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Making out-of-court options clearer for separating families

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There are great teams building online services all over government - but the success of those services depends on how they work as part of users' whole experience. Things fall down if a government letter or helpline tells users something different to the service, for instance, or if it doesn't quite match up with the information they find on GOV.UK.

Which is why the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) began working with GOV.UK content designers even before they had prototypes for the new services they're building to help separating families.

The benefits of involving content design early

Getting the GOV.UK content team involved early, like MOJ did, is the best way to start building a coherent end-to-end journey for users. Unfortunately, though, the conversation between service teams and GOV.UK content designers sometimes doesn't start until the service is just about to go live. That's way too late to collaborate for real consistency. It can even push back the release of a service.

Users don’t see information and services on GOV.UK as separate parts - completing their task is all the user wants to do. So it’s important that the journey is coherent and consistent from start to finish. Involving content designers early on also allows the process of design and product to evolve simultaneously without anyone losing sight of the user need.

Martin Oliver, Content Lead at MOJ shared his reasonings behind the collaboration with GDS:

We were really keen to be collaborative and to work with GDS content designers from the outset. Family break-up is a complex, nuanced area and it was important that we were able to properly share and explore our extensive user research with them.

Understanding users and shaping the content to meet their needs

In this project, MOJ presented us with research on user behaviours and personas for people dealing with separation and working out child arrangements to share the care of their children with their ex-partner. It allowed us to see how GOV.UK’s content would fit into the user journey and understand the pitfalls of the separation process for many users - such as the high financial and emotional cost of putting their families through court hearings.

Staying out of court isn't as clear as going to court

Having this information and insight gave us and MOJ a chance to collaborate and shape the content to fit the needs of users making child arrangements. It also gave us a great understanding of the different types of people who came into the process and what extra help they might need from advice websites such as Citizens Advice and Sorting Out Separation. We link from GOV.UK to trusted websites like this because our proposition is to only give guidance not advice - telling users what they ‘must’ do rather what they should.

Collaborating with subject matter experts puts everyone on the same page

Just after we sent the new content for fact checking by subject matter experts, we did a show and tell to explain the reasons behind the changes. This was for experts from MOJ, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

We did this to save time and effort for the experts, so when they came to checking the facts, they knew exactly what had changed and understood why. It also gave us and them a chance to ask questions and to solve queries on the spot.

We found that it was a lot more productive having experts more involved in the process. Perhaps it would be even better to share research with them earlier, so they can engage with the design process and we can find ways to communicate better. (This collaborative way of involving experts and iterating content with them has proved successful in other projects.)

Having dedicated content designers, an agreed delivery plan and allocated time made a big difference to the success of the project. The show and tell session in Petty France was well-attended and proved an important way of offering reassurance and helping to educate people.

- Martin Oliver, MOJ

What we achieved in 6 weeks

By the end of the project, we’d not only made the out-of-court options clearer for users, but also provided the service design team with content they could use to test an end-to-end journey for users. This gives MOJ a starting point to decide what content they’ll include in their services and where it will plug into GOV.UK.

Steph is a content designer on GOV.UK. You can follow her on Twitter.

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