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Join this collection Irish website for newly unemployed people (lyj)

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Published on: 09/06/2009 Document Archived is an information website provided by the Citizens Information Board. It provides integrated information on how to access public services, and is aimed at people who are newly unemployed or who are working on reduced hours or pay.

Available since March 2009, was produced in a six-week period as a response to rapidly rising unemployment in Ireland. The website aims to inform people about their rights, entitlements and options during a period of unemployment, covering cross-sectoral information areas such as claiming social security benefits, requesting a tax refund, getting help with rent or mortgage payments, going back to education, looking for a new job and starting a business. It also provides information for migrant workers returning to EU or non-EU countries and for Irish citizens looking to relocate inside and outside the European Union. is a “microsite” and is based on content from the Citizens Information Board’s eGovernment portal, provides a distinctly branded location for existing content to be presented in a modified form, with core information structured around a very specific but very far-reaching life event.

Impact has had more than 22,000 users in its first 12 weeks in operation and has clocked up more than 145,000 pageviews. In Ireland, the live register (the list of people claiming social security benefits for unemployment) grew by 56,587 between January and April. provides an easy-to-access, all-in-one destination for newly unemployed people, many of whom have no experience of unemployment and who are suffering from shock and stress. As well as serving the general public, provides a reference site for the more than 1,000 staff of Citizens Information Centres around the country, allowing the centres to better manage demand by improving consultation times and by providing a follow-up for reinforcement of face-to-face information provision.

Lessons learned

  • Microsites can serve fast-arising information needs if they are built quickly and go to the heart of those needs
  • Microsites can be produced quickly and cheaply where content and subject expertise are already available
  • Microsites provide a short-term alternative to a single portal approach to eGovernment

Policy Context

The remit of the Citizens Information Board is to provide information on people’s rights and entitlements in Ireland. We fulfil our remit through a three-channel model: online information, information over the telephone and information provided face-to-face. We are a statutory body under the Comhairle Act 2000 and the Citizens Information Act 2007.

The Information Society report Implementing the Information Society in Ireland: An Action Plan (1999) set ambitious goals for the development of the information society in Ireland.  Strand one of this plan charged the National Social Service Board (which became Comhairle and then the Citizens Information Board) with providing public service information in a client-centred manner. The launch of the OASIS website in April 2001 fulfilled this remit and OASIS has since been developed to form the basis of, launched in early 2007.

The website provides public service information for Ireland. It was rated highly in the Cap Gemini Benchmarking Report, published in September 2007. The report cited as an example of “best practice within the EU”. The website was ranked at the highest level of the assessment model and scored 81% (the 27 EU states averaged 75%). In 2007 also won a World Summit Award in the e-Government category. has always aimed to provide information that is as accessible as possible to the largest number of people possible. In the last number of years Irish and European policy in the eGovernment area has focused strongly on eInclusion. This is reflected in i2010, which aims to enable people to fully participate in the information society, regardless of their individual or social circumstances.

eInclusion has been at the core of Irish information society initiatives, including the 2002 Action Plan on the Information Society, New Connections, and the 2003 report, eInclusion: Expanding the Information Society in Ireland. In each of these documents, and in the Riga Declaration, unemployed people are specifically mentioned as being at risk of social exclusion.

Over the years since New Connections, there have been a range of successful initiatives in Ireland aimed at targeting the adoption of IT skills and services by particular groups, including the CAIT (Community Application of IT) Initiative and the ASC (Access, Skills and Content) Initiative. At the same time, adoption of broadband internet access has grown sharply and now stands at 20.2%. While the digital divide is still very real, it is slowly being bridged.

In a decision of July 2008 the Irish Government put renewed emphasis on the development of eGovernment in the context of the economic downturn. The first part of its working definition of eGovernment is: “the provision of information to the public or to other civil and public service bodies through electronic means such as the web, mobile phone text messaging (SMS), data/file transfers”. eGovernment is now seen as a crucial tool in Ireland’s economic recovery.

The Citizens Information Board developed the microsite against a policy context with these two major strands: eInclusion, and the importance of eGovernment - including the provision of information – in an economic downturn. By leveraging the success of we could provide a Citizens Information website targeted specifically at unemployed people that would address both of these policy issues.’s target audience includes both the “digital have-nots” described in New Connections and also the many “digital haves” who have lost jobs in the downturn.

Description of target users and groups is focused on a very specific audience – people in Ireland who have lost their jobs or who are working reduced hours or with reduced pay. This group includes migrant workers from inside and outside the EU who have been made redundant.

The global economic downturn has been particularly sharp in Ireland and unemployment has risen quickly in the past nine months. The live register for April 2009 (the record of people signing on for unemployment benefits) stood at 384,448 people. This represents 11.4% of the workforce; in April 2008 the live register represented only 5.4% of the workforce. In a report released at the end of April, the Economic and Social Research Institute predicted an average unemployment rate of 13.2% in 2009. The Institute also believes a further 102,800 jobs will be lost next year, leading to an unemployment rate of 16.8%.

However, also caters for the many people in Ireland who are not unemployed but who are working short weeks or who have taken a substantial pay cut.

It is possible to claim a social security payment in Ireland if you are an employee placed on short-time working. Between January and April 2009 there was a very significant increase in the number of people claiming this payment. A survey conducted by the employer’s body IBEC in late March suggests that, among those firms who had not yet implemented workforce reduction measures, more than 20% of firms expected to introduce pay reductions before the end of 2009 and more than 29% expected to introduce short-time working. These figures lead us to believe that will continue to find an audience until at least the end of 2010. Our goal impact assessment has focussed on the percentages of newly unemployed people accessing Based on this measure the microsite has attracted more than 22,000 users to date, while the live register grew by 56,587 between January and April.

