https://insidegovuk.blog.gov.uk/2016/10/17/the-finding-and-the-things/

The finding and the things

On the GOV.UK Finding Things team we are working on developing a ‘single subject taxonomy’ to improve navigation and search on GOV.UK. We decided to trial this approach with education content.

Contextual research

Creating a single subject taxonomy based on user needs means using terms that reflect users’ language and mental models. Therefore, talking with users has been a vital step in what we did.

We met with a lot of brilliant people, including:

  • early years childcare providers and childminders, teachers, headteachers and governors
  • users that are involved in senior leadership teams within schools and academies
  • users that cover roles with specific expertise like special educational needs counsellors, career advisors and data analysts
  • users that don’t work in education but need to access education content because it is important for their job, such as journalists and trainers, childminding agencies and local authorities

We went to their work and homes to gather true insights about their lifestyle and work, to ask them about information they need to do their job, and to find out how they get information at the moment. This close look at their everyday lives gave us an incredible understanding of their responsibilities and needs.

Our rationale behind doing contextual research and involving different types of users came from our hypothesis around who the users of education content on GOV.UK are, what their needs are, and if GOV.UK is actually meeting those.

User needs and context

The users we talked with mentioned core needs such as:

  • keeping up to date with governmental changes
  • understanding what changes actually mean
  • knowing how to practically implement them

These needs are extremely important because they are going to impact how pupils are educated and how the setting or the school will be graded when Ofsted inspects them.

At the moment users rely on a combination of sources to satisfy these needs: by regularly checking and receiving bulletins from non-governmental websites, local authorities, training courses, social media and peer-to-peer platforms.

Monitoring all of these requires time, effort and energy on top of their already busy workload. They start early in the morning, have meetings with colleagues at various points during the day, lots of paperwork, and of course many of them interact with children all day (which brings unexpected events to deal with).

The educational field is a forever changing landscape, so knowing the latest information is difficult.

The role of GOV.UK

From the research findings it was clear that GOV.UK plays a marginal role in answering users' needs at the moment. This is because:

  • it’s quite hard to understand what version of important documents is the most recent
    GOV.UK and other bulletins users subscribe to aren’t always reliable in informing them about every new piece of guidance
  • tracking changes within the new version of a long document is hard - when guidance changes, the whole document is altered, even when it’s a small change
  • users struggle to read, understand and implement guidance - it’s often written in government jargon and complicated language

The outcome

Something that became clear while doing this research is that while we set out to fix the ‘finding’ bit of ‘Finding Things’, we found that the ‘things’ were even more important than we thought. In fact, they need an equal amount of focus.

To properly address both ‘finding’ and the ‘things’, there is a need for collaboration across the Finding Things team, departments and the content team at GDS.

This is only the start, we'll keep you posted as we make any progress.

Giulia is a user researcher on the Finding Things team. You can follow her on Twitter.