In the first 2 quarters of 2017 to 2018, some of GOV.UK’s content designers led improvement projects with government departments on specific content areas. The goal was to improve our understanding of user needs and iterate content to meet those needs better.
Here’s what we learned and our tips for running your own project.
Plan the work
From the beginning it helps to decide how you’re going to manage and keep track of the work. We used a Trello board, for example.
You’ll need to identify who’s going to work on the project and talk about how you’re going to work together. For example, you might need user researchers, performance analysts and policy colleagues to support the work.
Break down the project into smaller, independent pieces of work. This helps you to keep tasks and actions manageable, and to track progress.
We found it useful to create a project proposal at the start of the project. This covered things like:
- the purpose of the project, along with background and scope
- who the project lead was and their contact details
- who was on the working group
- a proposed timeline
- any days when the team wasn’t available
- assumptions and dependencies, for example whether subject matter experts will be available to check the factual accuracy of content
Be flexible with the plan - deliver what’s in scope and keep to timings but make changes along the way if things change. We experienced an unexpected general election, which limited the type of user research we were able to do, and a power cut, which kept everyone out of the office for a few days right at the beginning.
Agree the detail with stakeholders
Start the project with a kick-off meeting. It can be helpful to create the agenda together - draft something then let the main stakeholders contribute their ideas. This ensures that the kick-off meeting works for everyone and they feel included.
The point of the kick-off meeting is to discuss the purpose and scope of the project and its timings, as well as confirming who’s involved and ways of working.
Useful things to cover:
- do a RACI matrix so everyone is clear on who needs to be involved and how - this will help identify who is responsible and accountable for the project, who needs to be consulted on the work and who needs to be kept informed
- identify ways of working, for example when to have regular catch ups, how to share documents
- confirm who will be in the working group and keep the group small - have one representative of each stakeholder group who can make decisions and has enough knowledge to keep the work moving
- discuss what you already know and identify the data and evidence sources that are available - this is a chance for different teams to get a shared understanding of the problem and gather research from different points of the user journey
- confirm timelines and the milestones you need to pass to meet the objective
- identify any dependencies, for example if there are other projects that impact yours
- agree who needs to check the factual accuracy of new content and how they’ll do that - try to have one person co-ordinating the checking phase so you don’t have several contradictory responses
Keep the kick-off meeting focused on the issues and not the solutions - they’ll come later.
Work with data and evidence
You’ll need data and evidence throughout the project to inform the work.
Start by identifying the problem you’re trying to solve and create a hypothesis: ‘changing X to Y will lead to Z because A’. Be clear on the goal and what you’re trying to change and why. This will help you identify metrics to measure the impact of the content changes.
Think about how to inform the team about what the problem is - what data and evidence do you have and what else do you need? This could be from Google Analytics, website user feedback, existing user research, third party data, contact data from call centres and social media, a content audit or a review of external sites, for example. Then bring together different data sources and you can start to identify themes through the analysis.
Draw on evidence throughout the project to make your case and to guide the work. This will help ensure you’re fixing the right issues.
Plan a review of changes after they go live and share that with stakeholders. It’s important to track the impact of changes after the project ends so that you can continue to iterate.
Work closely with stakeholders
These are some approaches that helped our projects run smoothly:
- don’t make assumptions about anything - be really clear how processes will work, especially if you’re doing things differently from existing processes
- get people’s time booked in the calendar as early as possible, for example for workshops, research or checking facts
- working in the same place helps to speed things along and build relationships - it’s great if colleagues from different departments can be in the same room
These are some ways to work with stakeholders and keep them informed:
- pair writing with subject matter experts saves time at the fact checking stage
- do a debriefing meeting at the end of the project to get everyone’s honest feedback on what went well, what didn’t go well and what lessons were learned for next time
- send weekly email updates on what was achieved and what’s coming up next
What we gained from working collaboratively
A project like this gives everyone a shared insight into user-centred design, working with data, digital approaches and processes, as well as the needs specific to users of the particular content you’re looking at.
One policy expert we worked with said this about pair writing together:
It helped me to understand in more depth the kind of considerations GDS content designers make. I think it also helped to get across some of my key concerns and worries and be sure they had been understood. It was also a great non-confrontational way of trying different things as we could throw ideas back and forth and amend as we went.
Working together in a cross-governmental, multi-disciplinary team was a hugely positive experience. It is a luxury to have a dedicated team looking in detail at how certain content can meet the needs of its users better. We know it can be difficult to juggle with day to day work but It’s incredibly worthwhile if you can manage it.
We’re hoping to run more of these projects in the coming year. It would be great to hear about your experiences improving content.
Polly Green and Kati Tirbhowan are content designers on GOV.UK.
If you want to find out more about the work of the Government Digital Service, come along to Civil Service Live around the country in June and July, or the Public Sector Showcase in London on 26 June.