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GOV.UK is full of content no-one’s reading

07/12/16

Civil servant time is being wasted, citizens end up frustrated - and there’s still a paper based mindset, says the GDS content team

Almost three quarters (73%) of all the content on the GOV.UK website gets looked at by fewer than 10 people a month.

That’s a finding GDS says needs to be a clarion call to improving the way content is handled, to save huge needless cost and waste of civil servants’ time.

It’s also bad news for citizens - who are too often confused and who are reverting to using expensive phone line contact as they cannot find the information they need online.

The news comes in a blog post from Trisha Doyle, head of content design at GDS, as part of the service’s fifth year anniversary celebrations this week.

She outlines how there are now over 300,000 items of content on the government website and more than 250,000 downloadable files - a content hoard being made even bigger every day, as central government adds 2,500 items of content a week and 2,600 more downloadable files.

“Civil servants’ time is being wasted producing content hardly anyone is looking at,” she warns.

“And users’ time is being wasted sifting through hundreds of pages on the same topic.”

Increasing workload

The problem is being exacerbated by the fact that content teams across government keep getting asked to produce and publish new content but who also need to maintain what is already there.

The only way to keep content fresh and accurate is to reduce the state’s “enormous stock of (online) content”, improve the quality of the rest - then impose better governance structures to stop the cycle.

“We have to find a way to (refresh content) every few years, as the cost to government is huge, and even bigger to citizens,” Doyle warns.

As a result, she and her team are looking at better ways to archive content, which she defines as ensuring it is only the most current and relevant content that the user sees.

“We need to organise our content better, consolidate the things that need to be read together to get the full facts and make sure it doesn't contradict,” she says.

Among other issues a recent content research probe she led uncovered is the fuzzy line between public facing content and the more technical or internally focused material on GOV.UK. That is a hundred fold distinction - 3,000 pages versus 300,000.

Too often, she worries, users start on a ‘mainstream’ (citizen-facing) guide but to complete their task end up in a “70 page PDF written in departmental specific language and jargon”.

Internal guidance on how to write and publish content, which is also very ‘paper’ oriented, as well as remaining challenges around accessibility, also need to be worked out, she concludes. 

GDS’s content team is now looking at how to address the issues and is actively seeking people to help run pilots on what can be done better, she promises.

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

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