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Roadmap update: Wednesday 4 February

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We publish updates roughly fortnightly to share what the team has done and is doing next to improve GOV.UK.

In the past 2 weeks, in addition to making essential updates to content and applications, we’ve continued to give people in our product team the freedom to work alone or in groups on anything that’s good for GOV.UK, taking the opportunity between completing transition and preparing GOV.UK for the election to address technical debt and attend to other work which had to wait while we built the single domain. So this update is a mixed bag, with a longer than usual list of technical work.

Current priorities

The next issue of the roadmap proper will be published later this month, focusing on:

  • supporting and improving GOV.UK as a whole in response to feedback from all our users, and evidence of unmet or under-performing needs (always the top priority, always so much things to do)
  • readying the site for the election
  • making it easier for users to find things through search and navigation
  • making the publishing software simpler and more flexible

What we’ve done since 16 January

For end users

Since the last update, we’ve:

  • analysed all content on GOV.UK relating to parenting and childcare, and built a model of how the many forms, guides and transactions from various sources around the site could be combined into coherent services to meet users’ needs. It’s the kind of thing that’s only possible now government content is in one place, and it’s been revelatory. It’s material for a separate blog post which we’ll write soon, and it’s likely to lead to an alpha to find out how we could roll out this approach to improve content and navigation for all government services over time
  • completed a review of the post-transition information architecture to identify gaps and anomalies, so we can begin to make it better
  • extended info pages to cover 650+ multi-part guides (such as Housing Benefit) and 40+ smart answers (such as Check how PIP affects you). We’ve also started work on ranking the pages with the most problem reports, to make it easier to find problem content
  • redirected MHRA users to the new content on GOV.UK, and started sending vital email alerts regarding drug and medical device safety to medical professionals
  • built a randomiser - - to help people discover the variety of content the site contains
  • updated a homepage promo slot to reflect the fact that the self assessment deadline has passed and to encourage people to register to vote
  • added HMRC contact pages to site search
  • changed the print style sheet for HTML publications so the contents list is included when a publication gets printed
  • published improvements to mainstream Self Assessment content based on post-transition feedback and analytics review

For government publishers

For our users around government, we’ve:

  • hosted our first content conference - 150 content designers across government participated in workshops (led by departments, agencies and GDS teams) on content best practice, analytics, complex content, content in a crisis and more. We’re committed to working more collaboratively with government colleagues and this was a good beginning
  • made it possible to reorder sections of a manual within specialist publisher
  • continued work with the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service to look at third party publishing, via a new API, of a page on GOV.UK for every court and tribunal
  • built a ‘downtime manager’ to allow GDS content designers to schedule messages on the start pages of services with scheduled downtime
  • ensured that manually numbered sections in HTML publications also show in the contents list
  • helped GDS content designers by keeping their place in the mainstream publisher when saving draft content

Technical and process improvements

On the process and technology side, in the past few weeks we’ve:

  • started creating 1-page improvement plans per product area to communicate the product vision more clearly - we’ll blog about this soon with a few examples, and publish them all when they’re a bit further along
  • held an internal workshop about our culture, identifying lots of ways to improve how we work and communicate with each other and our government colleagues
  • experimented with ways of automatically labeling content with named entities (such as specific government services and initiatives, people, places, objects) to improve search accuracy. It didn’t work but we learned what not to do and what we might try instead
  • tested running our continuous integration builds inside Linux containers to enable faster product iteration
  • improved the availability of our databases
  • simplified the code for finders and integrated them with the new publishing pipeline
  • refactored the layout of all mainstream formats to use the new responsive grid system and addressed technical debt with our CSS which hadn’t been iterated since the beta of GOV.UK
  • made progress towards being able to make more use of Python instead of defaulting to Ruby for new applications on our stack
  • simplified the router application
  • added a new option select component to the frontend toolkit (the scrollable list format you can see in use on finders)
  • changed the library (gem) we use for rails authentication (from cancan to pundit) to allow us to use strong parameters and a simpler object model
  • made improvements to our release process
  • ran a few pop-up user support surgeries in libraries to meet real users and understand their needs while helping them use GOV.UK
  • started logging more information when we trigger email alerts so that we can more easily work with our supplier to diagnose problems
  • identified how we can reduce the font file size to speed up page loading speeds, and made a start on implementing it
  • experimented with using Big Query to perform session-level analysis of analytics data, allowing us to investigate patterns of user journeys across the site with greater detail than ever before

Things we plan to do next

We’ve just restructured our product development team into 4 new teams, to focus on the four priorities mentioned at the beginning of this post. So the list of known things is a bit shorter than usual while we plan the next phase of work.

For end users

In the next couple of weeks, we expect to:

  • begin displaying search results grouped by topic, to meet (especially specialist) users’ needs better
  • build a new finder for Countryside Stewardship grants
  • build a finder for European Structural and Investment Funds to help users users find and apply for EU funding
  • improve the layout of publication pages (putting live some of the things we experimented with in this prototype)
  • improve the ‘Find your nearest’ content by displaying 10 results instead of 5
  • keep working through post-transition review and improvements to HMRC content

For government publishers

We plan to:

  • keep supporting HMRC to hook up their manuals publishing tool to test the publishing of manuals onto GOV.UK through our API
  • work up plans to pilot a content strategy workshop with managing editors from departments and agencies

Technical and process improvements

On the tech and process side, we plan to complete work to upgrade the Whitehall application to use Rails 4.


If anything in this update is unclear, or if you have feedback on whether these posts are useful and whether we’re prioritising the right stuff, please do comment on this post to let us know.

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  1. Comment by Stephen Edwards posted on

    You mention: "ensured that manually numbered sections in HTML publications also show in the contents list" and yet when I look at VAT notices they are still (even 6 months after they transitioned) missing the numbering in the contents list which is critical to navigating around these long documents. Any ideas if or when this might be fixed? It worked fine on the HMRC site before transition...


  2. Comment by John Ploughman posted on

    Hi Neil

    These posts are definitely useful, so please do keep publishing them.

    It's great to now have info pages for the guide format. One thing that could be mproved is to have a single view of 'part 1' of any guide. At the moment it's split over 2 rows:

    * one for the main slug - eg
    * one for the specific slug for their part - eg

    Here's the info page for it so you can see how it appears:

    It would be great to see if there's a way to get these combined.

    I appreciate it's still in alpha, so hopefully it's something that could be looked at for the beta - along with some basic data visualisation of which parts are getting the most views.


    • Replies to John Ploughman>

      Comment by Jake Benilov posted on

      Hi John,

      Thanks for the feedback. I think we can fix the "first part" representation quite quickly, and plotting the parts is definitely an idea to consider for the beta.

  3. Comment by Andrew Coburn posted on

    You mention that you "ran a few pop-up user support surgeries in libraries" and I would be interested to know more. A while back Graham Francis came to a meeting of the Standing Committee On Official Publications (SCOOP) of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) - to discuss The needs of library users (and library staff working on their behalf) was unsurprisingly a major topic of discussion. A number of SCOOP members, from different types of library, volunteered to assist with testing etc.
    SCOOP meets again on Wednesday 11th Feb so any update on this would be useful to report