An intranet inspired by GOV.UK

I started the new year by kicking off an intranet project with the very switched-on digital comms team at DCMS who wanted the next iteration of their intranet to follow the GDS design principles.

Brief

The project brief for this new intranet was to develop a CMS to enable the digital comms team to manage a task-based set of content, with design and style inspired by GOV.UK and the GDS design principles.

The team wanted to use tagging and categorisation to group, surface and link content across different parts of the intranet. And they wanted to radically reduce the amount of content and simplify navigation.

Design

I was very pleased to start work on this project. The team had already done a lot of the information architecture work in determining which elements of content will go onto the intranet, and how to organise it. Adopting many of the GDS design principles in their work, the intranet will be geared around staff. It will act as a source of essential and useful guidance and information, and a place to discuss topics. Where information already exists elsewhere on other websites or internal systems then the intranet will link to it. No duplication. And in terms of content itself, the intranet will contain clearly-written tasks and guides giving information to staff. No vanity pages or stacks of rubbish that tends to be allowed to accumulate and fester on a badly-managed intranet.

The intranet design is responsive, using GOV.UK-style fonts with big headings and large text. Clear signposting and minimal navigation makes it easy to use and read on any device.

We went straight into prototype design for this project. No wireframes. The team had a working prototype to preview and play with just one week after kickoff. We’ve iterated and tweaked until what we have now will be the new intranet.

Only three main navigation options and no left-hand menus on this intranet. No branches of pathways to navigate. Just a big pot of information, organised sensibly, accessible chiefly via a big search box, something that I have been longing to experiment with for ages. For staff who prefer to browse and navigate, and I still come across staff who shy away from search, there are lists of topics, organised by category and tagged to allow traversing across sections of the intranet. So it will be possible to hop around and browse, for example, all ministerial tasks or all broadband projects, or everything tagged building move whether it be news, tasks or job vacancies.

Content

The bulk of the content is made up of tasks and guides, taken from the GOV.UK idea of quick answers and guides. This is your typical guidance section of the intranet. But this isn’t organised into never-ending sections of intranet pages, with annexes from an employee manual that span nine levels deep into the navigation. No. It is essentially a databank of answers to typical questions asked by staff. Some answers are short and quick and we’ve called these tasks. Some require a bit more information and we’ve called these guides. They all sit in the pot and are accessible via search or by browsing categories and tags. Tasks are one-page answers to common questions such as “get a replacement building pass” or “book a meeting room”. Guides, such as “using your desktop phone” or “facilities in the new building”, are a cluster of individual, one-page chapters, split into discrete, digestible chunks.

The team will also manage internal vacancies through the intranet, linking these in closely with internal projects. In fact, this is the first intranet that I’ve worked on that will have a dedicated project area containing an overview of current programmes and projects in the department, high-level and detailed information, plus links to associated vacancies. This project section will highlight the actual work that is being done by DCMS and will help staff to feel involved in, and to understand the goals of the department and ultimately how this fits in with wider government policy.

Forums and blogs

Staff will also have the chance to hang out in the forums in an open and unmoderated environment.

In addition to the task-based content, there will be a blog for specific projects. And this seems to be the perfect answer to the age-old problem of vanity publishing. Wanna write about your department or project and showcase what you do? Fine. Not on the guidance section of this intranet, though. You’ll get your own area where you can write about what you do and get involved with staff who are interested. You’ll be responsible for keeping it up to date and for answering questions and comments from staff. Still interested? Sign-up here.

Search

Search works great because the intranet is not filled with piles of badly labelled rubbish deemed as absolutely essential intranet content by some un-digital head of department. The content is slick, well-written, well-titled and tagged. And there’s not mounds of it.

Homepage

Although there is a fair amount of room devoted to the corporate news feed, the homepage will provide aggregated feeds of the most active pages across core intranet content,  powered by live data from Google Analytics, and topical buzz from the staff forums. It will also feature freshly-published content, and the departmental Twitter feed.

CMS

From the publishing side of the fence, developing the CMS for the intranet in WordPress has been a dream come true for me. If you read my blog, you’ll be used to me moaning and complaining about the lack of an acceptable IT platform or not being allowed to use Open Source software or even a database when I worked at MoJ. Having these tools available to me now is like being the proverbial kid in the candy store.

Size and timescale

This is probably the smallest intranet that I’ve worked on. And it promises to be the most streamlined, task-based, user-focused and data-driven intranet that I’ve worked on, with well-managed content and governance for ongoing publishing. It will be a pleasure to handover this CMS to the content team, knowing that they will keep it pure.

