Helping users prepare for change

Government Digital Service

October 26
17:40 2020

1. Understand the change and when users need to know about it

Before you can decide what content to update or create, you need to find out from your policy teams whats changing.

Your policy colleagues must give you this information as early as possible so you can identify the user needs and plan your content.

Identify the type of change

When you have the information from your policy teams, you need to work out the type of change.

If the change is related to the end of the transition period with the EU, use the transition content guidance.

If the change is about anything else, work out whether:

Work out when users need to know about the change

When you know whats changing, you also need to work out whether users need to know about the change before it comes into effect.

You can publish a news story to tell users about an upcoming change. Users do not need guidance until they can, or need to, take action. In most cases, this is not until the change comes into effect.

Only publish guidance in advance if all the following apply:

  • the change is certain or very likely to happen
  • it affects a decision users must make now or very soon
  • users must do something differently now (not just be aware of something) - for example, a scheme is changing and users must apply earlier, later or for a different scheme

Theres an exception to this for changes related to the end of the transition period with the EU. You should tell users in advance about these changes even if they do not need to make a decision or do something now.

If users need to know about a change in advance, youll need to identify exactly when to help you plan.

In exceptional cases, users might need reassurance in advance that something will not change or will not have a big impact on them. You must have evidence that users genuinely need this on GOV.UK (such as on-page feedback, call centre data and analytics). However, usually reassurance messaging should be channelled through communications activity outside GOV.UK.

If youre unsure, ask the GOV.UK content team at the Government Digital Service (GDS).

2. Review guidance that already exists

Do a basic review of existing guidance content as soon as you know roughly whats changing. Do not wait until you have all the details.

This will help you avoid duplicating content when you have to tell users about the change.

Duplication (or multiple pages with similar content) can give users the impression that theres no single version of the truth. This can mean they lose trust in what they read on GOV.UK, so they miss critical information. It can also make it difficult for users to know where to look to find content they need.

Steps to review guidance

As well as your organisations content, youll need to include mainstream content and content owned by other organisations in your review. This is because users search for information related to what they need, not by the organisation that published it.

You do not need to include all content types, but you should identify related guidance content, services, policy papers and collection pages.

Do not link time-sensitive content, such as news stories and speeches, from guidance because this can give it the false impression of being current.

To find related content:

  • search on GOV.UK and Google using related keywords (for example try travelling abroad, going on holiday and get a passport to find content related to passports)
  • search in Whitehall Publisher and export the results to a CSV file

You can also use the topic taxonomy list in Whitehall Publisher to find related topics and look for related content in these.

Step 2. Review the guidance

Pick out the guidance content from your list, including the mainstream pages and content thats owned by other organisations.

Review the guidance content to identify:

  • existing guidance about the policy or scheme (which you could update to include the changes)
  • duplication (especially multiple pieces of guidance with similar titles and content)
  • missing information that users will need in order to do a task resulting from the change

Youll usually need to include basic Google Analytics metrics and qualitative data in your review.

Step 3. Make improvements to existing guidance

Make improvements to existing guidance before you add information about the change, if you can. Doing this work beforehand will make it easier:

  • to build in updates when you get the details from your policy colleagues
  • for users to find the content and know what they must do to prepare

Focus on removing any duplicated content first. If you identify duplication across guidance owned by other departments as well as your own, youll need to work with them to consolidate this.

If you have time, make general improvements too.

3. Update or create guidance

Check if the guidance should be mainstream or specialist (Whitehall). If youre still unsure ask the GOV.UK content team at GDS.

If its mainstream

Send a request to GDS to change the content. Only raise your request when you have all the required information.

Your request will be prioritised. Larger requests can take several weeks to months to complete depending on their size and complexity, and on the fact check process.

If your content needs to be published urgently and its not a quick fix, work with GDS to decide on an approach.

Content might be both mainstream and specialist where theres a common scenario that affects most users and a separate process for edge cases. For example, there are different National Insurance rates for share fishermen.

If youre telling users about a change related to the end of the transition period, you should normally do that in specialist content and follow the transition content guidance.

If you think that mainstream content also needs to be updated because users need to prepare now for the end of transition, send a request to GDS.

If its specialist

If youre telling users about a change related to the end of the transition period with the EU, use the transition content guidance.

For all other content, use the guidance relevant to

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