At the Government Digital Service (GDS) we deliver platforms, products and services that help government to become joined-up, trusted and responsive to user needs. In our podcast, we interview interesting people both inside and outside of government and cover new developments as they happen.
GDS Podcast #39: Improving navigation on GOV.UK
When was the last time you noticed any changes to GOV.UK? We share how and why we’ve updated its homepage and menu bars.
Podcast update note: We have made some editorial changes to the podcast published on 28 February 2022 to improve clarity on the work we are doing.
The transcript of the episode follows:
Vanessa Schneider: Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast. My name is Vanessa Schneider and I am Senior Channels and Community Manager at GDS. At GDS, we build platforms, products and services that help create a simple, joined-up and personalised experience of government for everyone. And as part of that work, we maintain GOV.UK, the website for the UK government. GOV.UK is used by millions of people daily. The home page alone is used more than two million times each week. We've been improving how people can navigate the site, taking a user-centred and evidence-based approach. We've previously written about this work on the GDS and Inside GOV.UK blog, and this podcast episode will be your latest instalment in documenting how we launched the new menu bar after an extensive A/B test and how we updated the GOV.UK homepage. It will also take a look at what lies ahead for making GOV.UK as simple as possible for people to use. Joining me to explore this today are Sam Dub and Jenn Phillips-Bacher, who work on GOV.UK in very different disciplines, but part of the same team. Sam, would you mind telling us a little bit about the team and then maybe what you do as part of it?
Sam Dub: We're a team of 14, which in the scheme of GDS and the scheme of government is relatively small. We bring a whole range of different perspectives and expertise to this work that includes designers, developers, content people, researchers, and our job is to make it easier for people to find things on GOV.UK, and my role as a product manager is about making sure we're working on the right problems in the right way. We're getting to the outcomes for users that we want to achieve.
Vanessa Schneider: Sam, thank you for that explanation of the team. Obviously, part of this as well is Jenn. Would you mind introducing yourself and what you do as part of the team to our listeners, please?
Jenn Phillips-Bacher: I'm Jenn Phillips-Bacher, and I'm a content strategist on Sam's team. My focus is primarily information architecture and findability. So as a content strategist in the textbook definition of it, it's all about getting the right content to the right people in the right place at the right time. And that's why a content strategist is working on navigation. It's all about improving that mode of getting users to the content that helps them achieve a goal.
Vanessa Schneider: Great, thank you to both of you. While it would be great if we could count on it, but not everyone will have been following the public journey of this work, even though we've blogged about it extensively. So would either of you mind recapping perhaps what's been happening? When did we start changing where users could find our information?
Sam Dub: One of the challenges for GOV.UK is that the amount of content published grows every year. And today it's more than half a million pages, and it might just be one page in that half a million that a user needs. And so in order to find that page, there are, kind of, multiple tactics that they'll use. They might use a search engine, they might use GOV.UK site search, or they might browse through the home page, through a menu bar, through topic pages, to find what they need. And work on that topic system, making sure that users can browse successfully is the focus of our team. There's work going on elsewhere in GOV.UK in partnership with search engines, and there is work planned to improve our own search engine. But the focus for our team right now is browse and how we get that topic system, these menus, the home page, the breadcrumbs, and related links at a content page level, all working nicely together.
GDS Podcast #38: Understanding the complexity of users’ lives
Why build a product people won't or can't use? Our user researchers share their approach to understanding needs for government’s single sign-on.
The transcript of the episode follows:
Vanessa Schneider: Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast. My name is Vanessa Schneider and I am Senior Channels and Community Manager at GDS. In August, we recorded an episode on digital identity and single sign-on as part of our plans to develop one inclusive and accessible way for people to log in to all government services online. You heard from Will and Helena from GDS, as well as Tom from Veterans UK, who shared how we worked with other parts of government to shape this work. Since then, we passed the digital identity service assessment, integrated our authentication component with the first service, and completed research with more than 800 end users. And it's that research that we want to talk about today. Joining me in this are Lauren Gorton and Charlotte Crossland, both user researchers at GDS in the Digital Identity Programme. Lauren, could you please kick us off by introducing yourself and what you do?
Lauren Gorton: So I'm Lauren. I'm a user researcher on the digital identity programme in GDS, and specifically I work in the authentication team. We look at the credentials that people use as part of the single sign-on. And the first steps of our journey went live in October. So specifically, I focus on the end user aspect of that and focus on the citizen side.
Vanessa Schneider: Fantastic, thanks. Charlotte, could you please introduce yourself and what you do as well?
