gov.au Observatory: Digital Constellations from user journeys

‘Can we use data to understand how people are using government services delivered across different government websites?’ This was the simple question leading to the creation of the gov.au Observatory, and a new stream of quantitative research. It supports our other well-established research methods to help government build the services users need.

A complex graphical representation of the linkages between sites on the .gov.au domain. It shows many, many small dots of different colours connected together to show how the sites in the domain are connected. In total, it looks like a jellyfish.
Caption: Graphic visualisation of two weeks of user traffic across 38 .gov.au websites from May 2019.

The gov.au Observatory is a new product supporting government product and policy owners. The Observatory uses data from Google Analytics, Google Search Console and the gov.au web crawl to quantify and visualise the government’s digital domain. Through these data sources, the Observatory has visibility of over 1.16 billion website interactions per month and 9.5 million government web pages. It also draws on insights and methodologies from similar international partners, such as the Government Digital Service in the UK and 18F in the US.

About the gov.au digital domain

The gov.au digital domain — the websites and services run by government agencies — is an intangible and multi-faceted environment. Although agencies create paths for users with structured websites and services, users move through these services using their own pathways. Search engines and external links let users move through sites looking for the outcomes and information they need. The gov.au domain’s nature makes it difficult for decision-makers and senior officials to understand the complex interactions between their services, other government services and the broader community’s needs.

Designing for people

Government services are where policy meets people. The government used to design its online services with a supply-driven mindset. We thought we knew what people wanted and we built our online services how we thought they should work. However, these kinds of services don’t usually meet users’ needs. They give users limited choice, they are difficult to build, and we need to spend a significant amount of money and time to generate demand after we build the services.

Users are right to expect products built around their needs and are used to demand-driven services like rideshare and food delivery apps. For the government to meet expectations of demand-driven products and services, we need to know what users want and how they will use it, in a way that preserves their privacy.

Introducing the Observatory

But how do we know if the policy and its services are meeting user needs? This is where the Observatory comes in. It analyses and shows how users move through services. This data also helps shift agencies to a demand-driven service mindset. The Observatory uses modern data science methods, like natural-language processing and network analysis to explore where users experience problems with government services. We can then compare how agencies design services with how people use them. We can also identify where pain points exist or where they might develop.

Caption: A section of Observatory data to show the level of detail the service deals with. Select to view a a larger version.

By taking a holistic view of government as a single-service provider, the Observatory maps where users are going — or not going — to meet their needs. We want to meet users where they are, as their interactions with government are not one-off events, they’re part of life. If we measure how well our services perform, we can make them better, and make our users’ lives better.

The Observatory puts privacy first:

  • We don’t capture or use personal information.
  • We don’t share or sell raw data.
  • We show agencies how they can opt out.
  • We focus on trends and aggregates, not on individuals and specifics.

Getting involved

The Observatory already has 30 partner agencies covering 1.167 billion monthly interactions and 14 billion in the past 12 months. If you run a government service and want to know how the Observatory can help you improve it, email us at observatory@dta.gov.au

Patrick Drake-Brockman is the acting Product Manager of gov.au Observatory