Organ donation and A/B testing

Some user needs are easier to meet than others. It doesn’t take much research to confirm that most people searching for ‘bank holiday‘ care most about when they can next enjoy a long weekend.

But what if a user needed an organ transplant? Amongst many other priorities, they’d want as many people as possible to register with the NHS Organ Donor Register. How might GOV.UK help meet this highly-sensitive user need?

Since Christmas GDS has been working with colleagues from the NHS, Department for Transport, Department for Health and the Cabinet Office’s own Behaviour Insights team to run experiments to learn how GOV.UK might increase the numbers of people choosing to register as organ donors.

Testing different prompts

We started by adding a very basic text link to the organ register from the final ‘You’re done!’ page at the end of all successful motoring transactions on GOV.UK (e.g. renewing your tax disc).

The GOV.UK publishing team then took the opportunity to develop a basic A/B testing capability. This allows us to trial several different messages simultaneously to see which is most effective.

Donation prompt 1

Donation prompt 2

We’re conducting this as a formal experiment with colleagues from other departments, and so I won’t give away too much detail. But suffice it to say initial indications are exciting.

One small change to this one page on GOV.UK has lead to around 10,000 additional people joining the organ donor register each month. This one page is now the third biggest source of new registrations, behind doctors surgeries and the DVLA.

Given each additional donor might save or transform up to 9 lives, it’s an experiment we’re keen to continue, and I must thank my colleagues from across government and the NHS for the opportunity to participate.

Filed under: GDS

via Government Digital Service

The story of GOV.UK so far, in pictures

Earlier this week the the final ministerial department joined GOV.UK. This isn’t the end of the GOV.UK story; in fact it’s barely the end of the beginning. But today is still a big moment, the result of commitment and collaboration from  hundreds of civil servants all across government.

So to mark the occasion I thought I’d gather up and share some historical artifacts; some sketches, diagrams, lists, photos,and screengrabs that chart the evolution of GOV.UK from a crisp recommendation for a ‘single domain for government’ in Martha Lane Fox’s November 2010 report, through to today’s award-winning reality.

One of Martha Lane Fox's four recommendations was to 'Reinvent Government Online Publishing'. You can read her full report, happily ensconsed in its new home on GOV.UK
Just before Christmas 2010 a bunch of digital folk from across Whitehall gathered after work in a pub in Lambeth North to work out how you might implement Martha's vision in practice. Over the New Year, Will Callaghan and Neil Williams came up with a series of wireframes showing how you could simplify departmental websites into a coherent, simple, single proposition.
An outline brief written in February 2011 by the team asked to produce an 'alpha' (experimental prototype) of the proposed single domain.
Set of design rules created by the team responsible for producing the alpha of GOV.UK. Many moons later, variants of some of these rules turned up in the GDS Design Principles
This isn't a technical architecture, it's a mental map of the various bits making up the alpha of GOV.UK. Read this blog post for more detail  about how the alpha of GOV.UK was developed.
Richard Pope was product manager for the alpha and beta of GOV.UK. He used sketches such as this one to test and communicate ideas.
It's interesting that today's version of this page is even simpler, as repeated user testing lets us hone in on the irreducible core.
Again, it's instructive to see what's changed and what's remained the same by looking at the current version. As the alpha was being developed, we became aware of the scale of the content design challenge.
The public alpha of GOV.UK gathered feedback from May to July of 2011, and was turned off when the beta went live in January 2012. It was archived by the wonderful people at the National Archives.
This screengrab is from the alpha of GOV.UK - it's still available (albeit a bit broken) courtesy to National Archives.
The indefatigable Lisa Scott pretty much made all 24 department sections of the alpha single handed.
This is a slightly surreal mental map of the different bits we thought might make up beta of GOV.UK. We were toying with sections targeted at professions, and learning that business needs and citizen needs were closely aligned, the vast majority of businesses being sole traders.
As you can probably tell, around this time we were searching hard for the right 'map' to describe the whole of GOV.UK. No one liked the bus. There was also a rocket. Luckily no-one took a photo of that.
This is a photo of a more technical mind map, showing the chunks of stuff we thought we'd need to develop for the beta of GOV.UK.
This was Neil Williams' mental model for what became the Inside Government part of GOV.UK
When Neil Williams joined the beta team part time in Sept 2011, he came equipped with a series of well thought-through wireframes of how departments should be represented on GOV.UK. This wireframe probably maps onto this page on the current GOV.UK site
Once Francis Maude had given the go-ahead for the beta, we began to work out a swift but sane rollout plan. Etienne Pollard was brave enough to come up with this first draft in the Autumn of 2011.
Composite of 4 pictures of the beta team working on needs
A screenshot of the needotron
This is what GOV.UK looked like just before Christmas 2011 when we were awaiting the arrival of Ben Terrett, our Head of Design.
This shows a format we designed with colleagues from DWP specifically to make it easier for people to understand their eligibility for benefits. In testing it didn't perform as well as the same content placed in a  'guide' format, which is why it now looks like this.
A map of how the various layers of user need we thought might need to be covered by GOV.UK. At this point we are realising just how much overlap there is between the needs of citizens and the needs of businesses. We're also understanding with the sheer volume of specialist publishing undertaken by departments, targeted at professionals.
In the spring and summer of 2012, the new design team started work on earnest, in this case drawing inspiration from British Rail's iconic designs
The homepage of the public beta of GOV.UK on Jan 31st 2012.
Six departments joined the public beta of the Inside Government section of GOV.UK in March and April of 2012. Teams from these departments worked doubly hard to keep both the beta and their main site updated.
Russell Davies led a quick session in Feb 2012 working out how we'd talk about GOV.UK to users.
In the Spring of 2012 Russell Davies started to ask a thousand obvious questions, and had soon simplified things enormously. Hence this picture, which we use to explain GOV.UK to people inside and outside of Government.
Sarah Prag, the product manager for the mainstream launch of GOV.UK, leads the sorting of nearly 1000 user needs into appropriate categories. Safe to assume it was neither quick nor easy.
Over the summer of 2012, we constantly iterated the design of GOV.UK, most obviously by introducing a new homepage. In July we introduced the New Transport font.
Paul Downey (tech architect) drew these four pictures to explain to everyone the four phases making up the 17 Oct 2012 launch of GOV.UK. By the time it got to 17 Oct, there was very little to do but flick a switch, and very little to test that hadn't already been tested.
The whole team signed these roadsigns en route to the 17 Oct 2012 launch of GOV.UK. There was also cake.
Says it all, really.

