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Preparing for transition: meeting specialist user needs

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Transition, User insights

Associate Product Manager John Turnbull sets out how we're getting GOV.UK ready for the thousands of specialists  who will use the site after more than 300 government websites move to GOV.UK later this year. 

As Neil outlined in his blog post, we’re now in phase 3 of the development of GOV.UK.

We know we have to get better at meeting specialist user needs. And, in doing so, we have to take into account people’s legitimate concerns that agency and arm’s length body (AALB) content - often very detailed and niche - will get lost in a huge website and will be dumbed down.

So in this post I hope to allay those fears by explaining in a little more detail what the Specialist Team is doing to meet the needs of all AALB users.

Sharper search

We have plenty of anecdotal evidence that search on GOV.UK is not as good as it could be. With a huge amount of new content soon to arrive on the site, the need to improve it is greater than ever. Niche content has to be findable, and we have to prevent ‘crowding out’ of content for non-specialist needs.

Real improvements have to be based on data, so we’re building new ways of measuring search performance. We can now see, for example, how closely the order of search results correlates with how many people click on each result. If the most clicked result is the 4th on the page, we know something’s not right.

We’re building real-time dashboards so we can see how well an organisation’s content performs immediately after transition.

And scoped search is in our sights: we’re researching the need to restrict (or weight) search results to content from a specific organisation if the search is performed from their homepage.

Better browsing

Users with an interest - usually professional - in a particular ‘specialist’ area need to be able to browse relevant content. Often they want to know they’re seeing ‘everything’ relating to their field.

We’re addressing this by developing browse functionality that can pull together content from across GOV.UK, whether from ‘Services and information’, ‘Departments and policy’ or detailed guidance.

The oil and gas page is the first live beta for this. To make this work we’ve developed a system that allows editors to tag any page to a specialist browse category.   

For now the browse work is concentrating on the needs of the larger transitioning organisations, but we’ll be extending it to others in time. We’re looking to help organisations to develop their own specialist browse categories and information architecture, which we will then review. This should speed up the overall process.

Optimal orientation

Users need to know where they are and what they’re looking at on GOV.UK, especially if they arrive from an external search engine. We’re developing ways to better orientate people.

On content for specialist user needs, for example, we’re looking at automatically including the specialist sub-sector in the title of the document and a prominent link to related ‘mainstream’ content. A user landing on a page like this will see immediately that it’s aimed at meeting specialist needs and has the option to jump to a more general page if that’s not what they were looking for.

Perfect publications

I’m stretching this alliteration thing now. We may not be able to make them perfect, but we are going to expand the range of labels we can apply to publications. Alice’s post on the Inside GOV.UK blog has the details.

Groups galore

Currently on GOV.UK you can create a page for a policy team or a policy advisory group. AALBs (and indeed central government departments) have many other types of teams, boards, panels, committees, networks, regulators, adjudicators - and so on - that users need to know about. We’re planning to create a more flexible, generic format to handle these.

Fine-grained finding

There’s a strong need for some sets of content to be searched using different options to those found on site search or the publications index.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), for example, which replaces the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading on 1 April, will publish information on the cases it investigates. Lawyers and other interested parties will need to find these cases by date, type, industry sector etc.

To meet this need, we’re building a ‘finder’, based on the Business finance and support finder, which enables faceted search of all CMA cases. Other finders - eg for the Air, Maritime and Rail Accident Investigation Branches - are in the pipeline.

Style counsel

Our content teams are working with AALBs to apply the GOV.UK style guide to niche content, using technical terms only when they improve search and there are no plain English alternatives. This will help to meet specialist user needs by making the information easier to read and understand. Content will be made accessible to a wider range of people, and easier and quicker to understand for everyone, including experts.

Testing, testing

All this work is underpinned by research and data. We’re researching the browse and navigation needs of AALB users, starting with agencies with the highest traffic, but with the aim of addressing all AALBs whose users need additional support to find information or services. We’re also user-testing all new functionality to ensure the proposed solutions meet their needs.

Some examples of what we’ve been doing so far:

  • phone interviews with users to get a better understanding of their needs

  • testing prototypes of proposed new functionality, such as the CMA case finder

  • lab-based testing of prototypes of the agency home page, user journeys and specialist topics

As new features and functionality go live over the next few months, we’ll supplement this qualitative research with quantitative testing to inform further design improvements across GOV.UK - which we will, of course, blog about.

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