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Polishing our medal content: a cross-government project

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The MOD issues medals to both serving and previous armed forces personnel, as well as some civilians. GOV.UK is where these users can find out if they’re eligible for any of them, and how to apply.

The GOV.UK content team has been working with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Medal Office and Directorate of Defence Communications (DDC) to review and improve this medals content on GOV.UK. 

A Corporal of Horse of the Life Guards displays his medals.
A Corporal of Horse of the Life Guards displays his medals. Photo: Harland Quarrington, Crown Copyright

In September, the Medal Office noticed a number of errors and inconsistencies across the medals pages. So they began talking to users (service community and general public) and medal assessors, to track some of the common issues and grievances with the pages.

Issues ranged from technical difficulties in accessing application forms, to confusion over the medals that the Medal Office does and doesn’t issue. They also identified a general lack of awareness around medal criteria and eligibility, as well as confusion on how to appeal a decision made by the Medal Office.

MOD Medal Office digital officer Alex Peebles brought these concerns to a kick-off meeting with DDC and GDS. The Medal Office had previously seen a spike in traffic to these pages around Remembrance Sunday, so we wanted to address these issues before this year’s date.

A collaborative approach

Given the time constraints, one thing we all wanted to avoid was lengthy interruptions and delays. We were mindful of how others across government had benefited from working closely together, particularly for the starting a business project, and we agreed to take a similar approach. We arranged a date, postponed a few internal meetings and shared out the prep ahead of our next meeting.

Between us, we gathered, shared and analysed information including:

  • feedback that users had left on content on the subject of medals
  • figures showing the breakdown of user groups applying for medals
  • ‘source material’, such as the MOD Medal Office Customer Charter
  • analytics for the medals content, including page metrics, search terms and sources

We also drew up a rough content plan to propose solutions to some of the issues we identified.

Working together at the MOD

We started by working through known problems to structure the day. After an initial review, we agreed to completely cull some detailed guidance as it was duplicating content elsewhere on the site. We wanted to focus on designing the mainstream content based on our data and research findings.

We decided to reorder the chapters based on what we’d learnt from the analytics, then split off. Alex and GOV.UK content designer Graeme Claridge worked on rewriting the current pages, and MOD digital content officer Laurence Mallows created new content. Then we held a mini show and tell, helping spot minor errors and improve the flow of both sets of work.

In the afternoon we focused on the specialist medals content, which describes individual medals. There were around 50 individual sections to write, which was far too much for one afternoon.

Instead we took on the 2 pieces in most need of attention as a team, rewriting and stripping back the content to meet the needs of users. That gave Alex and the Medal Office a template that they could roll out across the rest of the guidance.

Going live

We spent the next week or so refining the content in our individual departments. Graeme made a few tweaks to the mainstream guide following a peer review, while Alex collaborated with subject matter experts back at the Medal Office to ensure accuracy in the specialist content.

A few phone calls followed, allowing us each to review and approve these further edits, or suggest a different approach. In keeping with the rest of the project, this proved a painless process due to the patterns we’d established on our day spent at the MOD.

Some final tweaks later, and the updated medals guide and guidance on medal types and eligibility are now live. We’ll review it over the next few months to see how users are engaging with the content.

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