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What we’re working on: 26 June 2015

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What we’ve been working on since the last update, and what we plan to do next.

What we’ve done since 5 June

For end users

To meet end-users’ needs and improve their experience, we’ve:

  • added filters to policy pages, so users can more easily see what one or more ministers are saying and doing on a given subject, for example what Greg Clark and Brandon Lewis are doing about house building - this is the number 1 thing users have been asking for since we changed how we present policies
  • updated the getting married abroad tool to help UK citizens who live abroad and want to marry in a different (third) country
  • tested potential improvements to our search ranking, including how we process synonyms and score search phrases - these changes are not yet live but, if successful, will be deployed over the next month
  • in mainstream browse, continued the process of replacing detailed guide categories with links to related subtopics - see the Inheritance Tax browse page for example
  • related to that, we’ve added a .../topic/... namespace to our subtopic browse page URLs - this will help with subtopic namespace clashes (eg there's already a detailed guide at, so now we can have a /animal-welfare subtopic) and also improve the accurancy of our subtopic analytics (example url:
  • collaborated with HMRC to overhaul content relating to Stamp Duty and other tax topics we didn’t have time to improve during transition
  • updated the postcode database that lets users find local services
  • published around 140 new editions of mainstream content
  • ordered calls in the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) finder in reverse chronological order of closing date, so the open cases appear at the top

For government publishers

For people who use the GOV.UK publishing tools, and other colleagues across government, we’ve:

  • improved the feedback explorer - the tool that lets publishers see what users are saying about any page on GOV.UK - so it’s now possible to list all feedback for a given organisation or date range, and export it in CSV format
  • fixed a bug in Whitehall publisher that warned users about unsaved changes even if there weren’t any
  • made documents automatically get tagged to policy areas when they’re tagged to a policy programme
  • fixed scheduled publish changes in Whitehall publisher so they display local time - rather than UTC (when it’s BST)

Technology and process improvements


  • updated 54 applications and re-deployed them within a day to secure them against vulnerabilities discovered in the server side software we use (Ruby on Rails and some dependent libraries, announced on the Rails Security mailing list)
  • published our revised goals and product team structure
  • begun tracking what search results are returned, in what order, and any spelling suggestions made, to give us better data to help our understanding of how well GOV.UK search is performing
  • turned off classic Google Analytics (the final thing to do, having switched to Universal Analytics)
  • re-designed the system we’ll be using for publishers to preview their content, and begun implementing it - part of this redesign is more consistent naming of the systems, which we’ll be sharing soon
  • refactored the frontend code used by finders (lists of high-volume content of a specific type, for example these from DFID, CMA, MHRA)
  • finished an upgrade to a signon application, ‘Devise’, which will make signon more secure and fix some bugs
  • migrated the Support API application so that it uses PostgreSQL instead of MySQL - this will improve the performance of the feedback explorer tool

Things we plan to do next

In the coming 2-3 weeks we expect to:

  • publish a roadmap, itemising the big pieces of work we expect to deliver in the next 10 months
  • continue removing detailed guide categories by replacing them with subtopics
  • roll out the first phase of a needs-based information architecture for childcare services - this will be limited to mainstream content for the alpha, to test whether we’ve got the top-level categories right
  • start exploring how we can make analytics more comprehensive across GOV.UK - including how we tag content, tracking visits to attachments and visits to external links
  • publish content for the transition to GOV.UK of the SaBRE, Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Horizon 2020 and Planning Portal websites
  • add the ability for departments and agencies to control which of their policies are listed on their organisation homepage, and increase the maximum number of policies shown from 3 to 5
  • improve how ‘finders’ (the pattern used on the policy pages and various specific document lists across GOV.UK) display when printed - see before and after images here
  • add pagination to finders
  • fix a bug that stops people from printing topic navigation pages
  • work with FCO to republish the previous government’s worldwide priority pages as publications so we can remove the worldwide priority format (mirroring the approach we took with policies)
  • work with HM Treasury  to upload an HTML version of the summer budget for the first time, and to help draft a plain English news story for GOV.UK
  • complete work with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) to improve content and user journeys for patent applications
  • complete improvement work on DVLA and driving content to help users find the information they need and reduce call centre volumes
  • update the Environment Agency’s branding on the Floods Destroy campaign page
  • make related links distinguishable for people using screen readers (sometimes in user research we’ve seen users assume related links are part of the main page content)
  • fixing CSV exports from Whitehall publisher so they don’t break or timeout

As always, if any of this is unclear, or if you have feedback on whether we’re prioritising the right stuff, please do comment on this post to let us know.

Neil Williams is Product Lead for GOV.UK. Keep in touch: subscribe to email alerts from this blog.

If this kind of work appeals to you, take a look at Working for GDS – we’re usually in search of talented people to come and join the team.

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  1. Comment by Peter Dant posted on

    There's a small typo in the reference to 'inheritance tax'.