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Note referred to in this post is now

Ready, steady, go! The Digital Engagement team at the Department of Internal Affairs now has approval to move into the next phase of redeveloping We have finished the alpha phase, and on Wednesday 6 March 2013 we kicked off the beta phase. It’s exciting stuff.

Let me share with you the problem we’re trying to fix, the options we looked at, and what we’re planning to do with the beta.

(And don’t worry, later this week Nathan Wall is going to tell you how the alpha phase went, so you won’t miss a thing.)

What’s Broken?

We’ve done user testing and user engagement analysis in order to develop an evidence-based understanding of what’s wrong with the current site.

We know, for example, from a visitor engagement and analysis report (PDF 449KBWord 420KB) that less than a third of the people who come to the current site actually click on a link to go to an external agency website. They’re abandoning their task. The current site is basically a ‘link farm,’ but it’s not working.

The current super-brief content doesn’t provide any real context for the end user. It also fails to give overviews of user journeys when the user is required to interact with multiple agencies to get what they want. For example, to get Working for Families assistance, you may have to deal with the Department of Internal Affairs (for your child’s birth certificate), Inland Revenue (IRD number for your child), and Work and Income (to apply).

Since specific government agency websites deal almost exclusively with the services provided by that one agency, it’s difficult for the user to get the ‘bird's eye view’ elsewhere online.

Task abandonment on the current site means that many users are turning to more expensive channels (calling or emailing an agency directly) to get their information, rather than using the online channel. This drives up cost to agencies.

Take the Site Down?

We considered all options, including simply taking down. There are a couple of problems with this. For one, the current site acts as a kind of ‘land of last resort’ for people who can’t find what they’re looking for in the government domain. For example, we process an average of 91 emails a month from people who need help finding the right agency. It would be a shame to get rid of the safety net.

Taking the site down would also be inconsistent with recent strategic thinking across government. It would be an odd step backwards to eliminate a key all-of-government website at a time when government thinking is calling for all-of-government solutions, improved user experience, and for agencies to fund services less as a collection of individual agencies, in pursuit of their own singular objectives, and more as a system [Better Public Services Advisory Group Report (PDF 1MB), page 5].

What’s Happening Overseas?

We looked overseas for options, too. We explored trends in national government portals in other jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and South Australia.

The clear trend is that governments overseas are increasingly adopting joined-up information delivery models. It’s more efficient for government to pool resources than to continue to deliver in silos. Victoria Wray wrote a post about our overseas research back in September 2012.

We considered joined-up delivery models for However, there is still some high-level strategy work across the New Zealand Government that has to happen before we can make any definite choice about such big steps.

As I write, a variety of cross-agency groups are exploring strategic directions and recommendations for the future. For example, the ICT Strategy Task Force and the Result 10 Digital Services Council are looking at future all-of-government direction. Once their work is done and agreed on, we’ll know which direction to take for in the longer term.

But in the meantime, what do we do with the site?

Minimal Viable Product

For the beta phase, we’re concentrating on building a Minimal Viable Product (MVP).

In essence, this will be the minimum amount of work required to provide a user-centred in line with modern user expectations. However, it will not commit us to any particular future path before the necessary strategy work is complete. It will fix what’s broken without going too far down any particular road.

The MVP will be released as a beta website in July 2013, and it will:

  • draw on learnings obtained from developing the early alpha prototype we just finished;
  • provide ‘thin content’ which will be more extensive than the current ‘link farm’ content and which will summarise information relevant to user journeys, with links out to detailed content and transactional services on external agency websites;
  • provide context for the user around how a user journey may require them to interact with multiple agencies;
  • connect users to the correct agencies and service providers in order to complete their user journeys with government;
  • simplify the complexity of transacting with multiple agencies by offering clear, concise information organised around user needs, not the structure of government;
  • provide the content through an improved information architecture that is based on thorough and ongoing user testing;
  • be developed using an iterative approach to maximise return on investment and reduce risk—we’re using Scrum methodology to manage this;
  • re-use front end web templates from the website, which the United Kingdom has made available as open source, and which DIA will repurpose for the New Zealand context in order to save time and cost;
  • use responsive design (an approach that enables easy viewing on many devices, from desktop computers to mobile phones and tablets).

To deliver the site, we’re going to use the new Common Web Services. We’re using the platform, which is the SilverStripe open source content management system on a common infrastructure. We’ll also use the Common Web Services panel procurement wherever possible.

Impact on Other Agencies

We’re drafting our thin content and the beta site will go live with that. There will be a notice that the site is a prototype (which is standard operating procedure for beta sites). It will say something like, "Notice: This site is a test website. It may contain inaccuracies. The official site remains"

We’re starting conversations with agencies across the Government to ask them to fact check the thin content after the beta goes live and before it goes into production, replacing the old We’ll keep you posted as we have more details.

Cross-Agency Advisory Groups

We’ve been having conversations with people from across Government about this project for over a year now. The project has been endorsed by the ICT Functional Leadership Reference Group (a cross-agency group of senior managers from across government).

In a couple of weeks we’ll be presenting to the new, cross-agency Result 10 Digital Services Council. We’ll also be maintaining communications with other cross-agency groups, such as the ICT Strategy Group, the ICT Functional Leadership Reference Group, Better Public Services, the CIO Forum, and the Government Web Community.

It’s a very exciting time for all-of-government delivery, and we’re keen to work with agencies to make sure we’re delivering efficient, user-centred services. Watch this space.

And if you have any questions, do please leave a comment below.

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