How I Got The UK Government To Adopt ODF


Well, it's not often I get to completely influence the UK Government's approach to open standard. GOV.UK is adopting .ODF as their official document standard! All documentation will be also made available in HTML & PDF. Sweet!

Yeah, yeah, so I only played a small part in the (no doubt) hideously complicated process - but I'm happy to take full credit 🙂

Last year, the UK Government opened up a Standards Hub. They were actively soliciting for challenges that the UK Government could take on.

I was one of the first to respond.

You can read my modest proposal on the standards hub.

The crux of my proposal was this:

Each user - whether they work for the Government or are a citizen - has the right to read documents.

A user should not be expected to purchase new equipment or install new software, just in order to read an official document.

I don't think that's too much to ask. You may buy a computer every 6 months - but there are plenty of citizens who only have access to a Windows 95 PC. Or a Nintendo Wii. Or an eReader. Or who don't have admin rights to install new software.

Many of these devices are perfectly serviceable - and all are guaranteed to read either PDF or HTML. Open standards means zero extra cost for the citizen.

Next Steps

Based on my suggestion, two challenges were created:

After several months of wrangling, the Government announced a solution to both of these challenges - Open document formats selected to meet user needs.

When departments have adopted these open standards:

  • citizens, businesses and voluntary organisations will no longer need specialist software to open or work with government documents
  • people working in government will be able to share and work with documents in the same format, reducing problems when they move between formats
  • government organisations will be able to choose the most suitable and cost effective applications, knowing their documents will work for people inside and outside of government

The selected standards, which are compatible with commonly used document applications, are:

  • PDF/A or HTML for viewing government documents
  • Open Document Format (ODF) for sharing or collaborating on government documents

Cabinet Office and The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP

And, boom, just like that the open standard of ODF is mandated across government. In the future, you won't have to buy Microsoft Office just to read or respond to a government document. You won't need the latest and greatest computer, or cutting edge software.

Here's the thing. I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't made my initial contribution. Perhaps someone else would have. The tide is turning away from the proprietary standards of the past and Governments around the world are embracing Open Standards.

But I did contribute. I did make my voice heard. And the world has changed a little bit for the better.

And now it's up to you. Find a challenge on the Government's website, contribute, engage, make your voice heard,


Huge thanks to Hadley Beeman for telling me about the Open Standards Challenge, and to Tracey Williams for keeping me informed of its progress. Much of real credit for this amazing achievement belongs to Linda Humphries for running the consultation, and to The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP for listening to such wise counsel.

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