John Ploughman is Content Design Manager at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). He’s based in Nottingham and tells us how the first GOV.UK local meetup went.
In January I went to the GOV.UK content design conference and was struck by the sense of community and shared determination to make things better.
When I got back to the office, I decided to do something to build on this. I’d organise and run a GOV.UK local meetup for content designers in and around the Midlands.
So on Thursday 19 February 2015, a group of us from DVSA, the Education Funding Agency, HM Revenue and Customs, the National College for Teaching and Leadership and the Skills Funding Agency got together at DVSA’s office in Nottingham. We were joined by colleagues from GDS for the first GOV.UK local meetup.
The agenda: there wasn’t one
We ran the day as an ‘unconference’. The first thing we did was pitch things to share and talk about.
We decided to talk about:
- user needs
- getting buy-in - both from senior managers and subject matter experts
- content types
- tools that we can use to work in a better way
There’s some good stuff happening to get user needs embedded in organisations. For example, HMRC doesn’t accept work without a user need.
Using tools like the /info/ pages lets content designers show subject matter experts:
- how content is performing
- why the user need is important
- how we measure when a user need is met
Content designers are also looking at user journeys to better understand needs.
Everyone wanted to talk about this. It feels like it’s the area we struggle with the most.
Some content teams are running workshops, events and surgeries to help colleagues understand how GOV.UK works and how we work.
These seem to be working well, but aren’t always well attended. And sometimes, the people that you really want to be there don’t go.
We discussed where mainstream ends and detailed guidance starts. I think we realised it isn’t always clear cut, and that sometimes it’s about linking at the right place.
Right tools for the job
We found that some of us need to work very closely with colleagues over multiple sites - and sometimes multiple systems. We talked about how teams are using tools like Huddle, Trello and Agile Planner to manage their backlog, work in progress, and jobs that are with GDS.
This is helping teams to work together - and reduce emails. It also gives a good audit trail of what’s happened on any task.
Some teams are also then publishing their own ‘weeknotes’ around their wider communication teams. That way teams know what’s been done in the week, and what’s coming up next week.
We talked about the new manuals format and showed off this great example from the Department for Education on converting to an academy.
There are some exciting developments coming up, including searching within a manual, and giving users the ability to generate a PDF version. If you think you’ve got a good case to use the manual format, send a request to GDS.
In the afternoon we got specific. Very specific. We first looked at the services and information about the MOT. It covers things like:
- when to get an MOT
- what happens if you disagree with the result
- finding out the MOT history of a vehicle
At the moment there’s a mainstream guide to Getting an MOT. But I think we soon realised that, with the data and user feedback we have, we can better meet these needs.
DVSA and GDS are going to have a ‘content hack’ during the pre-election period to fix things like that.
Import and export
We also looked at the world of import and export. This was an interesting one, as some of the content had come across from Business Link almost as-was.
There’s a clear need to improve this for users. What’s really exciting is that the 3 main departments who deal with this content are having a workshop to start to work out the user needs and improve the content. Having a single platform for publishing is breaking down the silos of departments.
Getting together is good
It was a really useful day for me. I think it’s fair to say others found it useful too. A huge thanks need to go to everyone who came and contributed.
I found it particularly useful to get the views of other content designers on my content. We should do more of that.
Most importantly, it was great to continue building our community. It really feels like we’re starting to become recognised as people who make things simpler, clearer and faster for users. And it’s very reassuring to know there’s a group of us right across government facing the same challenges,
If you’ve enjoyed reading about what we talked about, I urge you to try arranging something in your area to get content designers together.