Fresh01′s redesign: more questions for the DTI

Dan Champion and I remain unhappy with the Department of Trade and Industry’s answers to why they spent a quarter of a million pounds on a Clarkian failed redesign.

Our unhappiness is due to their wasting public money on a site that does not meet the level of accessibility required in their own spec, and the fact that the DTI have said that “if further changes are to be made to the website the cost will be met by DTI”, so presumably, Fresh01 (the suppliers) will not be required to put their mistakes right at their own expense (if indeed, the DTI’s answers show that it’s the supplier’s fault).

We want to know why this shoddy procurement, development and supplier monitoring happened, and what will be done to prevent it reoccurring. Therefore, we’ve sent further questions to the DTI as a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The questions

  1. Did the DTI take legal advice on what level of WCAG conformance constituted compliance with the DDA? If yes, please provide a copy of the advice received.
  2. If no legal advice was taken, what was the rationale behind specifiying WCAG level AA conformance in the original specification?
  3. Please provide a full copy of the document referred to in the response to my previous enquiry – ‘Invitation to Tender for rebuild of the website, brief for customer research, design & information architecture, and usability testing phases’.
  4. Tendering: was the decision to award the contracts made on price alone? Please provide copies of all DTI reports/investigations during the tendering phase of all shortlisted suppliers’ ability to deliver an accessible website conforming to WCAG level AA. Please list the qualifications and experience of commissioning accessible websites of those who picked the successful suppliers.
  5. What provisions existed in the contract for a contractor failing to adequately satisfy the deliverables specified in the requirements document?
  6. How did the DTI monitor deliverables against the specified requirement of WCAG level AA, and the validity of the code? How regularly were these checked during the project? What processes were followed by the DTI to assess the completed website against the deliverables in the requirements document?
  7. At which point in the project did the DTI drop the requirement for AA conformance? Please provide documentation on why this decision was taken, and whether legal advice was taken.
  8. The Usability Company (now Foviance) claim to have been employed as the accessibility and usability agency for the redevelopment of the DTI website (www.theusabilitycompany.com/news/newsletter/dti.html [Link co-incidentally broken; Google cache]). What was this company’s precise role in the project, what was the value of the work they carried out, was this included in the costs of £175,000 quoted in the response to my original enquiry, and why was the company not mentioned in the response to my original enquiry?
  9. Are Fresh01, Fujitsu, The Usability Company (Foviance) or Percussion still on any list of the DTI’s preferrred suppliers?
  10. Has the DTI amended its processes for procuring web design work since Fresh01 were commissioned? Is there an organisational requirement to use PAS78 as the basis for any future commissioning work?
  11. What action is being taken to address the deficiencies of the new DTI website? Who will bear the financial burden of this remedial work, and what is the estimated value of the work?

When the reponse comes in, we’ll publish it here, along with any reply from Fresh01, who are cordially invited to respond.

22 Responses to “ Fresh01′s redesign: more questions for the DTI ”

Comment by John Hoare

This is all excellent stuff. Well done to you and Dan for not letting them get away with it. It *is* a scandal.

I’ve emailed links to your and Dan’s posts off to Private Eye, in case they want to cover it.

Comment by Nick Cowie

Watching this with interest. I work for the Government on the other side of the world (Western Australia State Government).

I have seen a couple of projects come close to disasters like the DTI site, in both cases the project manager on the Goverment side was the major cause.

In one case the project manager, knew nothing about the web and just accepted what the contractors said. In the other case the project manager “knew the web” but that was in 1997 and this was 2004 and as long as it worked on his browser on his computer it was acceptable.

In both cases the contractor’s staff took shortcuts and tried to get the job done as quickly as possible and in both cases with little or no acceptance testing (including no accessibility testing).

Both projects would of been more successful if the project managers on the Government side knew what they were doing, and I expect the DTI project would of been the same.

That said I got documentation for a project yesterday from an external contractor that stated “the templates and stylesheet comply with the following: W3C Web Accessibility guidelines”. So I opened up the site to see if it was single-a or double-a conformance. And it failed the first checkpoint 1.1, every single image did not have a text equivalent and it got worse from there.

Comment by Bruce

I decided against it, Matt, as I didn’t want to be seen as a lone madman. But if anyone fancies writing to their MP, please let Dan and I know. You can easily find out who your MP is via the excellent theyworkforyou.com.

Comment by Robert Whittaker

Good stuff! I’ve also submitted a second FOIA request to the DTI (though not as detailed as yours). I’ve also written to my MP (no reply yet), the All Party Internet Group (issue will be raised at their July meeting), and the e-Government Unit (fuzzy reply claiming a lack of jurisdiction and responsibility received) to complain.

Ironically, it would seem the DTI were asked about their website in Parliament only last year:
http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2005-12-05b.30965.h

Also, according to my reply from the e-Government Unit: “I can confirm that the DTI web staff have consulted us on a number of issues relating to their new design.” (FOIA request just sent asking for details.)