Charlotte Crossland: Absolutely. Hi, everyone. I'm Charlotte, I'm a user researcher on the digital identity programme, working in the design for adoption team. We've been doing a lot of research with service teams across government. We're building an authentication onboarding journey, as well as looking at identity materials that teams can use to make decisions.
Vanessa Schneider: Fantastic, thank you so much, both. So, not everyone will have listened to the previous podcast episode or read the blog posts that we've written about this work. Would one of you mind explaining a bit more about One Login for Government?
Lauren Gorton: Yes, so One Login for Government is one of the government's major projects at the moment. On GOV.UK there, there are several different sign-ins at the moment, and many different routes users could take. So what we're trying to do is streamline that down, so that in the future, there'll just be one single sign-on for GOV.UK to help improve the journeys for users and reduce confusion for people. That then opens the door to do lots of other cool things in the account space, so that people aren't having to repeat themselves too often in different services, and it helps government to basically join up a bit better.
Vanessa Schneider: Great stuff. I can see the importance in that [laughs]. Obviously, this is a loaded question to ask, given both your roles as user researchers. But I was wondering why is user research so integral to that?
Lauren Gorton: So there's no point in building something if people won't or can't use it. And the only way we know if we're on the right track is if we actually speak to the people who are the intended users. That's probably important for any organisation or business, but it's especially important in the context of government, given how important government services are if people can't access them, that can have a huge impact on people's lives. So we can't really afford to build something which people either can't use or won't use. [For] the citizen side of the research, our approach is to gather insights at all stages of the projects and from as representative a sample of people as possible. One thing is that we're not reinventing the wheel. There have been other government projects that have come before us who've done work on sign-on services. So there's a lot of existing
GDS Podcast #37: How to break into a career in tech
The Government Digital Service (GDS) talks how to start a career in tech. According to a Tech Nation Talent report, young people could be wrongly counting themselves out of a fulfilling career because they’re worried about things like their skills background, where they came from or their lack of “network”.
We asked 3 of our developers to respond to the report’s findings, and hopefully put some of those myths and misconceptions to bed.
The transcript of the episode follows:
Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast, and our last episode of 2021. Today, we’re going to be talking about careers in tech. Now chances are, if you’re a regular listener, you’re probably already working in a digital, data or technology role. Maybe in government. Maybe in the public sector. Maybe somewhere else entirely.
But hopefully you’re aware of, and are sort of bought into, the long-term career opportunities, flexibility, creativity and satisfaction that a job in tech can bring. But unfortunately, according to a Tech Nation Talent report - that’s not the case for everyone. They surveyed a thousand 15 to 21-year-olds and tuned into almost 80,000 Reddit conversations to understand what young people in the UK thought about a career in tech.
In that research, 32% of men and 45% of women worried they didn’t have the right skills to pursue a tech career. And 24% of women and 21% of men said that tech careers weren’t for - and I quote - “people like them”. People in the UK feel that there are barriers standing in the way of them getting into tech. And they’re potentially counting themselves out of a great career as a result. Which is bad news for them, and bad news for all of us too.
Because diverse teams are better. Teams that reflect the society they serve are more effective. And teams where you can bring your whole self to work are - frankly - happier teams to be a part of. And that’s what we’re trying to build here at the Government Digital Service.
So we decided to dedicate this episode to anyone who is thinking about starting a career in tech - whether they’re 22 or 62 - but who’s maybe been put off by a little voice (or a loud one) telling them they shouldn’t or can’t.
Joining us now are senior developers Rosa Fox, Iqbal Ahmed and Kelvin Gan. They’re going to reflect on what the research found and hopefully, put some of those fears to bed. So Kelvin, Iqbal, Rosa - over to you.
Hi to everyone I'm Iqbal and I'm a senior frontend developer at GDS, which is at the Government Digital Service and joining me today, we have Kelvin and Rosa, who are both senior developers as well. We're here today to chat about some common misconceptions about pursuing a career in tech. I've just been handed a list of things that people, particularly younger people, seem to think about tech careers, and I'm excited to find out what the three of us think about these sort of myths or preconceptions that people have.
So the first one we have is “I don't have the skills to work in technology”. So Rosa, what do you think about this common preconception?
Well, firstly, I think that there are many different jobs underneath the umbrella of technology. So it's not just coding skills. So at GDS, we have jobs such as being a developer, where you do do coding. But we also have designers, project managers, delivery managers, performance analysts, content designers. So, those jobs all require lots of different skills, and you probably already have a lot of those skills. So it could be things like breaking down problems, communicating, being creative, helping other people. And so I'd say you probably already have a lot of the skills. And if you feel like there are some skills that you don't have yet - yet being the keyword - then there's always options to learn.
What do you think Kelvin?
