DHHS had reached a common point that afflicts large aggregated content portals. The project had become too large, lacked focus, and was disconnected from what users wanted. The problem had become too challenging at an operational level and it was no longer possible to offer incremental improvements in design or content.
Future Medium was engaged to develop a ground-up web strategy that would form the backbone of all future development.
We specified the following key consultancy tasks in order to develop a business case for change and formulate a vision to move forward:
- Critically analyse the current solution
- Conduct a comprehensive information gathering exercise
- Determine key strategic outcomes
- Determine processes for implementation
- Determine management of these tactics
We utilised a mix of proprietary workshopping processes and external inputs to ensure a complete picture of needs was collected. We were determined to ensure both sides wanted essentially the same outcome. Project resolution would not possible without a semblance of balance.
Firstly we had to look at the problem from all angles:
- research website user needs and examine behaviour
- uncover business unit needs
- perform a field trip to set a benchmark
- acknowledge usability and accessibility issues
- identify brand / marketing perception gaps
- interrogate content production processes
- explore performance and statistics
A central theme emerged regarding the placement of patients and clients at the centre of everything we did.
The gap analysis identified:
- the site home page should be far more interesting and functional and clearly address the key departmental functions
- integration with offline media was poor
- there could be better campaign spaces, usage of subdomains and mini sites.
- Peer sites made use of rich media, story-telling videos on future health etc.
- There was no obvious call centre number for immediate help
- Very little site functionality existed.
- There had to be something we could do to improve user experiences and interact with the user.
- Common social networking, snapshots, and favourites tools were not present
- There was no easy way for the media and health followers to take feeds of content without having to come to the site.
- A Question and Answer framework for monitoring the status of enquiries could increase transparency
- Critical Health and Wellbeing information was not easy to use.
- Accessibility was generally high but depended on a reasonable level of literacy and comprehension.
- Video material may have increased the effectiveness of content delivery in this regard.
- Considerable usability issues
- driven by poor information architecture with regard to ambiguous labelling and labels that simply didn't relate to the target audience.
- The most significant internal challenge was limited resources for editing and publishing
- materialised as an inability to be proactive and guide the large number of stakeholders.
Critical audit conclusion
The review concluded that it was essential to step back and redefine the fundamentals of what the site was for and how could DHHS do that to the best of its abilities.
There was content that was not used and cluttered the site. This was common in a site that had evolved without a clear strategy or rationale behind it.
We continued to define that understanding and adhering to the key functions of the DHHS website were paramount to forming a vision that would be relevant and capable of providing outcomes.
We stipulated that what DHHS provided on the site would need to be of clear and measurable value. Furthermore, the offering needed to be useful, memorable, and above all specific to Tasmanians.
There was a vast chasm between the level of content, engagement, functionality, and thus value of the current site vs. peers, particularly those in Europe.
Impact on website users
Despite best intentions, a user was probably more likely to Google search and end up on a site in a different state or country when looking for general health advice. Thus the usage of areas such as Health and Wellbeing were questionable. This information needed to be Tasmanian specific or aggregated from an alternate source. The website could have acted as a portal to other information, whilst enriching the experience by focussing on what DHHS did best.
We identified that DHHS needed to know much more about their site users if they were to create a solid strategy.
We requested an independent usability and focus group review to help us to understand what could be shared with and given to the community. The user testing would confirm the validity and effectiveness of this.
An investigative scope range was established
We defined the target zones of the strategy development as being:
- offering (products/services)
- contacts (people/places)
- process (policy / vision)
- image (marketing)
An action plan was agreed
- table major issues
- list functional goals and recommend top level of operations
- list performance measures
- develop use cases and audience details
- consider emerging technologies
- develop information architecture framework
- develop wireframes
- explore brand application
- identify search engine optimisation opportunities
- document content production guidelines
- identify resource allocations
The purpose of the site
We undertook 13 moderated workshops with communications managers and client facing representatives of DHHS business units with a view to extracting goals, methods of creating value, and verifying how much was 'really known' about the end-user and their behavioural properties in terms of using the web.
Overall it was evident that each unit had different needs and a desire for greater, simpler, more effective communication with the public. Significant individual challenges were identified with specific business units but there was universal agreement that DHHS had to correctly identify with the various segments of user groups.
Popular concerns were content gaps and inaccuracy. This was exacerbated by an inability to properly attract and funnel users deeper into relevant zones.
