Back in the day, before April 2011, before the Government Digital Service was launched, public sector websites were pretty much awful.
We know because we were there doing usability testing for everybody from the Home Office, Department for Transport, Patent Office and dozens more. There were hundreds of sites all different most with poor navigation and even worse content. Transacting online was almost non-existent and most were pretty unusable.
But what a change in the intervening 9 years! Now you can transact online for everything from getting a passport to applying for furlough payments all from one site - Gov.uk. It is an extraordinary transformation in a very short space of time and, in my opinion, the UK probably has one the best Government digital service in the world.
While recent research we conducted on Gov.Uk has shown there are still navigational issues the real transformation has been in the content which is, in the main, very good.
How to produce great digital content (GDS style!)
This transformation has not happened by chance. Getting content right when you have thousands of content producers is very difficult. A challenge most sites with this problem still fail. But the GDS approach ticks all the key boxes:
- Understand users - They insist that sites undertake discovery research with users to ensure they genuinely understand users’ needs and goals
- Write well and for the web - They set out how to plan and write content and have a style guide to ensure consistency across the site
- Support & Train - They provide support (direct advice, webinars and interactive forums), and compulsory training to become a content author
- Test with users - They recommend usability testing and provide guidance on how to do this
- Monitor & enforce - They enforce their standards by doing spot checks across their digital estate and report on this. GDS have the necessary political clout to get changes implemented
So while many sites don’t have the resources of Her Majesty's Government, there is no excuse for bad content because the above principals are now well understood and detailed guidance is readily available.
Our experience is that the organisations where the political power lies in departmental silos (that’s you Universities and local authorities) are the ones that struggle to implement these principles.
The cardinal sins of thinking with an internal rather than user perspective, vanity publishing, and verbose complicated writing are still far too common. If Government can do it why not everybody else?