GOV.AU is a ‘mental model’ of government

DTO Head of Service Design Leisa Reichelt explains how the research for the GOV.AU prototype showed that people are struggling to interact with government - because they don’t understand how all the parts of government fit together. Solving this problem is part of the vision for GOV.AU.

This post is the first 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.

People have no mental model of government

Late last year we did research with people interacting with government at different life stages: becoming a grown-up and getting older, and as a business owner. Regardless of what government service matched their circumstances, we heard one overwhelming message: people find it really difficult to understand what government wants them to do and feel confident that they have the full picture. As several people said, they had no ‘mental model’.

‘I just wing it to be honest. As I find out I need it, I research it. Which is probably not ideal. I need the big picture’

– School Counsellor

Most people don’t know all the parts of government and what they do. Many people think of government as one thing but government generally doesn’t present a single view to end-users. For a successful transaction, people have to know where to find the information they need - but typically that information is spread across several different websites. Users then need to compare and synthesise that information to make sense of what government wants them to do. People told us that: they never feel certain that they have all the information, the information is up-to-date, and they never know what they will find next.

Woman sitting at table checking mobile phone.

Caption: Research participant trying to find government information during the Discovery (research) phase for GOV.AU Alpha

The problem is right across government

It is not just the GOV.AU team who have identified this issue. Both the Department of Human Services and Industry teams in our transformation program are reporting similar findings across the topics of starting a business and having a new baby. Recent research findings from the Digital Government Ease of Use Index showed that at state government level, the situation is similar, reporting:

Almost half the respondents had difficulty finding information. Of those who experienced difficulties, 55% said the reason was either they didn’t know where to start looking, or it wasn’t where they expected to find it.

– Digital Government Ease of Use Index 2015 KPMG & Global Reviews

People are confused and anxious about getting it wrong

Most people are trying to do the right thing when they interact with government and many people seek to deal with government using digital channels. But when they have trouble finding the full set of information, or feeling confident that they have understood that information, people often become anxious and ‘channel shift’ - telephoning or going into a shop-front so a ‘real’ person can properly explain things.

This is often less convenient to the end-user and always more expensive for the taxpayer.

We must do better.

GOV.AU’s mission - people shouldn’t have to know how government works to interact with government

This is the job that GOV.AU will set out to do - to help government act as a coherent whole. This is not only what our end-users need us to do, it is also what we are legislatively bound to do. We will present content that has been collaboratively produced by different parts of government and designed around the needs of users - not the structures of government.

Not only will this give users a better experience, but it will help us deliver public services more efficiently.

We’ll be sharing more about how we’ll be doing this very soon.

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