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Creating a single, shared content standard for the Department for Work and Pensions

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A screen shot of the DWP style guide

An online service is an important part of someone’s experience when they interact with government, which is why GDS created the GDS Service Manual.

We don’t want users to have to know which part of government is responsible for what they need. We just want them to be able to get what they need quickly and easily.

Currently, the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) content in its end-to-end service - from text messages to leaflets - can be produced by different teams. These teams often work to different guidelines and can sometimes produce a disjointed experience for users.

We held a one-day workshop in Leeds to talk about how GOV.UK content designers could work with DWP to fix this. It was encouraging - everyone in the room wanted to improve the way we work together and how we create content.

Defining the problem

We wanted to explore the problem and agree on why it needed fixing. Two GOV.UK senior content designers joined the workshop with DWP colleagues from operations, strategic communications and digital publishing.

After splitting into smaller groups to get everyone’s views, we defined our problem statement establishing:

  • we’re creating multiple solutions for the same problem
  • we have multiple standards and style guides and we don’t agree on which we should work to
  • this is more important than ever - the amount of people creating content in DWP is increasing and we’re creating content for millions of users

When users get the help they need quickly and easily, we can save government money. We’re determined to fix this!

Identifying past and present challenges

After constructing our problem statement, we held a retro on the experience of working to DWP guidelines. There was a good range of skills and experience in the room.

There are multiple obstacles for iterating and improving content: old technology, legacy content and the lack of a system capturing changes to offline content such as letters. Changes can also be hard and expensive to make.

Colleagues at DWP told us there had already been attempts to standardise guidance for people creating content but it had not worked. We highlighted the need to work closer day-to-day and involve content designers early - as well as valuing their role in planning and managing content - to make it succeed this time.   

There were positives to cover too! We all felt it was important that GDS and DWP were coming together. GOV.UK content designers shared their process for agreeing evidence-based changes to content and publishing guidance, including regular reviews of feedback and discussion on updates. We acknowledged our collective willingness to work together on this to improve the outcome for users.

Overcoming organisational boundaries will mean a big change to how DWP works and a crucial step in its transformation. By making our content consistent we can better meet user needs.

Feedback from the workshop on Post It notes. One says: "Great participation from all!" The second says: "We have ideas for how to work together to create a single guide.
Teams left immediate positive feedback at the end of the workshop.

Our plan

We’ve agreed that we need to create a single, evidence-based style guide for DWP to bring a consistent user experience.

We have started to collate and rationalise the style guides we have, checking they are up to date and comparing their language. After comparing it to GDS style guidelines, we’ll be looking at how to avoid duplication.

We also need to discuss and establish what constitutes ‘evidence’. Each of our teams uses a different type of research to make decisions about content – from academic papers to focus groups and user research. We’ll work with our research specialists to identify a standard of evidence the style guide will be based on.

Charlotte Knaggs, who leads DWP’s Customer Communications and Accessibility team, has praised GDS and DWP coming together to develop the guide.

She said it would “improve the consistency and clarity of the communications and information we provide to our customers and service users”.

This will not be a quick thing to address, but it's worth the investment and is a crucial step towards true end-to-end service design.

You can read GDS guidance on planning and managing digital content to meet the needs of users of GOV.UK.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Anne Walker posted on

    Hi, Helen and Melanie
    This is fantastic, thanks so much! I'm working on something similar for my Scottish Government agency, and I'd be really interested in finding how you get on with this, especially in relation to the Comms side of things, especially the GCS style guide.
    Many thanks!