the quality of government websites in general, which they’ve approached by developing around 20 separate documents detailing what good practice in this niche field looks like, everything from search optimisation to online video, naming to moderation.

Is it proportional? If you do all these things, will you have a good website? Do government webbies have time and inclination to read all these rules? It’s not for me to say. Personally, I rather like the fact that smart, digitally-literate people have pondered these matters, and latterly, consulted about them with commendable 2.0 openness.

But it’s a lot to read, and I can now say hand on heart that I have read it all, cover to cover, even the new ones which have been promulgated since last summer.

To help with the job of auditing FCO’s compliance with the advice, I condensed the recommendations and requirements into a set of checkpoints – 149 in all – in the style of the W3C accessibility guidance, and tried to devise logical tests for each one. Some can be tested with automated tools. Some you can attempt to verify with cunning Google searches. Some require sitting down with the team and asking about their process.

The end result is a grid which gives you a sense of to what extent a government website is following good practice in web management generally, and specifically the rules which apply to government properties online, including such esoteric matters as the URLs used in marketing materials, and the use of RDFa markup for job vacancies. Hopefully even sites which are generally well-managed will pick up one or two things which they could polish.

And I’m sharing the whole thing here, now, as a spreadsheet [XLS,115k]. After all, I’ve been paid once for developing it, it’s for the greater good, and if you’d like support applying it to your own organisation or help with other digital odd jobs, you know where I am.

Disclaimer: I’ve taken reasonable care compiling this, but accept no liability for errors, omissions etc. I may or may not update this document with errata or new guidance documents.

Licence: this document is published under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution, Share-alike, Non-commercial licence – you are free to reuse and distribute it under the terms of that licence.


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Steph, thanks for the link and the praise but I staunchly deny being “unusual” 🙂

Just to add to what you have said, the Digigov team developed these guides in teams with web managers across government, often led by them. We have also supported the guidance with training courses, workshops and e-learning.

I agree there’s a lot there (some of it hopefully useful!) but actually very little that is absolutely mandatory. I counted 12 in the requirements summary published here. Similar to the BBC Online Standards and Guidelines, a “MUST” means it’s mandatory, a “SHOULD” means recommended. This itself is an Internet standard – RFC2119 for all the standards geeks out there!

To answer the question, “if you do all these things, will you have a good website?” the answer is, “no”. There’ s one test that trumps all of these: test with users. No amount of good management practice or standards compliance monitoring will provide insight or generate site improvements to the extent that usability testing will. We’ve tried to emphasise this in our blog articles, seminars and workshops, and the usability toolkit. We could probably do more to promote user-centred design within the guidance documents themselves.

In general, I agree with the sentiment. It is time to review what we have and strip out any unnecessary red tape. In the spirit of the Red Tape Challenge, I’d love to hear from others if about any requirements that feel particularly onerous?

Sadly, however, I might be the only person to comment on this article 🙂

Wrong Adam!

Steph, fantastic piece of work and thanks for sharing. Wold be great to hear a little about how you actually went about the review.