The UK’s digital landscape
Finding out more about our users
Our design principles put users at the heart of our work at GDS. So when we started work on the Government Digital Strategy, we went straight to user research.
We started by reviewing existing research to see what insight had been gathered on the digital landscape by ourselves and others. This gave us an excellent understanding of people who are online and offline. But we realised there were gaps in our knowledge.
We needed to understand even more about how people use (or don’t use) government digital services and information. To inform our work on assisted digital, we wanted to look in more detail at people who are offline.
To fill these gaps, GDS’s Usability and Insight team commissioned 2CV to conduct independent research to provide a comprehensive view of UK adults’ use of the internet and in particular, the use of online government information and services.
What did it involve?
The research was conducted in two parts. The first part was quantitative and the second part was qualitative.
We used a mixed methodology approach for the quantitative stage, using both online interviews and face to face interviews. We chose to do this instead of all face to face interviews because the objective of the research was to understand what people do online and their attitudes towards it, and not to identify how many people are online or offline. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) produces robust quarterly data on the online/offline audience and it seemed unnecessary to replicate this. ONS’s latest internet population data (Q1 2012) was then used to weight our data so that it accurately reflected the number of people who are online in the UK.
The approach for the qualitative stage involved ethnography sessions, peer interviews, and intercept interviews in relevant locations (like libraries, UK Online Centre, and a Skills for Life Centre) to observe people as they used the internet. This approach was used to give a rich understanding of people’s attitudes towards the internet and digital government services, and it also enabled us to witness the issues and problems people face when using government information and services. The findings from these sessions then informed 2CV’s groupings or typologies of non-users of government online information and services.
Online and offline audiences
As indicated in the previous section on weighting, the ONS’s latest internet usage statistics found that 84% of UK adults have used the internet (including 2% who rarely use the internet), and 16% have never used the internet.
As we believe the barriers to going online are largely the same for those who have never accessed the internet as those who access it rarely, we decided to combine these two groups in our definition of the offline audience, concluding that 82% are online, and 18% are offline. This also meant our estimate of those online was conservative, and we didn’t assume more people used the internet than actually did. Furthermore, as indicated in the groupings, not all of the people who are online will be confident internet users.
It’s important to also remember each government service is likely to have a slightly different audience depending on the service it offers. This research gives an overview of the whole population and will be used alongside user data for individual services.
So what has it told us?
Important findings from the research include:
- approximately half (54%) of UK adults have used online government services or information in the last 12 months
- a further 28% of UK adults are online but choose to find government information, and/or complete government transactions, through other channels
- drivers for using online government services included saving time, having sites that are clear and easy to use, enabling services to be done out of office hours, and it being less hassle than dealing with someone over the phone