Directgov franchise building – should anyone care to know

A part of my current job is to rebuild the two areas on Directgov: ‘Crime, Justice and the Law‘ and ‘Government, citizens and rights‘. (This is not the first time I have worked on Directgov franchises, my sticky fingers are all over ‘Money, tax and benefits‘ and ‘Disabled people‘ and ‘Caring for someone‘ – to varying degrees.) Any road, I am getting quite excited about how these two franchises (Directgov speak for a content area on their site) are turning out – it even looks as if they may become three if we listen to what our customer research is telling us loud and clear – and I thought the development of a new franchise, or even franchises, might be something of interest to those who read my blog.

If not, read no further, good day to you!

I am going to assume that few of you reading this understand how Directgov gets its content and how it operates its franchises (for now). Here’s how it works (very basic version you understand):

Some time ago extensive research was done to see where the touch points were with government and the citizens of this country. This offered up the segmentation of content that you see now. Then departments were assigned areas of Directgov, franchises (so called because its modus operandi was similar to a department store) were created, with the appropriate level of funding and resource – in theory, and now (thanks to Sir David Varney and the transformational government agenda) becoming a reality.

So ends the brief history lesson – that is what got us to where we are now, and watch this space because although I am no longer a part of the central team, I do hear what their horizon-scanning work is offering up and it is good, revolutionary… and good.

Right, so where we are right now is in the research and customer insight phase. Late last year we canvassed all areas of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice (the two main stakeholders in the franchises), to discover what the departmental drivers were, what information did us citizens NEED to know, regardless of whether we were aware of it. This was run in parallel with a series of focus groups across the UK to assess what people really wanted, what information we could provide that would make life a little bit more easy to navigate (when dealing with the public sector/government).

The outcome of these two pieces of work were then cross-matched for commonality and relevance and a series of topics collated that were then put through a ‘card-sorting’ phase – with real people 🙂 us users of said service.

The results have been developed into wireframes (pretend title pages) to test the information architecture of the site areas – that means the navigation, the route through to content should you choose to click through rather than use the search function.

What we get next is an iteration of the navigation until we have found the architecture that works best. This will be developed into a full information architecture, with titles for each page and then we go about the task of re-purposing or creating the content.

Alongside this we are completing a full content audit of what is currently available, so that we can easily find, de-dupe, re-write (if necessary), everything that is already out there. A laborious task but one that will pay dividends in the end, for the cost to the public purse and to ensuring that there is a single source of information that is maintained, owned and accurate… online – a surprisingly mean feat if you consider how long the www has been going, and how much information government has provided over the years.

Of course some content may have to be written from scratch or re-purposed through interactive tools or flat HTML, whichever suits the need. But the point of both exercises is to streamline the delivery of the franchises on Directgov, and more importantly – provide the right information, in the most helpful way – it has to be said, that this is regardless of whether the message is a popular one or not, it is not our raison d’être to address the popularity or otherwise of what the current government policies are.

Within days we will have developed our planned content architecture and within weeks we will know how much work is involved in delivering this and how soon we can start getting the right stuff in the right place for everyone.

I look forward to sharing this with you.

Important to note

  • the current offering is working as a place-holder for us, so please do not send me useful tips on how to make it better; the point is that we know it needs to be a whole lot better
  • we may seem pedantic, but if you are going to do this well… do it right (and we can do so without it costing the earth)
  • This blog post is written from my own experience only

What can you do? Let me know if you want me to post further on this subject, please 🙂 and in the future, it would be good if you could help us refine our franchise areas on Directgov.

Important to note, I am not delivering this single-handedly. Hereby listed the civil servants working on this with me in departments (not Directgov – too many to list):

Yasmin Diamond

Bill Reay

Phil Ramdeen

Fran White

Dan Berry

Atul Sharda

Jeremy Gould

Blogging sin: forgot to say Andrew Lewin has been integral to this process… damn it… forgive all future sins, I am sure I will add to this list

10 responses

  1. Directgov. What a wizzo Supersite – hate the term “one stop shop”, but if you need to find out where to “find things out from” you need (no must) have a stop that is a shop and there should only be one of them.
    More power to you – great work! Make it good and promote it well.

