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Beyond beta: DHS website revamp first project to meet Digital Service Standard

A revamped Department of Human Services website is the first federal digital transformation project to move beyond beta testing and be assessed as ready to “go live” against the government’s Digital Service Standard.

It might not be the most exciting project but the site is one of the Commonwealth’s most important passive information channels for service delivery. It gets a lot of traffic from citizens seeking information about Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support — several times the number of people who follow all of its social media accounts combined, The Mandarin is informed — so it is certainly worthwhile to try and satisfy as many of them as possible before they give up and try the call centre or, heaven forbid, roll up to a shopfront.

And there was plenty of room for improvement in how the site looks and functions, including on mobile devices, as well as in the clarity of the content itself.

Working with the Plain English Foundation and with input from the Digital Transformation Agency, the DHS staff and contractors working on the project have simplified the language that explains over 90 different payments and services.

“Over 138,000 words have been reviewed and revised to meet plain English standards,” according to a statement from the Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge. The search box works better now, and it is now supposedly quicker and easier to navigate around the pages and find what you’re looking for.

Now that it’s up online, the website reform project is moving onto more advanced improvements later this year. “This is just the beginning of our site’s improvements with further content and usability enhancements to be applied over the next year,” Tudge said on Monday.

The new-look site replaced the old humanservices.gov.au in late August, after a process that included several phases of testing, first with web experts and then with increasingly large groups of users, starting in January. Public beta testing began in late June, and the trial site received more than 1800 pieces of feedback from about 57,000 users.

Before the beta went public, the minister said, it had already received input from “web, content and service design specialists as well as more than 2,500 community members, staff and third parties from a broad spectrum of social and cultural backgrounds” along the way.

Running a private beta is a good way to get input from a smaller group of selected users, who provide different perspectives to the mass feedback from a public beta, which can only be handled in aggregate.

Ubiquitous DHS spokesperson Hank Jongen told The Mandarin: “The department designed and delivered the website changes in line with the DTA service design and delivery process, including DHS-led assessments at the alpha, beta and live stages. This included both private and public beta releases.

“Following successful DHS-led assessments against the alpha and beta stages of the Digital Service Standard, the new site design moved to live release.”

The DTA publishes service standard assessment reports but did not have any regarding the DHS-led website reform project on its list at the time of writing and Human Services had not published them either.

“The alpha and beta reports have been provided to the DTA for publishing, and the live assessment is undergoing internal clearances before it is submitted to the DTA,” said Jongen.

[Update: the alpha and beta reports have been published on the DTA website.]

The service standard assessment process is apparently quite flexible — myGov improvements, for example, have clearly gone “live” to the site but the project has only passed an “alpha” assessment, according to the DTA’s list of reports.

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.