Public organisations with public-facing online services have found that these can often be difficult to navigate, are not accessible to disabled members of the public, make information the user is seeking hard to find, require too much information from users and, in general, fail to comply with basic usability directives.
The Digital Inclusion Strategy tries to simplify and improve the use of public-facing online services by analysing what data is really necessary (and eliminating the requirement for redundant or unnecessary user input), reducing options to simplify forms and procedures, studying user interaction to adapt interfaces to users expectations, making the data most requested by users more readily available, and sharing content, code and designs with other public organisations and with the general public so it can reused and recycled in different contexts.
Examples of the application of the program can be found at the Skills Funding Agency, where these policies have been used to improve interaction with users on the new "VAT rates" site, which has reduced its footprint to one single page that concentrates on answering the queries users are most prone to ask. The Wordpress plugin, which allows the integration of GOV.UK content within any Wordpress site, is an example of how content is shared with the general public. In general, the directives laid out by the program are being applied across the board and many other departments are implementing the guidelines to comply with the British government's policy of improving online services for users.
The Digital by Default Service Standard is a set of criteria and recommendations that digital teams building government services are required to comply with when redesigning old online services or implementing new ones. Meeting the standard guarantees a high quality of digital services, leading to services that are easily improved, safe, secure and fulfil users' needs.
Description of target users and groupsThis strategy must be mainly implemented by department heads, developers and designers of online public services that manage front-facing sites that have found, through usage analysis, that their websites and online applications are confusingly complex, inaccessible to users with disabilities or who are unfamiliar with online service procedures, and/or do not readily provide the data that users require.
Description of the way to implement the initiative
Implementation requires that government organisations study users' needs, identifying and taking into consideration real world scenarios and implementing websites designed with these in mind, while official processes take a back seat. Government organisations are also encouraged to avoid replicating functionalities that exist elsewhere, linking to existing resources that satisfy the users' needs instead. Before redesigning a site, designers are also encouraged to use data they already have available from the current sites, studying what parts of the site users use most and identifying where hurdles can be found.
Public organizations are expected to implement changes in their services gradually, releasing beta versions, testing them with real users and refining them and adapting them with ease of use and accessibility in mind. The stress is not so much on creating websites, as creating web services. That is, mere showcase sites are to be avoided, instead - government departments are required to create sites that offer a service to users, allowing them to solve their problems. Finally, to avoid several departments duplicating the same work, they are encouraged to develop in the open. This means not only publishing code once it is written, but publishing it while it's being written, allowing third parties to use and refactor code as it is being created, and contribute to other projects with their own expertise. The aim of the above is to tap into crowdsourced resources, while simultaneously exploiting the Open Source maxim that stipulates that, given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.
The Digital Inclusion program uses hard data, digital services and continuous updating and improvement to cater adequately to users’ needs. Data is culled from real world interaction with users, and recycled into new designs for online services. New versions of services and sites are again monitored to incrementally implement further improvements. Data is shared across departments so that improvements can be applied on a wider range of sites and services.
Main results, benefits and impacts
More users find what they are looking for, more users sign up to services that require registration, users with disabilities or who are unfamiliar with online interaction with the public administration are being better catered to. The ultimate aim of the project is to create a suite of services that are good enough to eliminate the users' need to interact with the public administration through other traditional ways, such as, post, fax, or in person.
The savings derived from a mostly online public administration for the U.K. has been estimated by Pricewaterhouse Coopers at one billion pounds sterling a year.
Users’ needs take precedence over the needs of the public administration. Solid design principles are culled from experience with user interaction that can be later applied to other online applications and sites.
Preliminary tests with focus groups, beta tests and surveys indicate that the new sites are more user-friendly, require less knowledge on behalf of the user, and better cater to a wider range of people with different abilities.