  2. Cripes, I am ashamed at how badly written this is. My English teacher would have scrawled all over it and then given up. Short of completely rewriting it I am going to have to leave it as is. Thank the Lord I am not personally drafting or re-drafting content for DG.

  3. You mentioned Gov Gateway’s “horizon-scanning work” – can you say more about that? Do they have a vision of what GG does in, say 2020? – or is there someone you should put me in contact with…?


  4. Henry, I was talking about Directgov not GovGateway. However, interestingly, I was part of a discussion yesterday around verifiable digital identity and single sign on, GovGateway are involved in that piece of work. Will contact you off here with deets of someone you can talk to about this.

  5. Really excellent article, Emma (and I’d have said that even without the strong finish! 😉

    It’s great to have some light shed on the whole Directgov process. Because Directgov is so big, so central to the UK public sector online, so visible, and there’s so much for the team to do every single day, that sometimes it can inadvertently come across as a somewhat impersonal edifice which “moves in mysterious ways” – the very antithesis of what’s intended and what the government wants from its online communications. I really hope that DG has a 2009 resolution to engage and interact more with its users and to throw the shutters open more often, it’ll do it the world of good in so many ways.

    And I also really like how the article shows the care, effort and attention to detail that goes into creating government online comms today. People often think that websites are thought up by a policy team and just thrown up online without any thought to the end user – and five years ago that might have been uncomfortably close to the case – but this shows the painstaking process of ensuring that today’s services are created from the ground up according to the real needs of the users at every step. I’m always proud of playing any part no matter now ‘cameo’ in a project with that sort of user-centred approach.

  6. Thanks for the explanation. I don’t understand Directgov, its split of topics or its navigation. I have some idea about government departments and services because I’m a parish councillor, but I frequently fail to find things in Directgov if they’re not on the front page. I suspect I’m not the only one because its front page now seems very crowded.

    I’m pretty sure many things simply aren’t on Directgov. For example, I was at a meeting last night discussing the village’s council tax. So from Directgov, I click Council Tax… nothing obvious there about how the council tax rate is set. I’m pretty sure some of it is set by local councils, so I try “Connect to your council” on the right side and get a very hard to read (white on light grey) page which seems mostly irrelevant, but includes “Find your council (England)” as a link on the right. I put my postcode into the next page and get directed off to my district council. I’m not saying their site is out-of-date, but “NEW! Christmas waste advice” is the top story. On their site, I click “Council Tax” and get how-to-pay details and that’s it. The village meeting isn’t mentioned anywhere.

    In conclusion, I believe someone starting at Directgov looking for an explanation of how their council tax is set will probably not find details of any meetings, even ones on their doorstep.

    That’s one example, but there are probably tons more, both predictable and unusual. I feel Directgov really needs something like “I was looking for…” and/or “suggest a link for this page” comments boxes and a process that takes that data and updates the site to reflect the needs of users. The current link under Help -> bottom of page -> Feedback is too hidden and doesn’t seem to result in any actions, so I’ve given up using it.

  7. Fantastic! Sounds like you guys have rocketed ahead since I exited stage right… (here’s hoping those two things aren’t connected!)

    Really encouraging to hear the audience insight is coming along so well (it sounds like you have had some fascinating stuff come out of it), and to be reminded that there are others out there in government keeping their organisations focused on the ‘audience’.

    Keep the updates coming – it’s exciting stuff! : )

  8. It shouldn’t be a great surprise that people are interested in the process behind Directgov. It’s costing them enough in advertising budget alone, never mind content development.

    Surely the obvious step is to start blogging publicly. I’m not talking about turning each franchise into a blog; how about a single, group effort telling us how Directgov works, what’s happening, what’s new, etc etc etc. Like pretty much every startup company, large and small. If a specific role model is needed, try the main Google blog.

    As I’ve noted previously on my own blog, it was reported in the Guardian in August 2007 that one was on the way. Eighteen months later? – nothing. It’s a pity. We want to know. And we want to help.

  9. Thanks Simon for that, I do believe that they might start something – but I do not know for sure. It would be an amazing resource, I agree entirely and could help everyone understand and help.

    MJ, you are right and these problems are being addressed centrally, it is all a bit of a learning curve. Still stepping in he right direction should be encouraged I say.

    Nayan… you know there is no connection, we started the ball rolling and it rolled the right way.

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