Totally 100%, I agree with
GDS Podcast #36: Maps in services
We take you from A to B as we find out how the GOV.UK Design System and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs working to help make maps in public services better.
You can help us to make our podcast even better by completing our short, anonymous survey.
The transcript of the episode follows:
Hello, and welcome back to the Government Digital Service podcast. My name is Louise Harris. I'm the Creative and Channels Team Leader at GDS and your host for today. Before we dive into the episode, I've got a quick favour to ask: if you are a regular listener to the GDS podcast, please take a second to fill out our quick 2 minute survey to tell us why you tune in, what you like and what you don't. You can find a link in our blog post and the show notes for this episode. Anyway, on with the show.
Today we're going to be talking about maps, more specifically maps in public services. Here at GDS, with a little help from our friends, we've started to explore how to make public sector maps more consistent, easier to use and accessible for users. Sound good? Well stay with us because there are lots of opportunities to get involved in this work. Whether you're in central or local government, wider public sector or even outside. To get us from A to B on this interesting topic, I'm pleased to welcome Imran Hussain, Community Designer for the GOV.UK Design System, and Cathy Dutton, Head of Design at Defra. Cathy, Imran, welcome to the GDS podcast.
Hi Louise, thank you.
It's great to have you both. So I've introduced you to our listeners, but you don't need an introduction to one another because you go way back. Is that right?
Yeah, we do. We used to work out Defra together, not so long ago actually. Before I came to GDS. So I was the Communities Lead at Defra and I worked with most of the communities in the user centred design space and with Cathy being the Head of Design. We got to work together quite a lot. And it was lots of fun and it's sad that we don't work together anymore. So it's absolutely brilliant to be on this podcast with her again.
Cathy, I hear on the grapevine that GDS sort of semi poached Imran over from Defra - have you forgiven us yet?
Yeah, almost. It helps, we-we still get to work together. So it's all good.
So you've both decided to join forces and try and unpick this kind of a sticky challenge of making maps that are used in our public services more accessible, more consistent and, well, just, better. Imran, I'll start with you because I think you and others in the GOV.UK Design System are gonna have a big part to play in coordinating these efforts. But for those listeners who maybe don't know much about the Design System or design in government in general, can you give us a quick kind of whistle stop tour into what the GOV.UK Design System is, what exists to do and what your role as a Community Designer involves?
Yeah, of course. So the GOV.UK Design System is a suite of tools that helps teams in government quickly build usable, accessible services for GOV.UK. You can find it in more than 3,000 repositories on GitHub, and they use different elements of the Design System. On GOV.UK alone, it's used on over 7,000 individual services. But there's many more outside of it as well. So, yeah, it's vastly used and really, really popular, and we kind of need it in government. My particular role is Community Designer on the GOV.UK Design System team: I work with the community. I kind of create space for collaboration to happen, which is really important because we're a contribution based design system. So most of the ideas for components and patterns and things like that come from the community and the community actually build a significant part of those patterns and components as well. So we just kin
GDS Podcast #35: How our Site Reliability Engineers migrated GOV.UK Pay
Wondered how to migrate a 24/7 product to a serverless platform? We chat about initial user research, developing DevOps skills and the benefits of GDS's approach to this type of tech project.
The transcript of the episode follows:
Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast. My name is Vanessa Schneider and I am Senior Channels and Community Manager at GDS. Today, I am joined by Jonathan Harden, Senior Site Reliability Engineer, and Kat Stevens, Senior Developer and co-Tech Lead on GOV.UK Pay.
GDS has many products that rely on our expert site reliability engineers and their colleagues to maintain and improve their functionality. Such as GOV.UK Pay - one of GDS’s common platforms that is used by more than 200 organisations across the UK public sector to take and process online payments from service users. Jonathan and Kat recently completed a crucial reliability engineering project to ensure that GOV.UK Pay continues to operate at the highest standards and provide a reliable service for public sector users and their service users.
We'll hear more about that in a moment, but to start off, can you please introduce yourself to our listeners? Kat, would you mind starting?
Hi I'm Kat Stevens, I’m a Senior Developer on GOV.UK Pay. I've been working at GDS since 2017. And before that, I was a developer at start-ups and small companies.
As a co-Tech Lead on the migration team then, I'm kind of jointly responsible for making sure that our platform is running as it should be. That our team is working well together, that we're working on the right things and that we're, what we're working on is of a high quality, and is delivering value for our users. So it's like balancing that up with software engineering, making sure that you know, that we're being compliant. It's very important for Pay. Software [laughs] engineering is so broad: there's like security, reliability, performance, all of those things. So yeah, it's kind of thinking about everything and---at a high level.
