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Introducing a new tool - Licence Finder

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GOV.UK

Hello, I’m James Weiner, and I’m a front-end developer at GDS. Last night we released the latest update to GOV.UK, and among the new tools and services we’ve released is the Licence Finder. I wanted to explain a bit more about how it came into being.

What does it do?

The Licence Finder solves one of our more straightforward user needs; “What licence(s) do I need to do this thing in this place?”, for instance, opening a bakery somewhere in England.

But behind that relatively simple question lies a huge tangle of departments, local authorities, legislation and, of course, licences.

The Licence Finder begins by asking users to search for the activity or business they’re interested in, whether that’s a general field or a very specific activity. You can look for businesses, like ‘hairdressing’ or ‘photography’, or something members of the public might want to find out about, like ‘fishing’ or ‘events’.

After that it asks a few more questions about what exactly you’ll be doing, before asking for your location so we can point you at the right authorities. Finally, it will present you with a list of relevant licences, some of which you can find out about in detail on GOV.UK now.

We’ll be updating our information about licences throughout the summer, and later this year we‘ll be integrating those with tools that will help you apply for them without having to leave GOV.UK.

‘Design’ doesn’t exist in a vacuum

Given the sheer number of licences users might be searching for (several hundred, some of them extremely specific) the Licence Finder had some fairly complex demands of the development team at GDS. We've had to make sure the database is structured sensibly, and ensure that it’s robust enough for us to build on it in the future.

To make sure we’ve got all the information we need to make those improvements we’ve made sure we can comprehensively track how the Licence Finder is performing. That will help us to see how people are using it and where we can improve on the information we’re showing to users.

It’s not finished! (Nothing ever is)

We’re really happy with the new tool. It’s clear already that we could make improvements to it, but first we’ll need data from how people are using it to make sensible tweaks to the design and user-flow.

As ever, we really welcome your feedback. Please try out the Licence Finder and let us know what you think.

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  1. Comment by shri posted on

    Hi James
    It is really a great tool for novice users to identify the licenses.
    This will really direct the users in the right direction.
    I have a small questions here, Appreciate your help on this.
    Are there any APIs available for this service which can be integrated in to any of the third party systems?


  2. Comment by Andy de Vale posted on


    Nice - having had a wee play it looks good - the UX / flow is intuitive and easy to use, good job!

    The results on a couple of queries didn't seem quite right though e.g.

    as a cafe owner looking to play background music I get back 2 licenses - one to play music in a theatre, one to play background music anywhere - this is ok as I get the license I need - but odd that I'm shown a license that I don't (the theatre)

    as a software shop looking to process personal data and use artwork in a website or advert I get back a license for the personal data - but not for using artwork. This is a bit confusing - I don't know whether this is because there isn't a relevant license or for some other reason, such as a bug in the app - I'm left with the feeling that I want to double check by going and look it up elsewhere.

    • Replies to Andy de Vale>

      Comment by James Weiner posted on

      Hi Andy,

      thanks for your feedback. The way the current system works, we make 'fuzzy' guesses as to useful licences based both on your 'business sector" as well as your 'business activity'. Right now this is to make sure we offer we cover a good amount of possible circumstances. As we aren't able to predict everyone's situations it's probably better now to offer too many than to offer too few. I think with time, as we gather analytics data, we will start to better see how it is used and we should be able to tweak Licence Finder to give more focused results. Hope that answers your query.

      • Replies to James Weiner>

        Comment by Andy de Vale posted on

        Hi James
        Thanks, that does makes sense for the "cafe" scenario. For the "software shop" scenario it doesn't though - as there are less responses than I'd expect . From a "no surprises" point of view for the user - telling me why (e.g. in this caseletting me know no licenses needed for re-using artwork and software, or more simply: letting me know that if a license isn't returned it isn't needed) would stop me going and looking else-where for confirmation.

        • Replies to Andy de Vale>

          Comment by James Weiner posted on

          Hi Andy,

          yes it isn't totally there yet. That's why this site is a beta! That isn't a get-out answer - it's issues like that that only get exposed by people actually using what we build. We'll be working on getting the data a lot more robust in the coming months - as my blog post says "It’s not finished! (Nothing ever is)". Thanks for taking the time to try it out and feedback to us.

          • Replies to James Weiner>

            Comment by Andy de Vale posted on

            Hi James

            Thanks - I get it, just wanted to make sure the feedback was clear 😉 cheers, Andy

  3. Comment by txwikinger posted on

  4. Comment by Mike Thacker posted on

    Hello James. I've had a play with the tool and am very impressed with the questions it asks. It seems a very simple user process hiding lots of underlying complexity.

    My particular interest is in links on to locally delivered services via the Local Government Service List (LGSL) in the way that GOV.UK pages do for services for individuals (as opposed to businesses). LGSL contains references to license allocated locally. You may well already have this in hand.

    BTW I tried asking for tattoo parlour services in England and was given a link to services in Scotland, so it seems there's a minor glitch in the logic somewhere.

    Congratulations on this feature.

    • Replies to Mike Thacker>

      Comment by aidanmuller posted on

      Hi Mike, thanks for your feedback. James has gone back to developing but I've passed your message on to the team, do bear with us. As you're aware is a beta so we're constantly updating and changing it in response to users' feedback.

    • Replies to Mike Thacker>

      Comment by Dafydd Vaughan posted on

      Hi Mike,

      At the moment, we're only displaying licences based on which country you are in, but in future we will be integrating our location service (as used on the earlier local transactions) so that we will be reducing down to county level.

      At the moment, the licence information ends fairly abruptly with a "contact your council to apply" message on the detailed council pages - this is the first stage of our work on the tool. We now plan to integrate the licence finder with the ELMS service that relies on the Local Government Service List data so that people will be able to apply for the licences through their appropriate local authority.

      Hope that answers your query!

      • Replies to Dafydd Vaughan>

        Comment by Mike Thacker posted on

        Thanks for the feedback Aidan and Dafydd. I'm happy to hear you will be extending the license finder with your location service based on LGSL - .

        Great work.

        • Replies to Mike Thacker>

          Comment by James Weiner posted on

          Hi Mike,
          Thanks for your kinds words and sorry not to get back to you quicker – but Dafydd is always quicker than me! What he said pretty much covers it. Although another somewhat related interesting thing we could solve to improve location further would be to ask where your business or activity will be located, rather than where _you_ are located (think about someone wanting to get licences for a chain of business across the whole of England for instance). So that’s something we will be thinking about too.