GOV.UK step-by-step navigation
Every week millions of people use the UK government's GOV.UK website to do complex and sometimes life-changing tasks, such as learning to drive, getting a visa, or starting a business.
In the past, finding the guidance, forms and online services you needed could be difficult and time-consuming.
Step-by-step navigation is a new feature on GOV.UK that allows any service to be represented as a series of simple steps.
Every week millions of people come to the UK government’s website, GOV.UK, to do complex and sometimes life-changing tasks.
The GOV.UK team run extensive user research and analysis of user journeys. We saw consistently that many users struggled to find what they needed and to complete complex tasks.
The difficulty was that to complete these tasks users often had to find and read multiple pieces of content and then fill out a series of forms or online transactions.
These content items, forms and transactions might have been owned by separate and siloed parts of government. Users were often left to figure out for themselves the right time and order to complete them.
Because these content items and transactions were all hosted on GOV.UK, we were able to bring together all of the separate pages and present them as simple, clear services. These services are broken down into easy manageable steps. We call this step-by-step navigation.
You can see this feature in action at: www.gov.uk/learn-to-drive-a-car
The process might sound simple but it required unprecedented collaboration between multiple government departments. Facilitated by the GOV.UK team, these departments worked together using service design methods to map end-to-end user journeys.
These journeys range from ‘becoming a driving instructor’ to ‘setting up a charity’.
The innovation also required GOV.UK’s web developers to create a new interaction design pattern to present this journey in a simple, clear and accessible way.
Step-by-step navigation isn’t just a one-off improvement to a single service that government provides. What we have created is a model of collaborative workshops and re-usable design components, which means this process can be replicated for any government service.
For citizens, step-by-step navigation presents complex tasks as a series of clear, manageable steps, giving users the right information at the right time and in the right order.
The GOV.UK team iterated these designs over 8 rounds of usability testing, each time making it a little easier to use and more accessible.
Around this time we also launched a new feature on GOV.UK that allows users to provide feedback on every page of the site.
We knew this pattern had potential when we started seeing that the new step-by-step pages consistently scored higher than existing content. By measuring usage and usefulness, we were able to demonstrate the value of this new approach.
There are now 18 step-by-step journeys live on GOV.UK, including some of most important and difficult tasks a user might ever need to do. These include:
- Employ someone: step by step
- Apply for a Standard visitor visa: step by step
- What to do when someone dies: step by step
The GOV.UK team is now collaborating with more than 12 different government departments to roll out this approach to every area of government.
Oliver Dowden CBE, the UK’s Minister for Implementation, describe the work like this:
“ Work like this improves life for people. We are enabling people to interact with government in the most straightforward way. [...] It should be the direction that all departments are going in.”
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The step-by-step navigation project used service design methods to enable new collaborations between government departments, putting the needs of the citizen first.
Extensive user research, usability testing and iterative user-centred design resulted in interaction design patterns that are intuitive and accessible.
The team’s use of data allowed them to be confident the improvements were benefitting users of the site.
The team’s use of structured data means the step by steps can be understood by search engines and voice assistants and used as a source of answers.
What is the current status of your innovation?
At the moment we are busy scaling up this approach to some of the most complex areas of government including visas, childcare and exporting goods.
We are also sharing the learnings with other governments and a range of organisations that might benefit from this approach.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Each step-by-step journey required collaboration between multiple government departments. For example, Employ someone: step by step required content designers, user researchers and policy experts from 5 different departments to work together to make sure all of the parts the journey were represented.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Millions of citizens have benefitted from this work to make complex government processes simple.
More than 1.2 million users used Learn to drive a car: step by step in its first 6 months.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
What began life as a promising prototype is now being used at a national scale by millions of citizens.
Using web analytics we know that Learn to drive a car: step by step was used 1.24 million times in its first 6 months. Apply for a Standard visitor visa: step by step was used 125,000 times in just its first 3 weeks.
Thanks to the feedback buttons on every page of GOV.UK we also know that citizens are finding this new feature valuable.
To date 5,859 users have given us feedback on Apply for a Standard visitor visa: step by step, with 77% saying they found it useful.
In the future we want to investigate the wider impact on government departments of tasks becoming more manageable. We’re hopeful this will result in a reduction in phone calls from citizens to departmental call centres and a reduction in citizens completing processes incorrectly. Both have the potential to provide significant cost savings for government.
Challenges and Failures
We ran an iterative design process and there were many ideas that looked good in a prototype form but confused users when we tested them in our user research lab.
We also took our prototypes to the Digital Accessibility Centre, where specialist users with a range of access needs helped highlight areas where we needed to improve our designs. For example, an early version of our designs included a bright yellow progress indicator, which worked well for many users. However we iterated our designs once it was pointed out that using colour to indicate progress would make the pages very difficult to use for citizens with visual impairments like colour blindness.
Conditions for Success
The team was given the support to experiment and iterate in a fundamental manner with the way government communicates online.
This required backing from the GOV.UK programme and the wider Government Digital Service as a whole.
We were also reliant on government departments who were prepared to collaborate with us and dedicate time to help us with this work.
The project has been designed to be replicated right across government. There are already 18 examples live with many more in progress and planned for the future.
We’ve been talking to other public and third sector organisations including the UK’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau and the New Zealand government about how a similar approach might apply to their work.
We think this approach could benefit any organisation presenting their users with complex multi-stage tasks to complete.
All of our code is open source and hosted on github at: https://github.com/alphagov/govuk_publishing_components
The work wouldn’t be possible without the creation of the Government Digital Service, an expert in-house digital team working at the heart of UK government.
This has allowed multi-disciplinary teams like ours to work in an agile, experimental and iterative way to solve problems and put users first.
We think this is the best way to ensure government innovation is focused on the needs of users.
Behind what users see on the front end, we’ve also applied a data structure to the step-by-step pages that means machines can now read it like a recipe. This structure will be a source for increasingly high-quality answers in search engines and voice assistants over time.
This is what happens today if you ask Google Assistant "How do I learn to drive a car?". There’s a video demo at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=069EiXX7-XI