The report from the alpha review for the Office for National Statistic's Website on 15 January 2015.
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About the service
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK’s largest independent producer of official statistics and is the recognised national statistical institute for the UK. It is responsible for collecting and publishing statistics related to the economy, population and society at national, regional and local levels. It also conducts the census in England and Wales every ten years. The website is the primary channel for dissemination of these statistics.
Outcome of the review
The ONS website has been reviewed against the 26 points of the Service Standard at the end of the Alpha development.
After consideration the assessment panel have concluded the ONS website is on track to meet the Digital by Default Service Standard at this early stage of development and were impressed with the progress demonstrated at the assessment.
The ONS team have developed the Alpha website considering user needs from the start. During discovery the service team recruited and interviewed users of the existing ONS website. The team talked to expert statisticians, citizens, and are seeking out “critical friends” to challenge their assumptions. This user research has continued throughout using a varied mix of user research techniques. Using good examples, the team showed how they used user feedback to improve the features and offering of the website.The ONS team are planning to continue this user research during development of the Beta. The team are working with an external agency to recruit users to take part in regular research.
ONS have put together a co-located, multi-disciplinary team to build the Alpha website and have appointed an empowered service manager to lead that team. Working in an agile way and using appropriate tools and techniques is allowing effective collaboration and communication.Most key roles are currently filled with interim staff, but the service manager is already working to recruit into ONS so that there is a sustainable team, that has the ability and capacity to iterate and improve the website on a frequent basis in future.
Security, Privacy, Tools and Standards
The ONS team are already talking to their Senior Responsible Owner (SRO) and other relevant security staff. They are also using the support of a security consultant. This has helped them address concerns in a risk-averse organisation at an early stage.The approach to technology is based on the principle of “doing less”. The Alpha website runs on minimal technology, using inexpensive cloud hosting. Supported by established open source tools and developing code in the open. This is the right way to allow iteration and improvement early and often during the development of an Alpha.
Improving the service
The technology approach chosen allows the team to deploy to the live website within a 15 minute window. All team members are able to make changes, test them locally and in a staging environment identical to live. The team intend to maintain this agility, with plans to use automated regression testing and empowering other members to take responsibility for accepting deployments to live.
The design of the website has evolved based on the feedback from scenario based user research. It also addresses former criticisms of the current website made in the press. The team showed improvements to search and browse and simplification of complex taxonomies. The website is exempt from GOV.UK, and looks different to it, but is following the same design principles.
The ONS team must integrate user research into their agile development cycle. Running this regularly, every sprint, so that user feedback can inform improvements during Beta development.
We recommend the development of personas for the publishing users of the ONS website.
The service manager should encourage ONS senior stakeholders to attend and observe user research.
The ONS team should hold regular retrospectives, integrated into the agile development cycle so that the team can also iterate and improve the way it works.
The ONS Alpha website is on track to meet the Digital by Default Service Standard. The work carried out during the alpha has started with the users’ needs of an ONS website. The multi-disciplinary team have embraced an agile culture from the start. Applying agile principles and practices throughout, valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Working in this way has allowed them to begin building a website that is so good users will genuinely enjoy using it.
Digital by Default Service Standard criteria
Published: 6 January 2017
Assessment date: 15 January 2015