Saturday, July 28, 2007

Audit of UK Government Websites: Lots of Room for Improvement

Earlier this month, the United Kingdom's National Audit Office, the equivalent of our Office of the Auditor General, published its report on English government websites.

Entitled Government on the internet: progress in delivering information and services online, the report to the UK Parliament found that Internet users rated government websites reasonably well, but that the quality of those websites has improved only slightly since 2002.

Among the major weaknesses found:

  • many government websites were too text-heavy and off-putting to the user
  • information useful to users was often hard to find amongst large amounts of policy material
  • search engines on the sites often failed to work in a satisfactory manner
  • information was dispersed among hundreds of government service organizations
  • up to a third of the websites may not meet standards for disabled or visually impaired people
  • of the thousands of forms available to download, only 1 in 8 could be filled in and returned online

On the positive side of things:

  • websites run by local authorities provided a wide range of information on local services
  • the Foreign and Commonwealth Office allowed citizens to receive emails alerting them to changes including travel advice, press releases and job ads
  • the Jobcentre Plus website, including job information accessed through public Jobpoints, was the biggest of its kind in the UK
  • an online journey-planning service was provided by the Transport Direct website
  • NHS Direct offered online health advice, now used by almost twice as many online visitors as phone users

The government has announced that some 551 sites considered redundant or not useful will be closed and have their information reorganized and streamlined on 2 "supersites": (for citizens) and (for businesses). Focus groups found these 2 existing megasites were "laid out clearly".

The study also compared the UK e-government experience with that of Canada, the United States and Sweden and made a series of recommendations such as:

  • developing criteria for helping departments and agencies to judge the correct level of investment in websites and transactional services
  • requiring departments to report annually on costs for online services online according to a common methodology
  • creating a framework to ensure regular, independent reviews
  • collecting and analyzing usage data and ensuring that such data feeds directly into the design of government websites
  • maximizing the visibility of government websites to search engines and carrying out usability testing to make sure users can find the information they need within sites once they find them
  • ensuring websites meet accessibility and usability criteria, with annual reports outlining what actions have been taken to make web services and online information as usable as possible for all customers

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:30 pm


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