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Updating GOV.UK when there is a machinery of government change

Three cogs of varying colours with individual icons in the middle of each cog. From left to right the icons are, a lightbulb, a power button and a briefcase.

Machinery of government (MoG) changes are when one or more government departments are created, closed, merged, change names, or split into new organisations. Usually this happens as part of a reshuffle or when there’s a general election, but not always.

After a MoG change, we need to make sure that GOV.UK accurately reflects what the new departments and agencies do.

The work involved

So what do we do to update GOV.UK properly? Here’s a non-exhaustive list:

  • close old organisation pages - an organisation page is the ‘home’ for all of a government department’s content and information, such as that of the Department for Work and Pensions
  • create new organisation pages for the new organisations
  • tag relevant content to the new organisations to show who owns it so that users can find it
  • change content that mentions the old organisation - but only where it makes sense to do so (for example, we don’t change old news stories or press releases)
  • make sure government publishers are assigned to the correct organisation so they can publish content for them

What happened this time

In February 2023, the Prime Minister announced the creation of 4 new government departments. This was a complex MoG change as it involved a number of departments, including one, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, being split into 3:

To do this, we had to combine, transfer and split GOV.UK content published by the existing departments, depending on who was now responsible for each policy area.

Once the Prime Minister made the announcement, we reacted quickly to ensure public facing pages reflected the changing landscape, such as adding ‘This organisation is changing’ banners to the closing organisation pages. This made it clear to users what was happening and allowed us to focus on the backend tasks that affected public-facing content. We also had to wait for external decisions on things like new branding colours and crests to be confirmed before we could set them up for government publishers to start using.

What we learned

The complexity of this MoG meant it was a learning curve, but there’s a lot that we can take forward into future MoGs to iron out and speed up the process.

Regular contact with departments is essential

This is not just between GDS and the departments involved in the MoG, but also between the departments themselves. Content that came from one department was being moved to several other departments - some of them brand new - so we needed to work together to make sure all content had an owner.

There’s more to it than tagging content, and there’s more content than we thought!

In all, we moved 415 departmental publishers to a new department so that they could access their content, and retagged over 5,500 URLs to new departments. As well as updating new department content owners, name mentions and departmental contact details, we changed brand colours, crests, short URLs, page slugs, world location names (for example Department for Business and Trade USA).

A ‘one size fits all’ approach doesn’t work

Each changing department has their own unique circumstances. For example, the new Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) was a relatively simple change as we were passing their ‘digital’ content on to a new department. To handle this work, we split into smaller support teams and worked on individual roadmaps based on communications with departments. This agile approach allowed for more flexibility and gave us more time to investigate blockers and problems that were unique to each department without holding up other departments.

Technical knowledge is crucial

We needed the help of colleagues with technical knowledge of how GOV.UK works behind the scenes, including how to make updates in 7 different publishing apps. We were greatly supported by Junior Content Designers who could take on some of the more technical tasks thanks to their experience helping departments with the ins and outs of the various publishing applications.

A MoG is a Civil Service wide change, not just on GOV.UK

Our colleagues in the departments were busy leading rapid internal organisational changes. They worked quickly to define their new teams and remits and understand their new responsibilities, so we could then tell users on GOV.UK.

Next steps

It’s been over 100 days since the MoG was announced.

Now that we’ve officially closed the old organisation pages and sent 22,717 emails to subscribed users, the public-facing work is all done. But there’s still a long tail of snagging and admin tasks left to do after the initial flurry of activity.

This was an intensive undertaking and it wouldn’t have been possible without huge effort and collaboration from the DBT, DSIT, DESNZ and DCMS content teams, as well as various teams across GDS.

If you want a bigger picture view, we’ve previously written about what happens on GOV.UK when there’s a government reshuffle.

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