How effective is your government website?

Even in this computer-driven age when information is virtually at our fingertips, many people still discover that finding the answer to a simple question can be a protracted, frustrating, complex process.

Unfortunately, in many cases, government agencies are a prime offender in perpetuating this information muddle.

Consider many government websites: Users go to a government site with a simple query, only to find themselves confronted by pages of dense type, dozens of confusing links that lead them deeper, and obtuse bureaucratic language that makes it impossible to decipher which section of the site might provide the sought-after answer.

After spending time searching without finding what they need, it’s no wonder that users finally give up in frustration and call the help desk to find someone who can provide them with that simple bit of information.

The result? An irritated customer who’s likely to view his or her experience as a typical example of government inefficiency and bloat. From the government side, there’s a corresponding and pronounced rise in costs for staff time in order to field that frustrated caller’s request for information.

In the end, both sides lose.

So what’s the problem? Why do so many government agencies fail to provide their citizens with an efficient, satisfying communication experience?

The answer may lie in the old-world model of how government agencies typically communicated with their customers or stakeholders. In the old days—read that, “before the Internet”—government agencies often assumed the role of the mountaintop, and pronouncements were delivered from that lofty position to the masses. There was only one arrow in that communication diagram, and it pointed down to the customer. Today, however, customers are more proactive. They want answers to the questions they have, and they want that information to be available and easy to obtain.

A few forward-thinking government agencies manage to get this dance right. And the latest attempt to provide customers with easy access to government information is the United Kingdom’s GOV.UK portal.

More than 60 million people live in the UK, making this site the potential one-stop destination for an extraordinary number of users. If the administrators behind the site had followed the too-typical government habit of defaulting to outdated web design or confused information production, the repercussions could have been literally overwhelming.

Instead, the web site is an exceptional example of simplicity paired with robust usability, with a tagline that succinctly explains its mandate: Simpler. Clearer. Faster.

Rather than confronting users with a bewildering array of choices, the home page has a simple, clean design that breaks information into sensible segments that promise to answer the type of questions the public might have.

Gov.UK home page

In the top third of the page, links are prioritised and offer one-click access to topics such as “Driving, transport and travel”, (which houses information about common issues such as car taxes and passport information), or “Employing people” (which answers questions about pay, contracts and hiring). Other links are also a model of brevity and conciseness, such as “Disabled people: Includes your rights, benefits and the Equality Act”.

The middle third of the home page hosts a highly visual offer that will likely rotate as the site grows. For now, it offers users to “Take the Tour” of the site (since it is fairly new), which leads to a brief video explaining the various services that the government offers.

The bottom third of the page is split into three columns to maximise content, displaying a “most active” list of links and news.

This site combines good, user-focused design (intuitive, clean, and easy to read) with Web tools consumers are accustomed to (brief video overviews). The people behind GOV.UK are now taking their efforts one step further: providing stakeholders with proactive information delivery. They’ve recently started using GovDelivery Digital Communication Management (DCM) to provide email notification services for Inside Government, a section of GOV.UK that holds content related to government policy information. As a multichannel, digital communications platform, DCM helps stakeholders (researchers, media, analysts, etc.) stay up to date when any of that content changes. They can choose topics of interest to receive notifications when specific content changes, drawing back users to the website. The GovDelivery platform is currently driving successful results for more than 550 government agencies worldwide, including other UK-based organisations such as Parliament, Driving Standards Agency, Department for Business Innovation & Skills and the Met Office.

Combining good design principles, methodical information delivery and cutting-edge technology tools, the GOV.UK website is giving its users exactly what it promises: simple, clear and fast information.

As a side note, why not borrow design tips from the best of the best? This infographic recently released by Go-Globe drew together home page design elements for the top Fortune 500 companies. Unsurprisingly, many elements are similar to the GOV.UK design.
Go-Globe Home Page Infographic

2 Responses to “How effective is your government website?”

  1. Karla Jordan (@karlajordan2012)

    Why do so many government agencies fail to provide their citizens with an efficient, satisfying communication experience? When I was working with the city…I would get a person who was misguided to me and I was the 4th person who they spoke to and they were on the phone for over 20 minutes being rerouted to the right department. Yikes..Talk about an upset citizens.

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