This will also be my shortest intranet project. We’ve not launched yet, but working with Open Source software in an agile manner, with a switched-on team who have managed their own content population, has meant that this intranet will have been designed, built and populated from scratch, within a two month timeframe. And the cost? A mere fraction of a drop in the ocean compared to the millions of pounds of public money that I have seen wasted on repeated efforts to get an intranet right.

Project motivation and team working

The new intranet preempts a move to a new building location, and will be used as a major source of news and information for staff on the move. DCMS will save money by moving to an Open Source solution and hosting from the G-Cloud and severing contracts with existing IT providers.

Working agile in an agency environment means that we don’t have stand-up scrums every morning. But we do get the chance to develop, test and iterate in short sprints of work. Nothing makes for a great project like the people that you work with and it’s been a real pleasure to knuckle down with the DCMS digital comms team who have come up with a great concept for an intranet and obviously have the vision and backing at higher levels to make it happen, while doing other work on the public website move to GOV.UK.

Related posts

Five months outside the Civil Service

I’m 5 months into my new job and the projects that I started working on are coming to fruition, with several bubbling away in the background, including a very interesting government department intranet project.

I’ve been working on a diverse set of projects during my first months at Helpful Technology. Kicking off with what seemed like week after week of wireframes, user research and testing, I’ve designed the user experience for a number of WordPress website and intranet builds. The first of which launched at the end of January: The Audit Commission

The Social Simulator

I’ve been involved in snow travel chaos, global chemical manufacturer scams and uncovering paedophile rings in our PR and communications crisis exercises using The Social Simulator. It has been such a fun experience being on the “antagonistic” end of the exercises, watching press officers sweat as they battle with the social media platform of tweets, media articles, blog posts and Facebook rants. Simulated in a private setting, these exercises have been valuable for the press officers, media and PR teams involved, providing practical experience of life-like scenarios and situations, which have resulted in teams changing they way they work together during a crisis.

arts lectures

I’ve lectured students at the London College of Communications (College of Printing) studying for their MA in Public Relations as part of a pilot workshop, preparing for the digital workplace with skills such as writing for the web, accessibility, search engine optimisation and a practical day devoted to building a blog in WordPress. I’ve also covered the UX sections of the Government Communications Network training programme and provided tailored sessions on MailChimp and CitizenSpace across the wider public sector.

It’s been a big change to the daily plod and office politics of working in the Civil Service. Switching from in-house mode to the faster-pace and multi-client agency model has taken some getting used to, but it’s so rewarding being able to build digital solutions and teach people how to do things for themselves, quickly, unhampered and mainly uninvolved in the familiar layers of red tape.

WordPress

For the past month or so I’ve had my head buried in the nuts and bolts of WordPress. For me it’s been a wonderful return to my days of programming and it has brought the many years of working with CMS systems, databases and my IA and UX work together. After working on the front-end design and usability of sites for years, it’s rewarding to also be working on the other side of the fence again, designing content management systems that clients are going to use daily to update their websites and intranets. Getting feedback from clients like “It’s completely yummy!” and “A breath of fresh air!” calls for a high-five moment at HT Towers.

From all angles, WordPress is really rocking my boat. My experience over the past months has shown that it comes up trumps from the developer perspective, the CMS administrator perspective and the front-end, public or staff -facing perspective. It knocks some of the other systems that I’ve come across in the past out of the water.  It’s refreshing to see so many other government departments turning to WordPress and while I have moaned about the usability of the G-Cloud, the cloud store has reduced the red tape involved in procuring a supplier or service to build or host WordPress sites.

Soon to be launched is an updated website for Wilton Park, part of the FCO, which I’ve been designing and building in WordPress for several months. This has been a great project, kicking off with a period of research and testing wireframes and mood boards with site users, both internal and external, including interviews with an Ambassador and visits to interesting MOD buildings. The site showcases upcoming and past conferences around a number of diplomatic themes with reports and podcasts published after each conference is complete. More news on this towards the end of the month.

And more recently, I’ve kicked off a very exciting intranet project with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The digital comms team are aiming to produce a GOV.UK style intranet, completely user-focussed, with tasks and guides delivered in no-nonsense, plain English plus tagging and categorisation of content. More detail in my next blog post.

While I’m doing more than just intranet work now, I plan to continue blogging about what I get up to in more detail on intranet diary. For a birds-eye view of what we’re working on at Helpful Technology, please visit the Being Helpful tumblog.