At the start of every tax year, we make a large number of content changes to GOV.UK. As the majority of these changes relate to increases in tax rates and thresholds, we call this process ‘uprating’.
But uprating isn’t just about tax-related changes. There are other amounts, such as application fees and benefit allowances, that need to be changed at the same time.
In addition to these, we need to update content on GOV.UK to make sure it references any amendments to legislation that come into force at this time. As these amendments can have an impact on the way users do a thing (for example, the way they apply for bankruptcy) it’s often necessary for us to rewrite substantial parts of our content to reflect them.
The one thing all these different changes have in common is the deadline. We have to make sure these updates are made in early April - specifically on the first, third, sixth and 10th of the month. If we don’t, we risk giving users incorrect or incomplete information.
On their own, these changes can be quite small. But the sheer volume of content change requests we get from across government at this time can put quite a strain on the content team. It’s something we struggle with every April, so we decided to do a few things differently this year.
Getting started early
We started thinking about uprating much earlier than we have in previous years.
We appointed one content designer from each of the 4 content teams to be the ‘uprating co-ordinator’ for their team. The co-ordinators were responsible for contacting the departments and agencies we work with to make sure they let us know about any uprating-related changes in plenty of time.
We first contacted our colleagues across government in January, asking them to raise all content change requests by the end of February. This might seem premature given the changes weren’t to be published until April, but it allowed us to get a head start on making some of the changes, and gave us a clear idea of how many more changes we’d be expected to make.
Making future years easier
We also created a spreadsheet that lists the pages that change every year. We know that some things change every year, for example the Personal Allowance for Income Tax. Previously we didn’t know where we referred to these things throughout the site, but now we have a list of the pages where they appear. For future years this means we’ll be able to locate the pages that need changing more easily.
Making the changes
Between 1 April and 10 April, we published 236 new editions of GOV.UK mainstream content. We also worked with developers to deploy new versions of 8 of our calculators, such as Calculate your leave and pay when you have a child.
What we don’t know is exactly how many individual content changes we made. A reasonable estimate would be that 5 changes were made to each piece of content (some had less, some had more) which puts the total number of changes somewhere in the region of 1,220.
All uprating changes went through our usual review process (known as ‘second pair of eyes’, or ‘2i’ for short) to make sure they would be clear to users reading them for the first time. This meant that there were 2 content designers behind every uprating change - one to make the change, and one to review it.
In previous years, we’ve always had more content designers making the changes than we had reviewing them. As a result, the 2i part of the publishing process became something of a bottleneck.
But this year, with the addition of more 2i-ers to the team and the introduction of a new 2i rota, we were reviewing content and pushing it into the next stage of the publishing process quicker than we ever had before. On 5 April, the day before the majority of the uprating changes were set to be published, the 2i queue was at 0.
One thing we’d like to do for next year is improve the quality of content change requests raised by departments and agencies. The easier the request is to understand, the quicker the content designer can get started on making the changes.
This year we created a content change request template and asked content teams across government to use it when they made their uprating-related requests. It wasn’t used by everybody, which made us realise we need to start the conversation about uprating even earlier. We’d like to find out how our content colleagues get given these requests from their department or agency, and make sure they’re in a manageable format by the time they come to us.
Aside from that, we found a lot of the new things we tried this year helped make uprating less of an ordeal than it has been in the past. We’ll continue to iterate this process to make sure it goes even smoother in 2018.