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Deleting organisations and people is a thing of the past

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: How we work

The information in this blogpost may now be out of date. See the current GOV.UK content and publishing guidance.

Historically, government websites didn't make life easy for historians.

When departments or agencies closed, merged, split or got renamed through "machinery of government changes" (as these kinds of structural changes are lovingly known), in the past the affected organisations' websites tended  to be unceremoniously shut down or overhauled. If you missed that particular memo, piecing together what had happened was not always easy.

Likewise, when ministers came and went through resignations, reshuffles and elections, their profile pages tended to vanish without trace from departments' sites and be replaced wholesale by information about the new incumbents.

With GOV.UK, however, we are building the site so that the rich, fascinating and downright useful data about these kinds of changes is easy to understand,  preserved for posterity and (soon) available for re-use.

We never delete people or roles...

As early as the beta [correction: the alpha] of GOV.UK, ministers and top civil servants on GOV.UK have always been modelled as two separate entities - a person and a role. These two entities are then brought together as a "role appointment": a person in a role for a span of time.

When a person changes role, the person page will show their current role and their previous role(s) in government (a bit like a LinkedIn page). The role page will also show the past and current holders of that role.

Therefore there is not, and there has never been, any need to delete either a role or a person from GOV.UK. The all ministers page and the lists of ministers and civil servants on department pages automatically list only the current role appointments. The historical data, on the other hand, remains intact in our database, so we can expose it for posterity and interrogation by others.

...and now we never delete organisations either

Last week, we took the first step towards a similar approach for reflecting machinery of government changes, by introducing the concept of a closed organisation.

The extent of this first step is that it is now possible to set the status of any organisation as "closed" and to record the date of its closure.

Organisations marked as closed  cease to be listed on the organisations index at, and are no longer  shown on the parent/sponsor organisation's homepage. But they continue to have a profile page findable at the same URL, with a statement indicating they are closed, like this one.

Closed organisation profiles will remain findable by external search engines and the internal site search, and  remain listed as a filter option, for example when filtering by organisation on the list of all government publications. All documents on GOV.UK which were once tagged to that organisation will continue to be so, so none of the context is lost.

Consequently, there is now no reason to ever delete  an organisation record from GOV.UK.

Bring out your dead

Departmental colleagues, please let GDS know of any organisations currently listed on GOV.UK which have closed, so we can set them as closed on the site now that the feature is available. Use the support form to let us know. Remember to give us the date the organisation closed (as accurate a date as is known).

In future, we hope to also:

  • model relationships between closed and live organisations (so that a new organisation created from the merger of two closed organisations can inherit their documents, for example)
  • expose all this information as linked open data
  • run a project to backfill as much historical ministerial and organisation data as possible. We'd welcome the opportunity to partner with anyone interested in helping with this project

If Destroyed Still True image by Ian Stacey on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by simonfj posted on


    You weren't around when the GDS simply shifted their context, from being hosted on gds.cabinetoffice (with all the nice linkages which explained their history from Maude's perspective) and dumped it into a "all gov blogs"" list. with you unwashed:)

    Now one will have no idea who the teams which comprise the GDS might possibly be, or understand that their genesis was in the cabinetoffice. Pity, cause it was a nice evolving history lesson up till then. I just hope this history in "changing context" might be one for the cook books, cause it's bound to become needed all the time.

    That said, I thought there would have been more thought given to putting the gds 'compilation blog" in the "all blogs" context, and Carrie would be given the role as chief editor for all the blogs, rather than just inviting in the unwashed to produce a GDS guest approach.

    Either it's a GDS "all blog" service where one points to all the blogs, and gives readers the opportunity to select their interest topics from them for a daily, weekly, digest. In which case all the GDS topic teams need to be introduced and have their separate blog. Or GDS is the blog which brings the teams specific to Digital together, in which case that includes insidegov and a few others. No difference to me. But I do like the logic to be clear to a user.

    It's make the point, cause "groups"(teams) will be so important on helping people decide whether they should join a group or start one up. So finding out whether a type of group exists is so important. e.g. the GDS is organised in "types of service" groups across the departmental silos. But I'd have no idea on how to find them.
    How do you classify the inter-departmental groups?

    Re: the backfill. Sounds like you're tempting a bunch of librarians to provide an extensive history lesson. Be interesting to revisit after the archives have done the official doc dump. Have you had that discussion?