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



Cabinet reshuffle – what I understand has happened (from my Twitter and Facebook!)

Simon Dickson‘s twitter feed has been invaluable today:

Simon Dickson's Twitter feed

Simon Dickson

The new department’s url has indeed been registered http://www.ja.net/services/whois/lookup.php?query=decc.gov.uk&output=nice by the lovely Daniel De Cruz. But still nothing there yet.

The detail of the new Cabinet is on the Number Ten website.

A facebook update suggested that perhaps Tom Watson MP, our blogging e-Minister, was being re-shuffled. No official word yet, but Jeremy Gould managed to track down one blogging chap for The Telegraph who mentions him in the last paragraph. It says that he will be working on Government strategy. We don’t think this necessarily means that he is no longer the Minister of all things ‘e’, but who knows.

The new Minister for Technology, Telecoms and Broadcasting: Stephen Carter has an interesting history that seems quite apt in this day of financial chaos. Who knows how this will work out, but it will be worth watching. I wonder if the social tools he uses extend beyond golf now.

I don’t pretend to understand politics or politicians – but I am quite into my comms 😉 – so this appointment probably holds the most interest.