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ByMichele Ide-Smith

UX takes centre stage in Martha Lane Fox review

I’ve been a bit slow off the mark to read Martha Lane Fox’s review of Directgov and recommendations for government digital services. The review is centred around the principle that the UK Government needs to adopt a service led culture to delivering public services online.

Whilst this report is not a policy or an implementation plan it does represent an important milestone for Government webbies, in particular those who champion user experience. I know DirectGov take user experience design (UX) very seriously and have already committed to making UX a central part of their processes. So whilst it didn’t come as a surprise to me, I was pleased to see Martha Lane Fox’s robust recommendations and multiple references to UX principles and practises in the document. In particular the suggestion that DirectGov should have more powers to enforce quality UX, becoming the:

“citizens’ champion with sharp teeth” for transactional service delivery.

The report also highlights some very sensible approaches to web service delivery, such as the syndication of content and standardisation and development of open APIs to enable government services to be delivered by 3rd party organisations. However, I am not going to cover those recommendations in this post, as they have been well covered elsewhere, by Steph Gray and Neil Williams. Another good read is Simon Dickinson, who questions if the recommendations will be taken on board by Government, citing the rather non-committal response by Francis Maud.

I have picked out and categorised the key points in the review document that demonstrate the strong recommendations regarding UX:

1. Consistency of user experience

A new central commissioning team should take responsibility for the overall user experience on the government web estate, and should commission content from departmental experts. This content should then be published to a single Government website with a consistently excellent user experience.

A new central commissioning team should take responsibility for the overall user experience on the government web estate, and should commission content from departmental experts. This content should then be published to a single Government website with a consistently excellent user experience.

2. Development of a unified brand and focus on users’ mental models, rather than Government department structures:

Ultimately it makes sense to the user for all Government digital services to reside under a single brand. The user should not have to navigate the departmental structure of Government before finding the service or content what they need.

3. Use of evaluation techniques like user testing:

any potential change must be tested first with users

4. A focus on users’ information seeking behaviour:

we should be ensuring that citizens find the information they want as quickly as  possible wherever they are on the web.

5. Centralised governance of user experience:

a new central team in Cabinet Office in absolute control of the overall user experience across all digital channels

6. Implementation of standards that promote content strategy, usability, accessibility and user research (italics added for emphasis):

  • Content standards:  including format, taxonomy, meta-tagging and  rules for syndication partners;
  • Design standards: including usability, accessibility and  look and  feel
  • Process standards: including content creation, content review processes, SLA and partner processes;
  • Customer standards: including feedback, consultation,  insight, analyticssegmentation and  registration.

Overall I think the report is very positive, clear and to the point. I have limited knowledge of how central Government web delivery is governed and managed. But reading other posts (mentioned above) throws some light on the political implications of this review. But we will need to watch and wait to see what happens next.

In sharp contrast, local government are being asked to deliver or commission services with an increasingly local focus. The forthcoming Localism Bill will throw more light on what Localism means for Councils next week. But at this stage it is not clear what impact Government’s Localism agenda will have on the user experience of digital, local, public services. Is it likely LocalDirectGov will have a more significant role in improving the user experience of local services?

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ByMichele Ide-Smith

Digital engagement governance – a dichotomy between hyperlocal or partnership managed

I’ve just started working on a project where we’ll be exploring digital engagement methods, using social media alongside offline forms of engagement such as neighbourhood panels. The aim of the project is to improve community cohesion in a semi-rural community. The project is being developed as a partnership between the County Council, District Council, community centres, a rural development agency, housing associations, the Police and the Fire & Rescue Service.

The partners are all relatively new to the concept of digital engagement but are aware that any form of social media (e.g. blogs or social networking sites) requires governance and moderation. In the initial meeting I presented what I think of as a ‘governance dichotomy’ which we, as public service providers, should be open to when we consult with the community. By this I mean that we may end up with either a community led or a partnership managed approach to governance, depending on what the community and partnership jointly decide will work best.

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