This post is the third in a series where we share what we learned about user-needs in GOV.AU’s Discovery stage and what we prototyped in response in the Alpha stage. You can read Leisa’s other posts on this topic:
GOV.AU is a ‘mental model’ of government
GOV.AU is not a technology project
In the Discovery and Alpha stages of the GOV.AU prototype we spent quite a lot of time trying to model how we would organise the content in GOV.AU so that it would be able to meet incredibly diverse user-needs and situations effectively. Here are our current views on a content model for government.
Google is our homepage
This is so obvious these days it hardly needs stating - and yet it does. Research shows that when people are looking to learn about, or access government services, over 90% of us will start with Google (or another search engine).
This means we should spend a lot more time concerned with how our content and design decisions show up in search results than we should spend finessing our homepage. The homepage of GOV.AU becomes one of the least important of all.
There are 4 main user entry-points
Our research and analysis shows that there are 4 main ‘landing points’ required for people when they seek government information and services. We are designing the GOV.AU content model around this.
- Department and agency entry-points
- Topic-based entry points (category)
- Transition entry points
- Deep-linked content (URLs)
Caption: Diagram showing the proposed GOV.AU content model
1. Department and agency entry-points
Sometimes people actually know what part of government does what - either because the department or agency has strong brand awareness, or the person happens to have good knowledge of which department or agency does what. This is especially true for people who need to access government information as a part of their job.
On GOV.AU, each department and agency will have an entry point or ‘sub-site’. These sub-sites will share a common look and feel and a set of content types. Content will be created and managed in the departments as is done currently, but in line with the GOV.AU content style guide which is in development.
We will work closely with departments and agencies to understand their users and those users’ needs, as well as the workflow for content creation within the organisations.
2. Topic-based entry points (category)
Sometimes people know what ‘the thing’ they are looking for is called - but they may not necessarily know all the parts of government who provide information or services around that topic.
For example, people might want to learn what government has to say about a particular aspect of superannuation or importing, but they don’t know which government department or agency officially or best covers it.
In many cases, several parts of government will offer guidance related to a topic area. We want to bring that guidance together so that people can see the full set of information available. We also want government to work together to make sure that the guidance is as clear and simple to understand as possible.
We know it is important that people are still able to understand which part of government is responsible for each set of guidance, so this information will still clearly be available to end-users.
As with department and agency sub-sites, we anticipate that the majority of this content will be created and managed in departments and agencies in alignment with the GOV.AU content style guide. The DTO will play a key role in helping to streamline and categorise the content so that there is as little repetition as possible and the information is easy to find.
3. Transition entry-points
Often people have to deal with several parts of government at the same time to get something done - for example when having a baby, starting a business, getting access to aged care, finding benefits for older people etc. These are complex processes that many people struggle with. They require a much better and more joined up approach from government. Executing this, at a whole of government level, is one of the big innovations of the GOV.AU strategy.
Of course, the idea of organising content around life events is not new. We’ve seen evidence of governments talking about doing this for several decades, and we can see this executed at an agency-level in existing department websites today. This image, demonstrates a similar thinking by the UK government in 1998.
Caption: 1998 government content model based around life events from UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST)
The real improvement to the user experience will come from executing this approach across all government information and services - working as a coherent whole. This will be a hard job and require co-operation at a level never before seen in government. If we can do it, the reward to our users will be immense. We’ll talk about transitions in more detail in a separate blog post soon.
4. Deep-linked content (URLs)
Sometimes people are really clear on what they need and want to get directly to the very page that will help them. We need to make sure there is one canonical government page to meet particular needs; to help people get straight to what they want from search; and to make sure that things make sense being accessed that way. It is really important that people don’t have to choose from half a dozen different government websites that all look much the same, and that government websites are clearly identifiable.
Domain-knowledge on a continuum
Something we learned from the UK experience with GOV.UK is how important it is to make sure that it is easy for people to move between all the information on particular topic areas, no matter the level of complexity. People with little understanding of a subject area (low-domain knowledge) want content that is more simplified than people who work in that domain professionally, who need the detail. However, people need to be able to access both ends of that domain-knowledge continuum, and we need to make sure that these different entry points don’t just become silos for professional users.
Great metadata and information architecture is critical
We also know that we won’t get things 100% right the first time and we’re going to need to be able to re-organise and represent content in different ways over time. When you have a website that holds a lot of content, the idea of changing your information architecture can be pretty scary. But we know that by planning ahead, and being very thoughtful about the classification schemes and metadata we associate with each piece of content, we can make it easier to continue to iterate how we present and group content in the future.
Good classification and metadata will also help us to make sure the internal search on the website works well.
Why are we doing this again?
Study after study shows that more than 50% of people will fail to get things done with government online in Australia, and for the most basic reasons - because they can’t find and then understand the information we are publishing.
This is because there are too many government websites, too much content and people have to work really hard to understand what government wants them to know and do.
People shouldn’t have to understand the structure of government in order to get things done, so we need to create a new way of organising our information and services that meets the needs of our users. That is what GOV.AU will do.