We're changing the policy format to better meet users' needs and get people to what they need faster.
Two years ago when departments first moved onto GOV.UK we brought government policy into 1 place for the first time. We had high hopes it would make policy more accessible and stimulate discussion about its effectiveness.
We’ve recently been doing some work to understand how well this content is performing. As well as looking at analytics to understand the behaviour of GOV.UK’s users, we've spent more than 20 hours conducting research with people from the policy profession, media and civil service. And, through that research, it’s clear that the current policy format isn't always effective at meeting needs.
What we learnt
Users prefer plainer, shorter titles
When we created the policy format on GOV.UK, we asked departments to use outcome-focused titles for each policy, to make the government's intent clear. However, our research showed that the current verb-based approach is a barrier to clarity.
It’s unclear what those policies would contain and what they’d consist of - more useful if it was more precise. 'Business regulation' would be more helpful than more waffley titles or 'Secondary education' more helpful than 'improving the quality of free schools'.
Users don’t value the policy narrative
The policy pages themselves each take the form of an introductory narrative, in plain English, to explain why the policy exists, the actions the government is taking and how the government had formed its plan. This was another part of the attempt to make policy more accessible but our research showed that it was often being interpreted as spin, and obstructing access to the aggregation of content under the ‘Latest’ tab.
They are going to assume anything on GOV.UK is hype. I would go to it for papers but I wouldn’t go there for commentary... It’s just government propaganda.
Researcher, London School of Economics
Our users want the documents
We discovered that the audience for policy wants easy access to, and have greater trust in, the policy documents and speeches, not the consolidated, outcome-focused narrative we’d modelled. However, policy professionals aren’t homogeneous: those interested in what government is promising want policy papers, speeches and announcements whilst those interested in what government is doing are most interested in consultations, guidance and some types of publication (such as statistics).
I want a shortened route to the documents.
A subtle narrative can be helpful
It’s important to strike the right balance between giving simple access to the documents and providing the right level of context. Our research suggests that this means demonstrating the important moments in the timeline of a policy rather than offering marketing or duplicating guidance that’s elsewhere on GOV.UK.
It’s looking for those key moments when policy changes.
Researcher, Institute for Government
Policy is both too specific, and not granular enough
Our research told us that our outcome focused policy titles were not helping people. But it also told us that there was a user need for information about particular schemes or programmes within a policy area.
... for me, it would be more helpful to do it by what the programmes are known as eg 'the Work Programme' not the policy objective.
This level of information is often already available within the supporting detail of a policy (although the Work programme isn’t currently modelled in this way). However, individual documents can't be tagged to these supporting detail pages, which makes it impossible to subscribe to a feed of information with such a specific focus.
Adding the ability to follow policy at this lower level would be well received. GOV.UK has recognised the importance of enabling subscription to particular topics or sub-topics of guidance but this is also important for those whose focus is on a particular policy area.
I need to understand policy, see if we need to react, revise training, update guidance.
Early Years training provider
What we’re going to do about it
You might have spotted in recent roadmap updates that we’ve been doing some work in response to those findings. Central to that is the need to 'do less' and remove some of the well- intentioned background text we’d introduced, bringing the documents and specific initiatives into the foreground.
The first thing we’re going to do is to simplify the title of policies.
Governments change, and the outcomes they seek vary but using those outcomes in the title is not helping our users. We’ve worked with the Policy Implementation Unit to identify a new set of names for policy areas that reflect the (mostly) stable areas of government activity. We’ll agree these with departments and implement the change in the next few weeks.
After that we’ll be redesigning the policy format itself on the basis of our research findings. We’ll be sharing these plans with our colleagues inside government over the coming weeks.
If you’d like to help us better meet the needs around policy please let us know in the comments.