Holding the fort: developing a new Civilservice.gov.uk
On Friday 30th September we re-launched the website for the UK Civil Service. This site is the primary means of communicating what the constitutional role of the UK Civil Service is, what it does and the codes it is bound by.
The Civil Service:
- serves the Government of the day,
- does not automatically change when the Government does
- and is bound in all it’s dealings by the values of integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality as laid out by the Civil Service code
The Civil Service has around 450,000 people working in roles all over the country, ranging from the Government Veterinary surgeons, Ministers Private Office’s or administering welfare benefits, all of whom need access to a wide range of information about their pension, job opportunities or professional networks. In addition the site provides information on the role of different organisations and bodies and their performance to ensure the Civil Service remains accountable and transparent.
Managing a site covering all of these needs is no small task. So the coincidence of impending changes to Civil Service recruitment processes and the end of the existing hosting contract for the site provided us an opportunity to revisit the site’s content, design and function. We needed to make sure that it is providing a stable, value for money interim option until it can be encompassed into the ongoing Single Government Domain project.
The old Civil Service site was run by the Cabinet Office digital communications team, using a customised off-the-shelf content management system that worked well when initially applied in 2008 but became increasingly dated and inflexible over time. In addition there were considerable hosting costs from a traditional fixed term contract. As a result we were keen to ensure that the revised site would be in line with both our commitment to open-source and flexible, scalable hosting.
We (the Digital Engagement team) were tasked with producing a new site at very little cost and within a six week window. To restructure the content to make it easier to find we used Google analytics to analyse typical user journeys. Harnessing user insight will be an iterative process through the ongoing development of this site.
We chose to use WordPress as it offers a simple, quick (with such a short development window) and flexible open source solution to a site primarily designed for publishing content. As such it is easy to use for a wide range of content editors and, of course, provides significant cost savings for maintenance and development. Rather than develop a theme ourselves we chose to use a theme called ‘striking’ developed by Kaptinlin that fitted what we needed with a little customisation.
Using WordPress also means we can tap into the plug-ins that the large WordPress developer community creates to solve problems that would have caused major work. For example using a WP plug-in to amend some of the 30,000+ links that were migrated saved time and stress when faced with a tight deadline. We needed to compress the initial 500 page offering with 2649 media files, the vast majority being.pdf documents, to 320 by using the theme’s tabbing function on pages.
As I mentioned above one of the drivers for the re-launch was changes to the CS recruitment process. All job adverts for the UK Civil Service have moved to a new portal on the site commissioned by the MOD and now led by HMRC. This portal offers an end to end recruitment system that gives users the option to complete application forms online and facilitates Departments sifting and contact with applicants (from interview requests to letters of acceptance). This marks a considerable improvement in user experience on the old system which required the user to download MS Word files to access the application form and vacancy information and return them via email or fax.
The next phase of development for the Civil Service site will be to create a platform for professions to share information and collaborate in a way that uses the secure collaboration tools of the CivilMedia Suite. We are also busy making sure the site complies completely with Government web guidelines (we ran out of time to do this before launch and didn’t want to spend a lot of money to extend the contract just to accommodate this).
Whilst the new site ticks a lot of the boxes (not least in that we will save over £60k per annum on hosting and running the site), we’re aware it doesn’t tick all of them now but we know that we have to launch and improve as we go on –following the same agile principles as the Single Domain project even though we have chosen a quite different solution to a different project.