From user needs to content - what’s the story?

We’ve already written about how we’ve worked to identify user needs for GOV.UK, so now I’d like to explain a bit more about what happens next - how does a need become published content or a tool on the site?

Broadly speaking a need goes through the following stages before anything is published:

1. Initial need analysis
2. Research and content planning
3. Content creation
4. Editorial review
5. Fact check
6. Publication

This produces the first published iteration of the content, which may then be added to or amended over time based on data and feedback.

A content designer sitting at her computer

Step by step

The research and content planning is done by a content designer in the GDS team. For the initial set of needs the main source of information has been Directgov or Business Link.

Once it’s been decided that GOV.UK is the right place for the need to be met the content designer looks for the key steps or facts that a citizen or business needs to know to complete their task successfully. For launch this has been based on the information presented on the two existing sites, but has also been informed by search logs and usage data. Based on these inputs the content designer produces a content plan - for example deciding which of our content formats would work best to meet the need, and how many distinct pieces of content or tools are needed. For complex areas, e.g. tax, they’d work with experts in the relevant government department or agency to refine the plan.

Content is created in the Publisher tool and then sent through to a more experienced content designer for a “second eyes” review - this is where the content is checked against our style guide, and any editorial concerns can be fed back and addressed.

Once the senior content designers are happy with the content it’s sent out to the relevant government department for fact check. Each department has a dedicated fact check coordinator in their digital team who passes the content on to their policy experts for review. This process is managed by the Publisher tool, which sends an email containing a link to the latest version of the content. When policy experts reply to this email with suggested factual amends their feedback is logged by the system, and automatically assigned to the relevant content designer for their attention. In some cases, if extensive amends are needed, the team may send the content out to policy experts again, for a further review.

Once any necessary amends have been made the content goes through a final editorial review (the 'second eyes') before publication.

And that’s not the end of the story

Everything about GOV.UK is iterative, and this applies to the content and tools we’ve published as well as to the underlying code. Our main focus in the days since launch has been to systematically work through the feedback we’re getting, from both users and government departments. They’ve been usefully flagging typos and broken links, as well as occasional factual inaccuracies that have got through the formal fact check process. Where this is the case we’re addressing these as a top priority.

Once we’re confident that all of our existing content is complete and accurate we can move on to optimise it further based on usage data and more general feedback from users.


  1. Jose Cardoso

    Great, thanks for this insight into GDS's content flow. Great if this could be illustrated trough a real example/piece of content tho , keen on having an insight on how the Publisher tool looks/works like, and how people within the several stages respond and interact with it?

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  2. Louise

    Sounds great in practice, just a shame it looks like you ran out of time and just copy and pasted most things from businesslink rather than making it more customer focussed. And it's also a bit worrying that your second pair of eyes doesn't pick up on typos or broken links!

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    • nettienwilliams

      Louise - please could you tell us where you have spotted typos and broken links so we can fix them. Thanks.

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      • Louise

        Hi. You say user (and departments) have been useful to identify typos, broken links and inaccuracies post launch. Shouldn't the second pair of eyes notice these otherwise why bother having them? I've not noticed any broken links myself but have found areas where you go round in circles now BL is shut down. Not a great experience.

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        • Graham Spicer

          Hi Louise,
          I'm a content designer at GDS and I believe Sarah was alluding to typos/broken links being spotted by departmental colleagues during the fact-check process. Yes, ideally these would be spotted during the 'second pair of eyes' stage, but once any comments come back from fact-check and further amends to the content would need to be checked by 'second eyes' again. Therefore, in most cases, the initial proof read is not the final read through and the vast majority of broken links/typos are discovered and corrected before content goes live.
          Specifically concerning broken links, while content is being created it is often part of a 'suite' of new content. Broken links can sometimes occur pre-publication in this situation (when the fact-checkers are reviewing it) because a related piece of content has had its title changed, for example. Colleagues spotting this helped us to fix things before we ran a comprehensive link checker prior to the launch of GOV.UK, which helped us 'mop up' any missed broken links.
          As far as circular journeys are concerned, that something we certainly don't want to see happening. So if you have any specific examples we'd love to hear about them so we can see if we can improve the user experience. The best way to do so is to leave feedback on the page in question (there's a link at the bottom of each article), and it will get logged as a ticket for us to investigate.
          Any feedback is appreciated!

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  3. Colin

    Looks interesing

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  5. K Evans

    But the content is still poor and has numerous howlers on it, and downright WRONG info eg on copyright. So where was the editorial review on this? Where were the subject mater experts? Why didn't you just port the existing content?

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  6. Etienne Pollard

    Jose, Colin - glad it was a useful insight into the process.

    Louise - for the most part, the user needs previously met by BusinessLink were best served on GOV.UK by creating new things - such as guides, quick answers or interactive tools. We wrote and created these from scratch to provide a simpler, clearer and faster user experience than the analogous BusinessLink guides and tools. But in a few cases government departments had published detailed guidance on BusinessLink that really couldn't be done any simpler, so in those cases we moved the relevant written content into the "detailed guidance" section of GOV.UK. Here's an example of some guidance that we moved as-is - - and a GDS blog post explaining more about detailed guidance -

    K Evans - we took the approach of identifying specific user needs and then creating one thing to meet each user need. In some cases the thing was a single web page, in other cases it was a longer written guide or an interactive tool. In all cases the goal was to focus on what people needed to know or do, put the common case up front while also including further information for people with unusual circumstances or needs, and above all making it simpler, clearer and faster for the user. and explain this in more detail. You're correct that a few items had errors which slipped through the fact checking and second-eyes process, and we have been focusing on finding and correcting those over the past ten days since launch. If you notice anything you think we've got wrong, please let us know by filling in the feedback form at the bottom of every page - it only takes a few seconds to fill in, and it will go straight to the relevant person for review.

    Etienne Pollard
    GOV.UK Programme Director

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    • Anna Harvey

      Hi Etienne
      I don't see any detailed information for Families, children and young people, which is even more important in these difficult times as people try to get into work and cope with challenging situations and multiple cuts. The ParentKnowHow directory was available via DirectGov and developed at a cost of millions. It continues as and provides a national directory of registered childcare and other information for families: activities, advice, facilities, after-school clubs, all QA'd by local Family Information Services

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