The information in this blogpost may now be out of date.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 www.gov.uk/government/organisations, 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