GOV.UK Verify is the new way to prove who you are online. Currently in public beta, so far almost 290,000 people have used it to verify their identity. Week on week user numbers increase by their thousands as more services join.
When a digital service is growing and expanding at pace, keeping comms messaging clear and consistent can be a challenge.
As you'd expect, more users and a general growth in awareness can lead to an increase in digital engagement. The thing is, regardless of how many more users we have, they all need to understand GOV.UK Verify and be reassured that it’s straightforward, secure and effective.
Same message, different channel?
We’ve blogged about how GDS aims to be as open as possible. As digital communicators we have some great channels at our disposal. With the way the digital world is connected, we can't send out one message publicly on Twitter and a different one privately through user support channels. Nor would we want to. It makes sense that our messages across all channels work together to benefit our users’ understanding.
Recently we decided to devise a new process to handle a growing amount of contact from GOV.UK Verify’s users. We wanted a way to ensure that no matter through what channel users come to us - whether they send a request through our Zendesk ticketing system, mention us on social media, write to us via their MP or email our press office - we can offer prompt and accurate responses to users’ questions.
What we did
The first step towards standardising our content started with understanding the various needs of users and how the different teams working on GOV.UK Verify work to meet them.
- Users need rapid and accurate answers to their questions about the service
- The user support team needs to send replies tailored to specific circumstances described by a user
- The policy and engagement team needs to share useful, timely information and updates about the service with stakeholders in departments and certified companies
- The digital engagement team needs Q&A-style responses for social media commentators, lines to maximise understanding of GOV.UK Verify in the press, and content for events and presentations
We looked at the information assets that those teams had been using, all of which had been developed over time to meet this range of needs. These included various Google documents (both shared and private), notes on personal computers, in macros and even historical emails. The combined documents gave us a massive 150 pages of questions from users, technical support answers, and lines that we’d published in reports or given to journalists in the months GOV.UK Verify has been in public beta.
All these different resources had served a purpose when first created. However, we all agreed that having a single place to find the facts about GOV.UK Verify would significantly reduce the risk of duplicating work or communicating out-of-date information. Also, rather than holding interesting messages captive in different places, we wanted to release them and make them accessible for use across many channels.
Consolidating the relevant information
Often the best way to find a solution is to get the right people in a room and let them talk it through. I armed the Head of Policy, User Support Manager and Head of Operations with scissors, sticky tape and marker pens and we spent 2 hours examining all 150 pages of existing messages.
The editing process wasn’t easy. It involved sorting the content by theme, highlighting where there was crossover, agreeing new content where there were discrepancies, and ruthlessly cutting repeated or out-of-date answers altogether. We also thought about what we wanted to say about GOV.UK Verify, and the kind of language we should be using across all communications channels. Eventually, with everyone’s input, the outline of our new single ‘source of truth’ began to take shape.
This session enabled me to get to work creating a new document, bringing together the messages, and unifying our responses across a range of subjects relating to GOV.UK Verify and the Identity Assurance Programme. The end product was a sleek creature - 110 pages shorter than its source material.
I decided that the first iteration of the new slimline ‘source of truth’ should live in a Google doc. Familiar to everyone on the team, searchable, and with permissions that are easy to control. In time, we may find a more sophisticated home for it.
While the digital engagement team responds to tens of enquiries every week, the user support team replies to hundreds. We therefore had to organise the document with user support priorities in mind. That’s why, if you scroll down the contents page, you’ll find our lines on how GOV.UK Verify works for users well before finding details of the mandate for the Identity Assurance Programme.You can [take a look at the September 2015 iteration of the document to see what I mean] (PDF, 1.2MB, 44 pages). Much of the information in the document is already published on our blog or through our Twitter account - this aims to bring it all together into one place so we can all find the most up to date information for users really straightforwardly and quickly.
As well as top-loading the document with answers to the most common queries, the standard responses have all been re-written as if responding to a direct question from a user. This is to ensure the support team can reuse them with ease.
Iteration and collaboration
Our new single document has been in use for a couple of months now, and we've completely retired the old documents that fed into it. It’s an organic document that will be updated when lines change and expand as new common questions arise. Maintaining it will always be a collaborative task.
We have a change list at end of the document so team members can see what was updated, when and by whom. There’s a small list of people with editorial rights over the document and a clear process in place for proposing changes. Requests for amendments are submitted as suggestions on the Google doc. Once a week colleagues from policy, communications and support meet to approve/reject those changes and update the lines in light of any new developments or delivery milestones.
Meeting regularly will keep the collected lines current and focussed. As a result, our engagement with our ever-growing group of users (whatever the channel) should continue to be consistent, reflective of GOV.UK Verify’s priorities as it moves towards live, and responsive to their needs.
You can read more about the work of the GOV.UK Verify team over on the Identity Assurance blog.