Transforming Government Information

Our challenge: How do we get the right information and services to people when and where they need it?

The public relies on Government for a broad range of information – advice for individuals and businesses, what services are available and how to access them, and how various rules and laws impact our lives.

The government’s digital environment has grown organically over the last couple of decades. At the moment, information is largely created and managed within agencies and published across more than 1200 disparate gov.au websites, plus a range of social media accounts, apps and other digital formats.

This creates some difficulties for people looking for government information. By publishing within agency silos we are presenting people with an agency-centric view of government information. This is a problem because people largely don’t understand or care about how government organises itself and the structure of government does not map to the needs of people. Having a baby or travelling overseas? Up to a dozen government agencies may have information relevant to you. And as people’s needs span more than one agency, they end up with a disjointed and confusing user experience as they have to navigate across disparate government sites. And even if you begin at your favourite search engine how do you know which of the many government search results is the right place to start?

There are two government entry points already in place to help users – Australia.gov.au and business.gov.au – but they largely act as an umbrella across the 1200+ sites and currently only provide a very thin layer of whole of government information and mainly refer people off to other websites.

The establishment of the DTO has provided the first opportunity for people to come together and better understand how our underlying structural landscape is impacting people’s experience with government. It’s also given us an opportunity to take a step back and ask some of the big questions about how we manage information and what problems can only really be solved through whole of government transformation.

How do we make information and services easier to find? How do we make sure we provide information that people can trust and rely upon at times of need? How should the gov.au landscape be organised to make it easier for us to meet user’s needs and expectations? How many websites should we have – assuming 1200 is too many? What makes up a better user experience – does it mean all sites should look and feel the same? How can we provide government information at the places people naturally go looking for assistance – even if these are not government sites?

As we asked these questions we started to come across some central ideas:

  • What if we could decouple the authoring and management of information from the publishing process, so the subject experts in government still manage their content but we have flexibility to present it in more user-centric ways?
  • What if we unleashed government information? Making it possible for state and local governments, non-profit groups and businesses to deliver content and services alongside their own information to give better value users.
  • Should we move the bureaucratic content (information about agencies and how they are managed such as annual reports, budget statements and operating rules) out of the way of core content and services for people? Can we simplify our environment and base it around topics and life events instead of agencies? What if we had people in government responsible for curating these topics and life events across agencies and creating simpler pathways for users?

We think one of the most important things government can do to drive change is make our information and services consumable – across agencies and by non-government organisations. We want to move to an API-enabled publishing model, where authoritative content is created once, managed by experts, but can be published in many places. This will help government do a better job of focussing around people’s needs, but also opens up government information to third parties who can innovate and create new opportunities and value for users.

We also think that there is an underlying cultural change that needs to happen across government to make this work, a breaking down of some embedded processes and reaching out across agency and jurisdiction borders.

Over the coming months we will be using an evidence-based design approach to flesh these ideas out – using prototypes to test with end users and consulting with agencies and other sectors. From this we will build a whole of government strategy to transform the way we provide government information to the public.

What do you think?

It’s going to take some work to get this right – please tell us what you think of our ideas so far. Have we asked the right questions? Are we taking the right approaches? How do we prioritise this work?

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