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Publishing an updated GOV.UK proposition

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This week we publish a consolidated proposition for GOV.UK in alpha form. We hope that this will help make it clearer which content and services are in scope for GOV.UK, and which are not.

This post talks about how we put the proposition together, and some of what we learnt along the way.

Read the GOV.UK proposition

Updating the GOV.UK proposition

Until now, the proposition for GOV.UK has been expressed in a number of places, and with varying degrees of detail. To be honest, this wasn’t really a great deal of use either to us, or to the hundreds of people across government who use GOV.UK to publish information and services.

So, at the start of the year we set up a cross-government working group to oversee the drafting of an updated proposition statement.

To feed into this, we also held workshops and meetings with organisations across government to explore people's current experience of decision-making on the proposition, and to clarify the needs behind an updated proposition.

It also gave us a chance to talk about broader issues such as areas where we can improve the way that departmental publishers and the GDS GOV.UK team work together.

Getting your views on the GOV.UK vision

As facilitator of the overall process I was struck by people's appetite not just to create a clearer proposition for GOV.UK (ie a statement of what content is and isn’t in scope), but also to help inform and shape the overall vision for GOV.UK.

I’ve fed all the ideas I’ve received to the GOV.UK product team, to take forward as part of their planning.

Next steps on the proposition

We hope the updated proposition will now support the process of everyday decision-making, both in GDS and government organisations, about what should and shouldn’t be published on GOV.UK.

We’ll also be building a set of ‘case law’ examples for edge cases, so we can be sure we’re responding in a consistent manner, and iterating the proposition to introduce new guidance if needed.

We’d encourage you to let us know what’s not clear or is overly ambiguous still. I’d also be very happy to chat about any of this or to answer questions on this blogpost if you’ve got any observations or comments.

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  1. Comment by Graham posted on

    Hi Ben,

    I appreciate that there's a line on devolved users in 'What doesn't go on GOV.UK' but think that the introductory paragraphs could be strengthened to reflect the fact that GOV.UK is a UK Government product. It already says "...anyone looking for information about the work of the UK government" but there are a few other places where the 'UK' is missed out:

    * "GOV.UK is designed to meet the needs that UK citizens and residents have of government."
    * "It’s been built to make interacting with government as easy as possible."
    * "GOV.UK is for services, information and guidance that only government can provide."

    For clarity and consistency, I'd advocate inserting 'UK government' into each sentence. What do you think?

    • Replies to Graham>

      Comment by Ben Hayman posted on

      Hi Graham,

      Thanks for your comments. I see the point and it would be good to reinforce the fact that GOV.UK is a UK government product. Inserting UK into every one of the 8 principles might not be necessary however (and could be a little 'noisy'). Another approach would be to change "GOV.UK is for services, information and guidance that only government can provide." to read "GOV.UK is for services, information and guidance that only the UK government can provide." This then sets the scope for all 8 principles that follow.

      I will take this suggestion forward as part of the next review of the proposition and let you know when that review takes place and the outcome.

      Many thanks again for thinking about this and feeding back,


  2. Comment by Jeni Pitkin posted on

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for publishing this online, it is so useful to have it available to share with our editors and staff. I also look forward to the examples you're building. We will use these to make sure that we are consistent with requests coming in.

    A lot of editors have asked me about the user need element of the proposition. We gathered insight of our user needs before we moved to GOV.UK in April. We looked at what our customers were searching for and reviewed that against contact centre data, on-page feedback and page analytics. We have been looking at requests from colleagues wanting to publish content and checking whether there is a user need for it. Is there a threshold when something becomes a user need? For example, X number of people searching using a particular search term or phrase. When are the number of searches so low that it is not considered a user need?

    I'm happy to chat about this and explain what I mean.



    • Replies to Jeni Pitkin>

      Comment by Ben Hayman posted on

      Hi Jeni,

      Thanks for your thought and comments on this. The decision on when evidence of user need is strong enough to warrant inclusion of content is certainly not straightforward. The important thing is that we all research the level of use and demand from as many angles as we can. Its clear that you have been doing this from what you have set out in your posting.

      Working in an agile way (where it's simply not possible to do everything) its then a question of prioritising those needs based on volumes of use and their criticality. We then do the most important ones first and run a backlog of the rest. By continually involving our users we can quickly tell if user sentiment is suggesting our priorities need adjusting. Keeping the prioritisation process and backlog open for all to see is a great way to discover if we've missed a need that is critical. All of that said, no matter how we organise ourselves each case needs to be assessed as it arises and there is no hard and fast rule on what makes for 'enough evidence'. However we are thinking about ways that we might be able to codify this a little more and I'll make sure we involve you and your team in that work when it starts.

      Many thanks,

  3. Comment by Chris Kershaw posted on

    I work for the Government Statistical Service and I'd like the proposition to be explicit about the GOV.UK's role in supporting the GSS in our role to inform parliament and public on the statistics that are used in debating key issues. The Office for National Statistics has its own website, but for the rest of us in the GSS GOV.UK is our main method for communication.

