In the 2 years since GOV.UK launched, we’ve learned a lot about the government users of GOV.UK. This includes both specialists who produce information, and the digital publishing teams that work with them to make sure their information is in the right format and in the right place on GOV.UK.
There are many different publishing models used by the departments and agencies who publish to GOV.UK so we’re starting to look at how these different models affect the quality of the content produced in order to meet user needs.
GDS carries out post-publication editorial spot checks on content produced by departments and agencies. A spot check reviews content against our style guidance, which is based on research into how users best understand online content.
We recently looked at the last spot check results of 2 departments which have skilled central digital teams: Department for Education (DfE) and Department of Health (DH).
We found that both departments:
- were the only departments to publish content items with no errors
- had far fewer mistakes and errors than average
- had significantly fewer than average content items not reviewed before publication
|Percentage of content items with no errors
|Average number of errors per content item
|Percentage of content items checked that weren’t reviewed before publication
|Department for Education
|Department of Health
Thoroughly checked content is less likely to have errors in it. Moreover, users understand content with fewer errors in it more easily and don’t need to ask questions. That means fewer calls to customer support centres, saving valuable resources.
We also measure quality by how much feedback users leave by clicking 'report a problem' at the bottom of each GOV.UK page.
For June 2014, the departmental average was 1.2 comments for every 10,000 pageviews. DH’s average was 0.7, while DfE had the lowest comments per pageviews of any department with only 0.3 comments for every 10,000 pageviews.
Benefits of a central team
We looked at what the teams at DH and DfE were doing in order to achieve these positive results and found that they:
- develop a consistent approach to common content challenges that occur across the organisation (for example, DfE has asked for many education-specific words to be included in the GDS style guide)
- maintain a consistent tone of voice and style
- have an overview of the organisation’s content, understand how it relates to other content across the site and avoid duplicating content
- act as advocates across their organisation for shaping content to users' real needs rather than pushing content out
- keep up to date with best practice on use of content formats, style changes and technical improvements to GOV.UK publishing tools
- co-ordinate retiring outdated content
Having a skilled, centralised digital team has other benefits. It means developing a centre of excellence within an organisation where digital experts can focus on what’s needed to improve user experience.
For example, the DfE web team need management information reports to allow them to curate their content more efficiently - especially important in the run-up to the election. They presented a proposal to 8 other departments, refined it, and then lobbied GDS to build this feature into publisher. This functionality went live on GOV.UK yesterday.
At DH, digital strategy and user needs are represented at the highest levels. DH’s Digital Leader Will Cavendish is also DH’s Director General for Innovation, Growth and Technology.
The Civil Service reform plan says the Civil Service “needs to become Digital by Default, in its skills, its style, how it communicates and how it enables service users to interact with it.” DH and DfE’s digital teams are specialists with the skills and experience to promote best practice and mentor their colleagues as they increase their digital skills across the whole organisation.
For GOV.UK publishing specialists, we consider it fundamental that their professional success criteria align with GOV.UK’s founding values - helping users get the information they need in the simplest, clearest, fastest way possible.
DH and DfE’s digital publishing teams are organised differently, but they’re both confident and empowered - and it shows in their high quality content. We encourage all organisations to keep and strengthen their authoritative, skilled digital teams to help transform government and meet the public's needs.
Starting in 2015, we plan to spend a lot more time looking into how publishing works and should work across government. GOV.UK is one of the UK’s top 30 most visited websites and while creating the single domain was the start of our revolution, there’s still much more to do. Learning from the success of the first two years is a great place to start.