GOV.AU is not a technology project

DTO Head of Service Design Leisa Reichelt explains that the biggest challenge for government, as we move towards GOV.AU, is not around technology. It’s about how we reduce the enormous amount of information that already exists, and come together to design and write better content that meets user-needs.

This post is the second 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 the first post: GOV.AU is a ‘mental model’ of government

It’s not just about a content management system (CMS)

During the course of the Discovery and Alpha phases for GOV.AU we talked to many of the people in government who are likely to end up moving their content to the GOV.AU platform. While many naturally had questions about what CMS GOV.AU will use (which we are definitely working on and will share soon), the question for us right now is about words and design (content) which we see as the biggest problem.

The hard part is the words and design

The hardest part about this project will not be getting the technology right. The hardest thing will be coming together and acting as a coherent whole across government - writing less and better content, and organising it around the real needs of our users.

Group of DTO content designers and researchers working together around a desk.

Caption: DTO Content designers and researchers working collaboratively to reduce the amount of words on the screen during the GOV.AU prototype

It’s not as simple as content migration either

It doesn’t really matter what CMS you’re on now. Content is a massive problem right across government. There is far too much of it, it is too complicated, and it is all over the place. So far we’ve counted almost 1600 Commonwealth Government websites and there are in the vicinity of 4500 websites if you count state and local council websites as well. This all contributes to users’ cognitive loads as they try to determine which sources are the right ones to get information. Recent research shows that it is not uncommon for people to accidentally use content from the wrong State Government website when trying to complete a task (Digital Government Ease of Use Index 2015 KPMG & Global Reviews).

We have a very large task ahead of us to do the hard work to make it simple for our users - to consolidate and simplify, rewrite and archive an enormous amount of content.

This is not a ‘lift and shift’ exercise. We should not be talking about content migration.

This sounds like a lot of trouble. Why are we doing this again?

It’s going to be a big effort and it is going to take some time, but there is no doubt that a big change is needed. 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.

We need to come together to write content that meets user needs, not content that is convenient to our organisation’s structure. Then we need to do user research to make sure that people can find and understand the content, and then use the research findings to continually improve the content until it works for everyone who needs it.

This will rely on having stable and flexible technology to be able to make sure that our services are fast, reliable and secure - we’ll share more about our approach to the technology stack soon. In the meantime let’s focus our attention on the great challenge of this mission - to get the right people in the room together, really understanding the needs of their users, and writing the fewest and clearest words possible to explain what people need to know.

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