I'm glad somebody's got a high level overview. Thanks, Kat. Jonathan, would you mind introducing yourself too?
Hi, I'm Jonathan Harden, and I am Senior Site Reliability Engineer on GOV.UK Pay. I've previously worked for a major UK mobile network operator, in the movie industry and for one of the UK's highest rated ISPs.
So all of GOV.UK Pay's services run, have to run somewhere. Being a Site Reliability Engineer means that I'm helping to build the infrastructure on which it runs, ensure that it is operating correctly and that we keep users’ cardholder data safe and help the developers ease their development lifecycle into getting updates and changes out into the world.
Hmm..exciting work. So you both worked on a site reliability project for GOV.UK Pay. Can you please, for the uninitiated, introduce our listeners to the project that you carried out?
Yeah so recently, we finished migrating GOV.UK Pay to run on AWS Fargate. So previously Pay was running its applications on ECS EC2 instances on AWS. That's a lot of acronyms. But it basically means we were maintaining long-lived EC2 instances that were running our applications. And that incurred quite a high maintenance burden for the developers on our team. And we decided that we wanted to move to a serverless platform to kind of reduce that maintenance burden. And after researching a few options, we decided that Fargate was a good fit for Pay, and we spent a few months carefully moving our apps across to the Fargate platform whilst not having any downtime for our users, which is obviously quite important. Like Pay is a 24/7 service, so we wanted to make sure that our end users had no idea that this was happening.
Jonathan, how did you contribute to this migration?
So obviously, I've only been here for t
GDS Podcast #34: Collecting information from users
Our Collecting Information From Users team and a guest from the Home Office share how we’re helping people in government to create accessible, affordable digital forms.
The transcript for the episode follows:
Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast. My name is Vanessa Schneider and I am Senior Channels and Community Manager at GDS.
Today, I’m chatting with colleagues about our work supporting teams across government that collect information from users using online forms, paper forms or a combination of the two. We've been partnering with other government organisations to investigate how they're currently collecting this information and what kind of help they might need. Because right now, almost all of the forms on GOV.UK that have been downloaded around 7,000 or so times are PDFs or other document-based forms. Usually they are inaccessible, hard to use, and on average teams spend 8 minutes more on processing the information they collect, compared to online forms. This is bad for users, and also bad for government, as it’s inefficient and misses opportunities for using the data for analysis. Worse, these kinds of forms are growing by approximately 6% every year and we estimate it would take the existing form-building service teams more than 70 years to convert just the existing PDFs into HTML forms.
So I’m joined by Harry Voss, Senior Product Manager, and Moyo Kolawole, Senior User Researcher, from GDS, who are part of a team working on a solution that will make it much easier to digitise existing forms, and make it simpler for people in government to create new digital forms - even if they don’t have technical expertise. I’m also joined by Suzanne Mycock from the Family Policy Unit in the Home Office, who has been contributing to the research our team is conducting.
To kick us off, Moyo, would you please introduce yourself to our listeners?
Sure. Hi I'm Moyo Kolawole. I'm a Senior User Researcher on the Collecting Information from Users team at GDS.
Great, thank you. Harry how about you, would you please introduce yourself?
Yeah, sure. Hey, folks, I'm Harry Vos, I'm a Senior Product Manager at Government Digital Service. Um, I've been around for like 4 years or something, err, and, err, yeah I’ve been looking at forms and how people collect information from members of the public and businesses, err, since December. So I've been really lucky to be working with some amazing people across government. Thanks for having me.
No worries, thank you. And finally, Suzanne, would you like to introduce yourself as well, please?
Hi there. My name's Suzanne Mycock. And I'm a Guidance and Forms Editor. I work on the Guidance Rules and Forms team, part of the Family Policy Unit within the Home Office. Err, our team manages 3 of the main tools needed to implement policy, all of which are vital for caseworkers and customers. So that's coordinating secondary legislation, managing guidance and managing application forms.
Suzanne, as I mentioned, there is a mountain of work to be done to improve forms, but maybe it would help listeners if you could start us off by explaining how the process of creating or editing forms works for you?
So for us it tends to be led by policy teams, so if a policy changes or if a new policy comes into play, sometimes they'll need a, a form to to support the work that they're doing to collect information from end users or applicants. Now, it's not just a case of a policy team coming to us and saying we need a form, we need a paper form, can you go away, create that for us? It’s kind of bigger than that, because it depends on a number of factors.
Many of our forms are now on GOV.UK, they’ve been digitised and, um, that they sort of stand for quite a number of the forms that we used to,
Easy listen and informative
The guests always have really interesting experiences to share, and this is a great way to find out what innovative work is happening in the UK government.