Irrespective of each particular challenge a business unit faced it was agreed that DHHS should focus on articulating core offerings, show relevancy to users, focus on their needs and communicate this as DHHS's positioning.
How this would be done in a cohesive portal structure remained unclear and user research was required to identify a structural model of relevance.
Audience analysis - needs and preferences
21 unique groups of users were identified in conjunction with the business units. Future Medium reiterated the need to perform user testing and determine satisfaction with:
- the current site,
- appreciation for peer sites, and
- effectiveness of content structure.
Future Medium engaged a specialist market research firm and briefed them to identify user requirements and expectations, gauge reaction and usage of the current website, and explore which features and functions needed to be prioritised for development.
2x 120min duration sessions were conducted with health and human service professionals and the general public. Each participant was carefully screened against a recruitment profile developed jointly by Future Medium and DHHS.
The focus group framework investigated the participants understanding of DHHS, the websites role and use, and a review of numerous peer websites in a moderated environment.
User's reactions to the current home page were clear and specific. A case was building against the information architecture, design, relevance and usability of the current site.
Surveys determined a priority list for content selection and development.
Interestingly there was acknowledgement of the challenges faced by DHHS and the participants were willing to make a number of concessions in the use of the website. Although accessibility for impaired users was non-negotiable.
Audience analysis - information labels
A card sorting exercise was undertaken to greater understand how users group and refer to content. We developed close to 100 cards which were utilised in moderated pair tests and online sorts.
The card sorting exercise resolved that DHHS should:
- Clearly communicate the breadth of services offered
- Simplify and make intuitive the information architecture
- Utilise an effective search tool
- Focus on services and core content
Considering the vast amount of information now available to Future Medium it was necessary to find an alignment between the business units and the public. Future Medium resolved that the site must not present policy and publications at the expense of promoting core services and contacts.
An organisational structure change was identified in order to ensure all web content and initiatives were given greater guidance and support to provide users a consistent and user-focussed experience. A pivotal role was the correct resourcing of a proactive web project manager/consultant team that could communicate advice regularly, monitor performance, and undertake frequent reviews.
Exploring user needs
Future Medium undertook development of 13 use-cases to uncover layout and navigation devices that needed to be present in the site. These served to validate as a rationale for wireframe designs and improved DHHS's ability to focus on key functionality. Important labels, content and navigation aids were outputs of the use-case stage.
Visualising the solution architecture
Future Medium's creative team undertook a complete suite of wireframe development.
Each wireframe focussed on a unique area of the proposed new site. A set of criteria were developed by which to measure the effectiveness of the plans:
- Correct information labels
- Prominence of key navigation devices
- Clear access to priority content
- Demonstration of depth of material
- Balance between organisational needs and user expectations
- Modularity of design layout
- Flexibility for change
- Simplification of functionality
- Efficient usage of screen real estate
- Adoption of relevant technologies
- Appropriate brand positioning
- Ability to apply brand personality from individual business units
- Overall portal navigation did not interfere with or subtract from effective sub site navigation.
Defining the roadmap forward
To recap, we had established a baseline of content, functionality, and user expectations and were able to map out key targets in the delivery of a new web platform. All stakeholders were in agreement that the new vision would always be:
- User focussed
- Well maintained, and
- Continuously improved
The vision was supported by operational targets in:
- Skills development
- Content development
The scope of work was developed as a gap analysis in terms of:
- Architecture and content
- Technology, and
Communicating the vision
Future Medium completed its 4-month-long strategic engagement with multiple presentations to internal development team members and communications managers. A massive collection of material had been developed and recorded in such a way that DHHS's internal team had a deep reference manual and roadmap for all development into the future.
'...we were particularly impressed with the strategic approach you took to deliver the strategy. As I am sure you now appreciate the DHHS is a large and complex organisation and would have presented a challenge in terms of determining what is important to the end user and what the core purpose of the web is for the Department.
Taking the time to get to understand the key needs of all stakeholders as well as the research undertaken on the end user allowed you to deliver us with a high level document that is backed up with proper evidence to support its recommendations.
The end product will be particularly useful to the Communications Services team and form the basis of their work in this area over the coming two years. They were also impressed with the level of the strategy and details on how they can ensure continuous improvement - it is not just a plan for now.
Thank you once again and I look forward to watching the strategy roll out over the coming twelve months.
Sharon Truman, Director (Office of the Secretary)
30 September 2009