What we know about the users of Inside Government

This post originally appeared on the Government Digital Service blog

Publishing all the government’s corporate information on a shared platform hasn’t been done before. So the Inside Government team have been building a profile of the site’s users over the months as we’ve been developing the product. This is what we think we know about them.

Here comes everybody

Like all apps on GOV.UK, the content, information architecture and layouts of Inside Government have been designed for use by everyone and anyone in the UK (and beyond).

Inside Government must have this broad appeal and application because it will be the authoritative, official source of information about who is in the UK central government, how they are structured, what they are thinking and what they are doing about it. All of us instinctively feel that this information should be available in the public domain and be lovingly maintained so that it is accurate and accessible to all.

There is not a large or consistent body of research available about the exact users of corporate information on UK government websites. Combining the material we could find with site analytics, industry data and our own surveys and interviews, we have developed a profile of Inside Government’s user base which we’ve been using over the months to refine our product’s design and development.

The Inside Government team at work

A niche of millions

Research by OxIS suggests 18% of UK internet users have visited government websites to look at policy information. While we hope that growing numbers of the general public will recognise and use Inside Government as a resource, we anticipate that the regular, everyday users of Inside Government will be practitioners and professionals with a specialist interest in the business and workings of government.

These will be people working in the media, academia, NGOs, the private sector, local authorities and the civil service who visit a government website in anticipation that it will hold information that will help them do their jobs. It’s a group with niche interests but who nonetheless number in the millions.

We expect these users will have tended to follow particular departments but that their true interests in government information are more thematic than organisational. They want the latest information and to be able to get an overview quickly, but they are also willing to engage in the depth and technicalities. That said, they will not tolerate jargon or obfuscation.

Inside Government users will search a lot like everyone else but also do a lot of browsing, which means they need a good flow between sections and pages and decent signposting to related content. When Inside Government launches we expect to see a lot of returning users who spend a long time on pages, consuming a lot of material and following a lot of links. In other words, the motivation here is not the ‘quick do’ of other apps on GOV.UK; yes Inside Government users want ‘simpler, clearer, faster’ but above all they want to achieve a complete understanding.

Getting to know our users

Our most recent user testing last week involved one-to-one qualitative testing with a 12 people who were all regular or frequent users of the DCLG and DFT websites. We asked them to tell us about their use of current government sites and then asked them to try meeting their needs on Inside Government and to compare it to what they were used to (just as we did back in our beta days).

The feedback from these sessions was very positive. In broad terms, no one had trouble using the site or finding material. They found it intuitive and valued the proposition.  It made sense to them that all government organisations would share a platform to publish their corporate content and that the content would be inter-related. The tone of voice and the detailed content structure scored well, as did the page layouts.  This all made for a high quality and user-friendly reading experience.  We got plenty of positive feedback over the two days, most encouragingly one user simply said that Inside Government was going to make her life easier.

Recent user testing has shown us that we’ve developed a good appreciation of Inside Government’s users, and we’re now looking forward to getting to know those user’s even better following launch tomorrow. We can’t wait to see how they move through the data using the features and the tagging we’ve provided, and which desire paths they take through the content.

We will respond quickly to how users move through the site by optimising what works well and fixing the stuff that doesn’t. It’s the user insight that we prize above all else and we’ll use that insight to guide our decision-making. As ever, testing is ongoing, and we’ll tell you more about that over the next few weeks following the launch of Inside Government.

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