PS If anyone’s got any interesting stuff we’ve missed lying about on their hard drive, please send it my way and I’ll add it to the gallery.

Filed under: Single government domain

via Government Digital Service

Intranets: DCMS doing it right

I’ve just got off the phone after talking to Andrew Simpson, the civil servant leading the redevelopment of the DCMS intranet. I’ve never met Andrew face to face, but I look forward to doing so, because he and his tiny team deserve a big thank you.

They have just created the exemplar for a government intranet in 2013.

The new DCMS Intranet

“How Do I?” – the DCMS intranet putting user needs first

To learn much more, read these two blog posts from Luke Oatham, a developer from Helpful Technology, the SME partner commissioned via G-Cloud. As you’ll see if you read Luke’s excellent posts, those DCMS staff already using the beta enjoy a simple, clear, fast experience. They get an intranet designed to understand and meet their needs, delivered swiftly and cheaply, and set up from the word go to iteratively improve based on their feedback.

A guide on the new DCMS intranet

A guide on the new DCMS intranet

The team reused the design patterns and formats established by GOV.UK. They prioritised on the most important user needs. They wrote for the web, using the style guide. They designed the site to be responsive to different screen sizes, using open standards. They launched the beta early, despite knowing it still had rough edges, because nothing beats real feedback from real users as early as possible.

Feedback form on DCMS intranet

A feedback form on the new DCMS intranet

In short, they used the same process espoused in the new Government Service Design Manual. They will remove the beta label and turn off the existing intranet in the coming days.

And all delivered using open source software (WordPress) for a fraction of the previous cost.

And I mean a fraction. Developing the new intranet cost £15k. The monthly hosting, support and iterative development cost is in the hundreds of pounds per month, less than a tenth of the monthly hosting cost of the intranet it replaces.

That’s a 90% saving – the new normal.

Homepage of the new DCMS intranet

Homepage of the new DCMS intranet

Andrew, his team and their supplier have set the new benchmark for government intranets. They really have raised the bar. Anyone inside the civil service thinking about redeveloping their own intranet should talk to DCMS first.

When Mike Bracken talks about a new dominant culture, this is it in action.

Filed under: GDS

via Government Digital Service » Tom Loosemore

We’re not ‘appy. Not ‘appy at all.

