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Eleven months of publishing on GOV.UK

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John Ploughman is Digital Communication Manager for the Driving Standards Agency, one of the first agencies to move to GOV.UK almost a year ago. In this guest post, John talks about the move and what it’s been like publishing on GOV.UK.

Transitioning to GOV.UK:

It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly a year since the Driving Standards Agency made the move to GOV.UK.

We were one of the first agencies to do so. Nearly a year on, I wanted to answer something you’re probably wondering: what’s it like publishing to GOV.UK on a day-to-day basis?

Focused on designing content

Depending on your current set up, the biggest thing you might notice is that you no longer need to be worried about contracts, infrastructure and your CMS. That’s taken care of.

You’ll be able to focus on designing content that meets user needs. You’ll end up publishing content that is always readable and understandable, because you have the time to work on it. You’ll be able to do things you’ve always wanted to, like move away from old-fashioned PDF downloads to responsively designed HTML pages. It’s a huge benefit for users, and I’ve found it incredibly rewarding.

The ever-evolving publisher

When we had our own CMS it was rarely updated. And when it was, it never really added features we needed.

The GOV.UK publisher is constantly being developed and improved. On an almost weekly basis it makes your life as a publisher easier with new features ‘shipped’. What’s more, you can suggest new features to help meet your needs as a publisher, and to help you meet your users’ needs. That’s something that we just weren’t used to.

Being part of a community of publishers

When everyone had a different website, it was difficult to spot good practice and then do something similar yourself.

Being on GOV.UK goes a long way to solving that problem. You’ll find it much easier to see how others are designing their content and using the content formats. Through the Inside GOV.UK blog you’ll start to feel part of something much wider.

Being able to see some really fantastic examples of digital work being done, and being able to talk to the people behind them, is another thing to look forward to. An example of this that springs to mind is the work that DfE has done around putting the national curriculum in HTML. To see such an important document made digital by default like this has been an inspiration and helps us to challenge the way that we do things here.

Top 3 tips for a smooth move

Finally, I wanted to share my top 3 tips to get you through your move.

    1. Know and understand your users’ needs
      Most of you have probably got a lot of content on your site, but do you know what user need it’s trying to meet? Users are coming to your site because they have a need. They’ll come to GOV.UK for the same reason. Understanding those needs early on really helped us to design content for GOV.UK to give users what they need and drop what they don’t.
    2. Let your colleagues know what’s happening
      Make sure you work out who needs to know about the move. Get them together and tell them what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and explain the benefits. Keep them informed throughout the process. And when the move is done, don’t forget to recognise their part in helping you get there.
    3. Be prepared to challenge colleagues… and yourself
      There will be times when you’ll be challenged by policy and subject matter experts. Be prepared to challenge them back. Sometimes you might have to challenge the way you have done things yourself. The GDS design principles come in very handy here – ‘Start with user needs, not government needs’ is a very good reminder of what we’re here for.

Good luck with your move!

Follow John on Twitter: @johnploughman

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