BTW: Is it just me, or do the left-hand menu colourings on the DTI site not show up in Firefox (due to the classes starting with numbers)?

Comment by Dan

I’ve been contacted by two individuals who have written to their MPs about this, and if anyone else wants to then go ahead – the more the merrier.

Comment by Dan

Oops, meant to say, you’re right Robert, the DTI site navigation is broken in Firefox. I had a quick glance at their CSS, but my eyes started to bleed and I had to look away.

The eGU are sticking to their line of being the issuers but not hte policemen of web guidelines, and I understand that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Thanks also for the link to Alan Johnson’s written answer, it just reinforces my cynical view of politicians I’m afraid.

Comment by Ross Bruniges

I’m probably coming into this discusion rather late but I have similar issues with project manager knowlegde in publicly funded websites and agreee with the previous posts saying that they just don’t have the up-to-date web skills to successfully do the job anymore (in my opinion from my personal experience). They are given project manager roles because of their seniority, not because of skills sets.

Because of this a company can talk all they like about how good and how accessible their sites are and get away with it as people believe that as long as a site looks good then it meets their needs (though of cause this is not the case)

Thats my two cents anyways – not until the guys who advocate web standards and accessibility become project managers in government organisations will the problems go away!!

Comment by Karl

APIG sounds like an interesting group to approach on the current issues surrounding gov websites Bruce? I note the website was built by Nomensa using their “Defacto” CMS too.

Ross, couldn’t agree more. I’m trying hard to get there.

Comment by Andy Field

Following on from this article in the Guardian ‘Thinking small could be beautiful for Britain’s IT’ [http://society.guardian.co.uk/e-public/story/0,,1807950,00.html] there’s a response from Vaughan Shayler of the National Computing Centre in today’s mentioning that the DTI is one government body that is looking to “supporting the development of an IT Supplier Standard” [http://technology.guardian.co.uk/weekly/story/0,,1813105,00.html?gusrc=rss]. Shame they didn’t apply this to their website.

Comment by JackP

By my reckoning, they’ve got about two days to respond – but I don’t know exactly when you asked ‘em. Heard anything yet?

Comment by Bruce

Nowt yet Jack – but they do tend to wait exactly 20 days to respond. Worse, I had an email from a correspondant who’d put in freedom of information request with similar questions, and was told

I regret that we cannot provide this information, as the cost of administering your request would exceed the limit prescribed under Section 12 of the Freedom of Information Act. This is £600, which represents the estimated cost of spending 24 hours in determining whether the Department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information. Where the cost of compliance with a request would exceed the appropriate limit, we are not obliged to comply with that request.

So let’s see if we get *anything* at the end of the week ….

Comment by JackP

I could see it being difficult to defend not answering, because in order to do that, you’d have to be prepared to say:
“we don’t know whether or not we took legal guidance, we don’t know how our tendering process works, we don’t know why decisions were made to drop previous requirements, we don’t know what we would do if someone failed to fulfil a contract, we don’t know who is responsible for ensuring our website meets the required standard, and, despite a freedom of information request, we aren’t prepared to find out”.
…would make for an interesting press release!

So I would hope they come up with the information. Because I don’t think the questions are going to go away if they don’t…

Comment by Oli

The The Usability site has a section on their clients, with individual pages for each client.

Many of the titles on the pages are wrong, presumably because they cut and pasted and forgot to change the title in the pasted page. (Camelot for example says “Online Gambling e-Commerce | Victor Chandler”, The Planning Portal says “Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) | paybox”)

I suggest they employ a proof reader and QA company to check their own output.

Comment by Charlie Oates

I’ve posted this on the blether.com site, but thought it may be should go here too. Apologies for ‘double posting’!

I suppose there’s been no outcome from the internal investigation if you’ve posted nothing on here. Are they telling you anything?

Another issue, though I agree with you (and your co-conspiritor’s) comments and agree that it’s a shocking waste of taxpayers money on such a terrible site, have you received any comments or support from people who find the site difficult to use because it’s so inaccessible? I just wonder because a lot of the time it seems as if the people who really get their nickers in a twist about this are not the people who use screen readers or who are visually impaired, but it’s the people who want websites to be designed well, So I just wondered if you’d had any contact from those that you, your co-conspiritor and many others, proport to be representing and fighting on behalf of?

Comment by rugs

Would love to know how this worked out in the end – I think you took a significant step here in what it is you did. This kind of thing happens many times in this industry, by the looks of it, and it shows how from a governmental level people just don’t know the internet or the value it adds. Your case is not the first case I’ve heard of this sort of thing.
If possible, you should add a link here for people who’ve just stumbled upon this now to pick up and see what the end result is. I enjoy following this kind of thing with a lot of interest. At any rate, I’ll muse around your site and see what I can find.