Australia is one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world. It is home to many different communities where English is not the primary language spoken at home. Statistics* show that around:
- 27% of us were born outside Australia
- 3.0% of us identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander**
- 19% of us speak another language at home
Considering this diversity, government needs to consider users who may come from a range of culturally diverse backgrounds and who may not be proficient in written English. Our services need to be responsive to the culture, language and beliefs of different communities and be written in plain language.
I attended a Department of Human Services workshop where the priority was to set an agenda for diverse users in the digital space. Over a dozen peak bodies representing culturally diverse audiences came along to share their views, along with representatives from government. I went along to learn more about digital needs in diverse communities to help us in our research and plans for how we can design better government services.
Here are some of the important insights and issues raised.
There’s confusion about online information and services
Many diverse communities are generally positive about using and accessing technology, however the maze of government agencies are difficult to navigate at times.
Our research for GOV.AU confirms that people often find it really difficult to understand what government wants them to do online regardless of their background. We hope that GOV.AU can demonstrate how government services can be designed around the users’ needs rather than the structure of government to provide simpler, clearer, faster access to services and information.
Some people have limited access to technology
Many people still rely on face-to-face channels, public libraries and telephone services, including translating and interpreting services, to find and access government services. This is due to many reasons, including the lack of funds for personal technology such as phones and computers.
We acknowledge there will be an ongoing need for face-to-face interactions with government, whether that’s due to language, the complexity of the service or for identity purposes. In designing digital services, teams should identify these needs and design services that allow these users to pass seamlessly between online and offline channels.
It’s hard to find information in different languages
There are lots of different images used to represent multilingual information, even though we have a National Interpreter Symbol to represent language assistance. There was an endorsement by the peak bodies for the consistent use of this symbol and the DTO encourages its use by agencies.
There is guidance on creating inclusive services on the DTO website.
Nominees or representatives are not always the answer
People who have family members or community support may be able to nominate a representative if they are unable to deal directly with government for language, health or other reasons. But some people, like newly arrived immigrants and refugees, may not have these contacts or networks to assist them.
Sometimes using a nominee may breach an individual’s privacy or could represent a conflict of interest. Our digital identity project on making it easier for people to prove who they are when using government services online will explore some of these issues.
We need to include diverse communities early on in our research
Including people from diverse communities during the Discovery stage of designing government services can ensure that their needs are considered from the beginning. Designing services with these groups in mind helps create services that are simpler and easier for all users.
We need to learn more about people — about the context of their interactions with government, not just their demographic background — so that we can make informed decisions when designing services.
We can improve online content for diverse users
Government needs to engage with diverse users across all stages of service design and delivery. The Digital Service Standard requires an understanding of user needs and their ongoing involvement throughout a project.
There are a range of actions that agencies can undertake to improve their online content for users from diverse backgrounds including:
- Use plain language
- Consider making information online available in other languages
- Consider text-to-speech options; spoken English is often understood better than written English
- Use design elements that are universally understood and culturally appropriate
- Present data such as dates in ways that will be clear to international audiences
- Include people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds during the usability testing of the service
- Develop mechanisms to support intermediary information providers
What considerations have you built into service design that enhance the user experience for different communities? If your agency consults regularly with multicultural or indigenous groups, we’d love to hear from you.
*Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011 Census data
**Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, 2014-15
Andrew Arch supports teams with accessibility, diversity and inclusivity issues.