The majority of the content on is in English but we are aware that many migrants, particularly from the EU, are also losing jobs in the economic downturn. We have provided the category overview documents in Polish as well as Irish and we hope to expand the range of languages, particularly by translating and making available online the associated leaflet, Have you lost your job?.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

Citizens Information in Ireland delivers services based on a three-channel model. Customers can get information from our website, through a lo-call phone number or from a network of drop-in centres. The project was initiated based on feedback from all three channels which suggested that a range of particular issues was affecting large parts of the Irish population. While unemployment has been very prominent in the Irish media recently, reduced hours was also identified by our network as representing a major information need.

A group was formed to address the information and service issues arising from the economic downturn. This group includes representatives from each of the three channels and has oversight of the project, including its publication and training strands.

One of the priorities of the group was to establish a central information resource where information providers in our call centre and in our drop-in network could get information organised around an unemployment ‘life event’. Much of this content was already in place on but was spread across multiple categories and so was not particularly intuitive for the end-user. It was decided to launch a microsite that takes a life event approach to the issue and that could be produced rapidly and with minimal expense. It would serve as an information source for information providers and for the general public.

A partnership strategy was adopted across the three channels with the aim of working largely with pre-verified content. By limiting the content work to a specialised information production team and requesting comments at various stages in the website’s lifecycle, the group was able to keep the project nimble while also ensuring the quality of the content produced.

On the ICT side a policy was agreed of working with open source software and standards to produce a flexible and cost-effective site. A series of milestones were established based on a set of core tasks: website architecture and navigation design; XML schema design and templating; content production and coding in XML; installation of a Concurrent Versioning System to retain a change record; visual design of website; coding of CSS and XSLT processes; coding of build script; configuration and deployment of web server and web stats system. A design team, a coding team and a content team worked against these milestones using a simple critical path process to establish parallel streams.

With now in full operation, responsibility for its maintenance and upkeep rests with the initial information production team and takes place alongside the updating of its parent website, Our templates are structured in such a way that an update of can be carried across to using a simple cut and paste of the XHTML code.

The short timeframes involved in the project allowed us to avoid many of the standard pitfalls of resource management, and also helped greatly in motivating the various teams by providing rapid progress towards a significant and tangible goal.

Technology solution

The Citizens Information Board has a remit to assist people with disabilities and a strong history of using open source software in website production. We started out with two goals in mind – to build with minimal cost and to ensure it would be accessible to a very high standard when complete.

To this end we produced the content using open source editing tools and an open source CVS system, and we serve the content from an open source platform using an open source webserver.

All our content is marked up in XML using a CVS for change control. We run a simple XSLT process to style the XML into XHTML and separate the presentation layer with a CSS file. The resulting files and folders are tarballed and copied by SSH to a remote webserver where they are unpacked and symlinked.

Apart from three PDF publications available from the homepage, no part of the website requires proprietary software beyond a low-spec web browser. To keep costs down the webserver is a virtual server rented from a local hosting company. The virtual server runs Debian 4 for its operating system and a system of symlinking allow us to relate files in the three different languages supports – English, Irish and Polish. The largest cost component of the website was not, in fact, its technology, but translations of existing content into other languages. As no CMS is involved we can make extensive changes to the website very rapidly and we are not tied to our existing architecture or page templates.

Technology choice: Mainly (or only) open standards, Accessibility-compliant (minimum WAI AA), Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts has two major stakeholders – the Citizens Information network in Ireland and the general public. These stakeholders are interconnected, in that any member of the public who contacts one of our information centres or our phone service may benefit - through an information provider - from the information available on

In terms of its success with the general public, more than 22,000 users have visited in its 12 weeks in operation and it has generated more than 145,000 pageviews. Between January and April 2009 the live register in Ireland grew by 56,587. It is a trusted source of information with a return rate only slightly below 1.5 visits per user. It has met an important information need in Ireland and continues to gain attention on the internet and in the media.

At the same time, our network of Citizens Information Centres and our phone service have been able to refer to the website in consultations and to refer customers to the website for self-advocacy purposes. In so doing they can cut consultation times or avoid the need for a consultation, both on the issue of immediate concern and potential future issues.

As the website has only been in operation for a short time we have not yet gathered substantial qualitative evidence from its users, but we believe from anecdotal evidence that has been very well received and is seen as a key resource by many people in the target group.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

We have yet to share this case study with other public sector actors.

Lessons learnt

In the project we have learned a great deal about the gains and issues around producing themed microsites and how they relate to the organisation’s main website and brand. has many advantages: it is flexible, cost-effective, memorable, contains tailored information and a tailored navigation based on a specific life event. While much of the information was already available on, it was not so easy to navigate and it contained information irrelevant to someone who is unemployed. was commissioned and built in response to a rapidly-developing need and its content could be swiftly integrated back into when the information need passes.

In the project we have also learned that there can be tensions between the need to provide a single point of integrated information and the concomitant need to provide specific and specialised information on a designated topic.

Launching a “microsite” called could be considered a dilution of the brand. On the other hand, it has allowed us to take the best practices from and apply them to a situation so serious that it requires specific and concerted responses from many organisations, both in the public and private sector. By making information easily accessible to people at a time of great stress and upheaval, has filled an important online niche.

We believe the “microsite” model could be extended to other areas and adapted as a flexible and speedy response method to rapidly arising, short-term information needs. While various information sources deal separately with the issues that arise from a redundancy – reduced income, housing, debt, re-training, finding another job – very few integrate all of these areas into a single information resource. aims to tackle all aspects of job loss, from redundancy payments through to pension issues, from meeting mortgage payments to going back to education. We believe microsites can sit well alongside generalist eGovernment portals and major internet infrastructure by being highly specialised and highly flexible. 

Scope: National