    This omission of our important role worries me as we seem to have to shoehorn into systems developed for other people. For example, in my area we used to publish stats across a range of topic based webpages (covering a dozen related topic areas) and now have to put all the material on one very long webpage that can only be printed off in its entirety. This has been a backward step and we can feel we are not really a high priority area compared to those putting out policy statements or providing direct services to members of the public.

    This lack of specific interest in statistics seems to be reflected in the top departmental webpage design. For example, for my department we have links such as 'Check for circulars' but you have to go right down on the webpage to find a link to statistics (or research) in the department. It feels as if we are seen as a bit of an add on, which seems odd when the world is becoming increasingly keep on data visualisation, infographics etc.

    • Replies to Chris Kershaw>

      Comment by Ben Hayman posted on

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for your comments on this. I am aware of a number of projects looking at how data and statistics can be better supported through GOV.UK and other sites. I think a good action will be to link you up with my colleagues on those projects to share these views with them.

      Thanks again,

  4. Comment by simonfj posted on

    Many thanks for this one Ben,

    I'll be passing it around a few user groups (both in .uk and .au) as a talking point.

    I would be interested in anything you might have in the way of a mission statement or vision from any individuals inside or outside gov, particularly if they address the National vs. Local gov integration. e.g. We now have the IER service as an example of cross silo/gov integration, which provides a template for many others. Obviously the original proposition changes.

    We seem to have one problem here. It's to do with the aspirations of citizens and how they may be "involved." The primary assumption for GOV.UK is that it is about depts. and agencies publishing and the public are readers and users. i.e. The old broadcast approach to publishing.
    And that's at odds with the idea readers will give their opinions and debate an "article", which is the expectation set by any commercial publisher.

    So, if "a user" were to look at how they might "be involved", one would be looking for the social networks (both internal and external) that revolve around the individual pages of "orgs" and "groups", and who share a "topical" interest. At the moment each page asks "Is there anything wrong with this page?" Whereas any user these days would be expecting something a bit more inclusive like "would you like to contribute to this page?" (and perhaps be directed to a "community of interest"). e.g.

    I raise the point because obviously there needs to be a separation, and balance, between the efficient publishing of useful information and the explanation of why it is necessary, how it is meant to be interpreted, and how a service works. We already know the limitations of (e.g.) this proposition so far.

    Perhaps we might be better off using this inquiry as a way to make sure this proposition develops GOV.UK as a learning box for UK citizens (and a few other countries). That said, GOV.UK (and its blogs) have proved such an inspiration.

  5. Comment by Ben Hayman posted on

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I'll try to comment to each in turn but some might warrant more investigation than a thread here can sensibly support.

    Vision for GOV.UK - We're working on this right now. We are taking ideas from the things we have learnt so far, input from colleagues across government and ideas from the industry to help make a picture of what GOV.UK ought to be like in the future. Naturally we are also looking at how we can get users involved in describing a vision for GOV.UK. I am not sure when there will be sharable output from this work but it will certainly be shared on this blog when it is ready.

    Local and central - There is a lot of work going on within the community of great local digital practitioners, the network behind and colleagues at This work is looking at how knowledge and code can be shared. Part of this involves seeing how the work GDS has been doing at the centre could be adapted and used by local digital practitioners. Again, its an evolving thing and we will share more here when and as it happens.

    User involvement - I take your point that users expect a high level of involvement with the content they interact with on consumer services. GOV.UK is not currently designed to cater for such interactions and would only move towards this if it was in support of our position of 'Simpler Clearer Faster' delivery of trusted government information and services. As we look at the vision for the future of GOV.UK this is however an area we should assess.

    Thanks again,

  6. Comment by simonfj posted on

    Thanks Ben,

    I was just revisiting this post after commenting on another Ben's post.

    Also, I take it you're working with John.

    It's a bit of Catch 22 at the moment. i.e. Trying " to comment to each in turn but some might warrant more investigation than a thread here can sensibly support". Believe me, you're going through what all groups in the space go through. i.e. Trying to have some groups which are open, and some not; and offering a way that peers can find peers so that they co-design and collaborate.

    It really is a clash of design philosophies where one (old one) says "deliver" and the other (new one) says "share". And in between we have lots of blogs from lots of departments and service designers, and individuals in high places; all aggregated in a stream of consciousness. All I can tell you is that the solution lies around treating orgs as composed of groups, and treating ALL groups in a consistent manner across the "masthead" (GOV.UK). And revisiting this standard.

    It must be incredibly frustrating not to be able to treat this proposition as a publisher; politics being what it is. But .gov is gradually taking on the new habits entrenched in research .edu networks. As you say, "it's an evolving thing". It's not just you and me who is saying that, as anyone can read on that Horizon Scanning report.

    I'll leave you with this one. There are so many support forums around the web as you'd know. This one might be useful as "Companies" could be "Departments", and we could have "Service Lounges" as a place for the Q&A related to each service.

    Not as hard as it might seem to implement. All those "Is there anything wrong with this page?" links (I think) use Zendesk. So turning the 'tickets' into context-specific online fora isn't too hard.