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Early birds - collaborating with service teams from the start

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Last year Trisha Doyle wrote that content should be part of service design in her post about GOV.UK’s content operating model - I couldn’t agree more.

Part of this is having a smooth link between GOV.UK content and services for our users. To try and make this happen, I worked closely with the apprenticeship levy service team to pair write an entry page into their service and review the user journey. It was real cross-government collaboration. We talk about this mythical thing but it was amazing to actually do it!

Live review - be open

Reviewing and giving feedback on content for services works better when you can sit down to run through everything with the team and they still have time to make changes before their formal Government Digital Service (GDS) service assessment. This seems like an obvious point but actually going up to Coventry and talking through the issues meant I could explain my thinking to the team more directly. Our content decisions can seem arbitrary when we communicate them through Zendesk or a written content review, this gives everyone a chance to talk it out. This would also be particularly useful if the service team didn’t include a content designer as they may not be familiar with what we’re looking for.

They were also able to discuss the pressures that they were up against so that we could try to help them.

Pair writing works

Two colourful birds sitting on a branch.
Photo by mickey/CC BY 2.0

The combination of GOV.UK content knowledge and a great understanding of the service is a good one. Getting people in the same room means getting something user centric and fit for purpose published faster. Although changes still have to go through a policy scrutiny, this does guarantee some quality control, particularly for specialist start pages which we don’t usually contribute to. The GOV.UK content team are asked to write start pages for services expecting more than 100,000 transactions but we don’t always work on lower traffic (specialist) services. These entry pages are written by department and agency content teams.

If I did this again, I’d involve someone from policy in the pair writing process but it’s also good to keep a balance - too many brains from different backgrounds could start to slow down the process.

We can have second thoughts

Usually we do service content reviews under time pressure. Service teams are keen to share the most recent iteration of their prototype which means we have to give feedback on the content very close to the service assessment deadline. Although it helps to review the service through fresh eyes it’s also easy to miss out details when working fast. This means we may only realise there is an extra thing which should be embedded in the service when we receive a request for a start or done page. Having a good relationship with the team means you can continue to collaborate on iterations and provide them with feedback on smaller tweaks.

Up close and personal

All in all, I learnt loads about how service teams work, how much they know about GOV.UK and things we need to improve in our service assessment process. Working closely with teams from the beginning helps to prevent last minute panics or compromises. It also improves the user journeys. Users don’t make a distinction between GOV.UK content and content on service domains and neither should we.

Constance is a junior content designer on GOV.UK.

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