We’re in the middle of a significant change in how people use digital services. Use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets is exploding.

People should be able to use digital services wherever they are, on the device of their choosing (see Design Principle No.7 Understand Context). Users now expect to be able to change the date of their driving test while on the bus, or pay their VAT while lying in bed.

Here’s how government services have been responding to mobile growth. To note for later: none of these examples are apps.

GOV.UK is a website that adapts to mobile screens

In its final months, the separate mobile web version of Directgov was attracting around 10% of the visits to the standard site. Both the standard and mobile versions of Directgov were replaced by GOV.UK in October 2012, which uses responsive design to adapt its layout to different screen sizes.


A GOV.UK guide adapts its design to different screen sizes and device capabilities.

In the run up to Christmas, GOV.UK saw around 20% of visits from mobile devices.  Since Christmas this has jumped to nearly 25% This change was also noted by the BBC.

Nearly half of e-petitions visits are from mobile devices

In March 2012, just over 20% of those visiting the HM Government e-petitions service were using a mobile device. In the spring of 2012 its design was made responsive.  The graph below shows the trend since then. It’s now over 45% mobile.

graph showing e-petitions mobile usage

You can now book your driving test on the bus

Meanwhile, up in Nottingham, the Driving Standards Agency has just redesigned its practical driving test booking service.

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 11.05.18

Old (left) and new (right) designs of the practical driving test booking service, as appears on an iPhone

Results? Over 23% of those booking and 27% of those changing practical driving test bookings are now doing so from a mobile device. (Overnight it hits nearly 60% – hypotheses welcome!)

Booking your driving test is not a trivial process. Users  have to choose a date, a venue and give contact details and the like. Yet give people a decent mobile-optimised experience, and they’ll lap it up on their smartphones or tablets.

If you want to learn more about DSA’s test booking redesign, I suggest you follow @johnploughman – he’s an excellent source of knowledge and happy to share.

Bring on all the apps, surely!

So mobile web usage is exploding, and the sooner we have all our transactions responsively adapting to mobile screen sizes the better.  The forthcoming Digital by Default Service Standard will require it.

But does it follow that the government should also be investing heavily in mobile apps?


Our position is that native apps are rarely justified.

Action 6 of the Government Digital Strategy states:

Stand-alone mobile apps will only be considered once the core web service works well on mobile devices, and if specifically agreed with the Cabinet Office.

Since November 2012, central government departments and agencies have to get approval from Cabinet Office before starting work on apps.

For government services, we believe the costs of developing and maintaining apps will very rarely justify their benefits, especially if the underlying service design is sub-optimal.

Departments should focus on improving the quality of the core web service.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a presentation to the Digital Leaders Network, sharing the rationale behind this ‘by default, no apps’ approach, and offering guidance on when Cabinet Office may allow exemptions for apps to be developed.

When it comes to mobile, we’re backing open web standards (HTML5). We’re confident that for government services, the mobile web is a winner, both from a user and a cost perspective.

Apps may be transforming gaming and social media, but for utility public services, the ‘making your website adapt really effectively to a range of devices’ approach is currently the better strategy. It allows you to iterate your services much more quickly, minimises any market impact and is far cheaper to support.

The points we’ll be making to anyone in central government wanting permission to start work on a mobile apps are:

– government’s position is that native and hybrid apps are rarely justified
– make sure your service meets the Digital by Default Service Standard and it will work well on mobile devices (responsive HTML5)
– make your data and/or API available for re-use and you will stimulate the market if there is demand for native apps

The 5 questions civil servants should ask before contemplating asking for an exemption are:

1. Is our web service already designed to be responsive to different screen sizes? If not, why not?
2. What is the user need that only a native/hybrid app can meet?
3. Are there existing native/hybrid apps which already meet this user need?
4.. Is our service available to 3rd parties via an API or open data? If not, why not?
5. Does meeting this need justify the lifetime cost of a native or hybrid app?

We are not ‘banning’ apps outright.  For example, the NHS-funded ‘Change 4 Life’ healthy lifestyle apps rely on a persistent 24/7 presence on users’ mobiles to try to persuade people to eat and drink more healthily.

But we are backing open standards, in this case the Web.

So expect more blog posts from us about responsive design, progressive enhancement and their ilk, and an imminent treatise from some of my wiser colleagues on my sloppy use of the word ‘mobile’….

Filed under: GDS

via Government Digital Service » Tom Loosemore