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Reflections on the GOV.UK accounts trial so far

A laptop showing a user’s homepage when they’ve logged into their GOV.UK account.

We’ve been running a trial of the GOV.UK account attached to the Brexit checker since November 2020.

Users provide information about their personal or business circumstances to the Brexit checker and are given a personalised set of actions based on their answers. The GOV.UK account gives users the option of saving their results so they can return to them later, and also the option to sign up to email alerts if there are new actions they should know about.

We’re doing the trial to help users prepare for Brexit and understand what to do now the Transition period has ended, test our account prototype, and to understand and hear feedback on this functionality in a live setting.

Now, more than 50,000 users have signed up, and we want to reflect on some of the things we’ve learned so far.

Helping people with Brexit

We had a hypothesis that users who would need to make the most changes to adapt to the new rules were going to sign up for an account because they would need to return to the list of actions. However, in reality, we had a wide range of people register.

This information comes from questions asked by the Brexit checker; in total a potential 124 attributes are used to offer a personalised set of actions. It turned out that a very broad range of users created accounts, with the most popular attributes being:

  • British
  • living in the UK
  • travelling to the EU
  • operating a business
  • retired

These trends have stayed largely the same over time. This was interesting and challenged our hypothesis that we would see spikes in certain users as policies were announced. This could in part be down to COVID-19 pausing much UK to European travel, but was still one of the most notable insights so far.

Users creating accounts

One of the most important questions we had from this trial is whether users will create an account. The short answer is yes they do.

We reached 10,000 users on 20 November 2020, and then we reached 50,000 users on 29 January 2021 - just under 3 months post launch. Throughout the trial, and during the initial flurry of sign-ups there were no technological concerns.

Another question we had was whether users would be put off by multi-factor authentication. Using funnel analysis - a method of understanding the steps required to reach an outcome (in this case registration) and how many users get through each of those steps - we could see that users were not dropping out of the journey at that stage, so multi-factor authentication isn’t currently a barrier to account creation.

That isn’t to say that there were not some early challenges. During some initial analysis on the trial it was discovered that even though the creation of GOV.UK accounts was high, fewer users were signing up to an account than had been signing up to email notifications - these are a way for users to get an email when a relevant piece of content has changed, in this case about Brexit.

To keep meeting user needs we made it easier to sign up to just notifications, which increased the number of people getting notifications without also signing up for an account. This told us that some users just wanted email notifications, without signing up for an account trial.

Learning from live user feedback

The other learnings are less to do with data analysis and more to do with the practicalities of building and running a product. There are lots of things in this category but an important one to highlight is the importance of good data governance.

We saw early that putting the right processes in place now, when the account is small, will mean that we protect users' data as the account develops. We did this by making sure all reporting data was based on a version of GOV.UK accounts data which has had all personal identifiers removed. We also put a focus on transparency and user control within the account, which we blogged about.

A surprising result of this was the very high rates of consent among users willing to contribute to both analytics data (77%) and to be contacted for feedback (68%). We put this down to the measures taken to be as transparent as possible with users, and also in that GOV.UK account is a trial.

Coming next

Ultimately, all of these learnings tell us about the GOV.UK account in the context of the Brexit checker service, so it’s hard to take completely universal lessons from it. Clearly, the value of any account really comes down to what it can do and what it enables.

We are extremely excited to explore how the GOV.UK account can improve GOV.UK as a platform, allowing us to continually meet changing user needs and expectations. So next we will be exploring ways to expand the functionality of the account across the rest of the publishing platform to make it easier to find things on GOV.UK.

As the trial continues we’ll keep iterating and building on our work. Subscribe to Inside GOV.UK to keep updated on our work.

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  1. Comment by Andrew posted on

    Some fascinating insights here, thanks for sharing.

    Regarding multi-factor authentication not being a barrier to signing up, do you have an understanding if this about broadly multi-factor authentication not being as much of an issue for users as perceived?

    Or, do users have an expectation of multi-factor authentication when signing up to a gov account (e.g. increased security due to higher levels of sensitivity around data), and are therefore more likely to push through with it?

    • Replies to Andrew>

      Comment by Maxwell Riess posted on

      Hi Andrew, great to hear the blog post was of interest.

      I think that both of the explanations you suggest are relevant here, however I probably wouldn’t draw general conclusions about multi-factor authentication for all online services.

      In our research, users often saw multi-factor authentication as a typical part of creating and using a government account because of the higher level of security around transactions with the government.

      However, we have also been looking into the fact that different implementations of multi-factor authentication are a barrier for some users. For example, we found that users with poor mobile reception struggle to get through the process, so we’ve been exploring how to give these users a different way to get a security code.


  2. Comment by Roger Moore posted on

    It's like your team have ran out of meaningful things to do. Adding account functionality is up there with the navigation mess you began to create a few years back. Accessing a universal credit account is now hidden in a mess of up front information. Applying takes a couple of mins, reading all the guff about applying takes about a hour.

  3. Comment by Jack Hale posted on

    This is a great blog with some really interesting stats, thanks for sharing - I was wondering if you could share some more information about the questions you asked around "whether users would be put off by multi-factor authentication.", and how the funnel analysis worked?


    • Replies to Jack Hale>

      Comment by Daisy Wain posted on

      Hi Jack,

      In terms of the funnel analysis - I was looking at the quantity of consented users who made it through each stage of the registration journey, so it was possible to see which steps in the journeys users were dropping off from. Using this method, I could see the vast majority of users who made it to the authentication page completed it and moved on to the next stages of registration.

      We, as a team, are aware that we need to be mindful of confirmation bias - as those users who opt for an account may be less likely to be put off by authentication than those who wouldn’t opt in.