Inherent to the content strategy of the citizen beta of GOV.UK is hiding complexity and building tools before writing content. Much of the detail of government policy is difficult for normal folk to grasp and understand - and the proposition of GOV.UK is that they shouldn't have to.
Smart answers are a great tool for content designers to present complex information in a quick and simple way. Defining what they are - decision trees? calculators? tools? is immaterial - what they do is provide a reusable technical framework to build a quick and simple answer to a complex question.
Can you get maternity pay?
Maternity pay entitlement is a perfect example of a thorny answer to the popular question - do I qualify for maternity pay? Presented as flat content it becomes a impenetrable quagmire of: "if this then that, except when that, and not before this, but maybe because of that, except if you're this…[with extra caveats added]."
The first stage of creating a smart answer (or any custom tool on GOV.UK) is analysis. Working with David Heath, the developer behind our smart answer framework, we established the defining variables - baby's due date, employment status and details, and income. With these facts elicited in the first quick questions, David wrote the logic to generate the correct answer whilst hiding the complex calculations (thus removing the requirement for content such as "the 15th week before the start of the week in which your baby is due"). He'll be writing a post about the technology soon.
Dev + content = awesome
The partnership of content designer and developer on smart answers demonstrates the oft-fabled multidisciplinary agile approach we employ at GDS, where we work in pairs wherever possible. Researching the subject, working out the logic and moulding this with technical wizardry (at the same time writing great microcopy as we went along) meant the smart answer was devised and built in hours.
With the help and patience of the developers I've made and committed copy changes (and the odd simple logic change). This autonomy eliminates the tedious and soul-sapping back-and-forth with scribbled corrections or emailed lists of changes which is all so time consuming.
Smart answers drive people to the quick answer they crave - without bombarding them with eligibility requirements and reams of detail for exceptions. People who want to learn more about the detail of eligibility still can in the guides to Statutory Maternity Pay and Maternity Allowance.
Lisa Scott (@lisascott869) is a content designer at GDS.