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GDS begins work on HTML form-building solution

09/07/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Government Digital Service (GDS) is beginning a project aimed at making it easier for non-specialists to build online forms in HTML format.

Screenshot for forms on GOV.UK

It is bringing a team together to work on the initiative and planning user research across government on how document based forms are still being published on GOV.UK despite previous urgings that they should be posted in HTML.

David Biddle and Moyo Kolawole, a front end developer and senior user researcher respectively at GDS, have outlined the plan in a blogpost, saying almost all forms on the central government website still use PDF or other document based formats that are inaccessible and hard to use. They added that the number is growing by about 6% per year.

This derives largely from them being easier to create than HTML forms, and the fact that most are created by small operations teams without a digital, data and technology capability. But they can be difficult to use on small screens and behave inconsistently with assistive technologies.

While teams from across government have been developing form-building platforms, and a cross-government community has been set up to prevent duplication of the work, their solutions have been aimed at digital specialists rather than generalist users. In addition, commercially produced form-builders are not all suitable, according to the GDS team.

Affordability, ease and integration

It is subsequently aiming to provide a solution that would be affordable to the teams, easy to build and use, and could be closely integrated with GOV.UK publishing workflows to reduce the impact on publishing teams.

“We’re aiming our service at teams that don’t necessarily have any special digital skills,” Biddle and Kolawole said.

They added that they could make some use of existing solutions from government.

The initiative will involve working out how much time and effort a new platform could save service teams, and working with form builders across government to define what a good, lower volume form looks like and how the principles of the GDS Service Standard can be embedded into the product.

Biddle and Kolawole said they want the alpha phase to begin in the coming months and that they are interested in partnering with other government organisations.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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