Over the coming months, we are working to improve sections of GOV.UK that relate to government departments and agencies (what we define as ‘organisations’). These sections of GOV.UK haven’t changed much at all since GOV.UK started in 2012. We need to make sure GOV.UK reflects changes to how government is organised quickly and accurately.
What we are doing
We are currently working on a mission to help organisations on GOV.UK adapt as government changes. At the heart of this mission is improving the process for government publishers to handle changes to people, roles, organisations and groups in government. Currently, these changes - for example if a department is renamed - involve a very time consuming process that can take over a week to complete per department change.
Along the way we will look to make small changes to the department pages based on research and survey feedback that has been conducted over the past few months, to make them work better for users.
We recently spent some time scoping the work that will be needed to improve this area of GOV.UK and ensure that it has a solid foundation on which we can iterate quickly and easily. I’ll explain in this post what work we’ll be focusing on.
Improving how GOV.UK handles the changes to government
We have spent some time modeling the different scenarios in which a government organisation can change, with publishers who have been through the process in the past. We've discovered that our current application that manages this section of GOV.UK doesn’t match the scenarios we have mapped, for example the renaming of an organisation without a change in its remit. When an organisation is renamed, in order to preserve the previous name, a publisher has to create a new organisation listing in the application and ‘close’ the old one (although the organisation hasn’t closed), then retag all the content that is still relevant. This can take many hours from multiple publishers both at GDS and the department. This is only one of the issues we have discovered.
We are working towards building a new application that matches the scenarios that happen in government, and can help publishers by automating processes that previously took a lot of time.
Improving the presentation of the department and agency pages
Before we begin improving the pages, we need to do some migration to the new application. This will allow us to have the department and agency pages in a place whereupon we can quickly iterate and improve based on the needs of our users, something which is not quite possible at the moment.
Once the migration is done, we will look to improve the presentation of department and agency pages over the course of the next few quarters. We’ll make usability changes based on research from previous research discoveries. For example,we have learnt that users viewing department pages find it hard to know what a department has been doing because we have put both featured content and latest news in the same place. This is the sort of thing we're looking forward to experimenting with and improving in the new application.
As we continue to work to improve the department pages on GOV.UK, we will be looking for some early adopters to help test out our new publishing application and to validate new designs. This will help us ensure that the new application can not only handle changes to government departments and their content, but effectively inform users of the work that government departments are doing.
Charles is a policy and engagement manager 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.