New data analysis product could help agencies design better services

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday October 31, 2019

Graphic visualisation of two weeks of user traffic across 38 .gov.au websites from May 2019. Via DTA.

The Digital Transformation Agency has launched a new product to help public sector agencies understand how people use various different government websites to access services.

The gov.au Observatory takes data from Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and the whole-of-government web crawl to quantify and visualise the government’s websites, to show how users move through online services.

The Observatory promises to identify “potential and actual problems people experience when using government services online” and draws on international expertise such as the U.K.’s Government Digital Service and the United States government’s 18F and. “This could include where people get lost, stuck, or look for extra information in unexpected places,” the DTA explains.

“We apply advanced analysis techniques to anonymous interaction data to understand where people might encounter these problems. We work with service delivery teams to understand how they measure and understand service interactions, and how they can fix any problems.”

The acting product manager of the Observatory, Patrick Drake-Brockman, says Australia’s many government websites could inhibit public sector leaders’ understanding of the complex interactions that occur between their services and other government services, as well as the community’s needs.

“The gov.au digital domain — the websites and services run by government agencies — is an intangible and multi-faceted environment,” he wrote on the DTA website.

“Although agencies create paths for users with structured websites and services, users move through these services using their own pathways. Search engines and external links let users move through sites looking for the outcomes and information they need.”

Several years ago, under previous leadership, the agency pushed for a single Australian government website inspired by gov.uk but the idea was shelved after opposition from senior public servants. The logic at the time was that dealing with the federal government was too complex for members of the public because there were too many separate sites; the DTA’s Observatory aims to help public servants visualise that complexity.


READ MORE: Single sites like gov.au are old hat, says NSW CIDO Damon Rees


While the government has previously developed online services with a “supply-driven mindset”, agencies now need to use a “demand-driven” mindset, to match the expectations of the public. The Observatory can help agencies shift to this mindset, according to Drake-Brockman.

“Users are right to expect products built around their needs and are used to demand-driven services like rideshare and food delivery apps. For the government to meet expectations of demand-driven products and services, we need to know what users want and how they will use it, in a way that preserves their privacy,” he said.

A section of Observatory data to show the level of detail the service deals with. Select to view a a larger version. Via DTA.

Drake-Brockman argues that modern data science methods can identify where users experience problems with government services — such as where people get lost or need more information — which can be used to compare service design with service use. 

“By taking a holistic view of government as a single-service provider, the Observatory maps where users are going — or not going — to meet their needs. We want to meet users where they are, as their interactions with government are not one-off events, they’re part of life. If we measure how well our services perform, we can make them better, and make our users’ lives better.”

The Observatory currently has 30 partner agencies covering 1.167 billion monthly interactions and 14 billion in the past 12 months. Agencies interested in the initiative can get involved via the DTA website.

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