Government unveils 'revolutionary breakthrough' with new web portal, aims to reduce the pain of public interactions

  • Web Design
  • July 31, 2014
  • StopPress Team
Government unveils 'revolutionary breakthrough' with new web portal, aims to reduce the pain of public interactions

Interacting with a government department is not something most normal humans look forward to. But a new website www.govt.nz hopes to make those interactions slightly less wrist-slitty. 

A local team of developers worked together with user-experience experts from consulting firm Optimal Experience (now part of PwC) to fork the open-source www.gov.uk platform and make it work for a New Zealand-based audience. And, according to a release, "New Zealanders will now have easier, simpler access to government services". 

“www.govt.nz is a revolutionary breakthrough in the way the public connects with government information and services because it’s designed from the outside-in; it’s based on real New Zealanders’ experience and feedback,” says Internal Affairs minister Peter Dunne. “It’s a radical departure from ‘traditional’ service portals because we have been guided by what users tell us they want, with content written in plain language and grouped by topic rather than agency. Our objective is to provide government information that is user-friendly without the usual jargon, making it easier for people to get what they need from government.”

It's certainly more focused on function rather than form (John Key was at the launch in Wellington and is thought to have said "can you make it bluer?"), but as its research showed, "knowing where to go is half the problem", so simplicity is good (and often very difficult to achieve). The new site is also "device friendly"; it's the first iteration of many; it's "sharing everything", including usability studies, open-sourcing the code and publishing content under a creative commons license; and it's asking users for feedback on what can be improved. 

Development of www.govt.nz was influenced by a similar site developed in the UK, www.gov.uk, which has proved very successful with UK users. The work by the New Zealand team is now in turn influencing government websites in Australia, Scotland and Canada.

“Changing the way citizens interact with government—and the ICT transformation needed to achieve this—represents the biggest reforms since the 1980s,” says Dunne. “When this Government laid out its expectations for a Better Public Service two years ago, we tasked Internal Affairs with achieving significant progress in Result Area 10: New Zealanders can complete their transactions with government easily. This is the latest step towards delivering on that challenge. The site will continue to change, based as always on user-testing and feedback, while the depth of content www.govt.nz holds for each service we provide will deepen, making it the central authoritative source of government information." 

As it explains on the site: 

We're making it easier

Govt.nz replaces the newzealand.govt.nz website. We're working on transforming the way government in New Zealand delivers information and services online.

Users have told us they don't know where to start when looking for government information online. They've also told us that understanding how government services work — and who to contact — can be a challenge.

We've listened and we're changing — our goal is to make it easier for New Zealanders to interact with government online. 

We're learning from others

We'd like to acknowledge the leadership and design work of the Government Digital Service (external site link) (GDS) in the United Kingdom and the gov.uk (external site link) site. We think their site is beautiful, ground-breaking and setting the benchmark for what a government website can be.

Thanks to the commitment of GDS to open source development, we're able to pick up what they've created, learn from it and adapt it to create a website for New Zealanders.

We're sharing everything we do

Transparency is one of our principles. The site we're launching isn't finished so you can give us feedback to contribute to what we do — and we can learn as we create.

We're:

  • sharing our research and the results of our usability studies
  • reporting back regularly on the issues users are raising
  • open-sourcing our code — it's free for anyone to use
  • publishing as much content as we can using a Creative Commons copyright licence, so anyone can reuse it
  • planning on building an API to make it even easier to share government information. An API allows different applications to exchange information with each other in a structured form — meaning we can maintain content and data in a single place while allowing others to use it elsewhere on the internet.

We'll keep you informed on where we're going next — and we'll base those decisions on the feedback we get from you.

See the Web toolkit blog for more information

Our design principles

We're user-centred

We need to speak the language of our users — not the language of government. In fact, we want to change the language government speaks.

We'll involve users throughout the project. The user research we're doing will give us evidence to help prioritise features for the site and it will help focus our decisions on what users actually need from an all-of-government website.

We're starting small and iterating

This current version of Govt.nz is just the start. We've started small and focused on the basics. We'll continue to release design updates, new content and new features on a regular basis.

We're delivering a consistent user experience

Sometimes people need to interact with several government departments to access a service or complete a task. Our research has shown us that when each of the sites being used looks different, users need to learn how each one works — this creates frustration and blocks their ability to get what they need.

Users told us that "knowing where to go is half the problem". As we add content to the Govt.nz site, we'll include step-by-step guides and make it easy to find the related tasks you might need to do. We'll explain how services work — from the eligibility rules to what happens after you've hit submit.

We're speaking your language

Plain English content is easy to read, easy to understand and helps users complete tasks.

You can give feedback to the Govt.nz content team and:

  • ask us to review any content that you don't understand
  • tell us if you think there's information missing from the site.

We're device friendly

The site will work on a mobile phone just as well as it does on a desktop. If you notice something that doesn't look right, let us know and we'll do our best to get it fixed quickly.

We're accessible

It's just what we do.

If you're having difficulty accessing information on the Govt.nz site, let us know.

We'll

  • take a look at the problem
  • tell you what we think we can do to fix it
  • do what we can to get you the information you need in a different format.

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