What to expect during a Digital First Service Standard assessment and how your content can help you meet the criteria.
What it is
The Digital First Service Standard is a digital assurance framework that makes sure products and services are being designed in the right way.
Content is assessed as part of this process.
If you’re a content designer working with a delivery team responsible for a digital product or service, it’s important to know what’s expected during each phase of your project and how you’ll be assessed.
This includes, how you’ll:
- learn what problems your users face when using your content
- make your information accessible and based on user needs
- test your content and make improvements
If your team is going through a Digital First Service Standard assessment, you’ll be expected to show your content processes and outputs through the discovery, alpha and beta phases of your project.
Why it’s important
Digital First Service Standard is designed to make sure government products and services provide the best possible user experiences and are secure to use.
The assessment checks that:
- decisions are being made that put users first
- technical choices are made in the right way
- you have the right people and processes in place to manage the service or product when it goes live
You’ll be tested on 22 criteria, a number of which are relevant to your content.
While you may not be solely responsible for these, it’s important to understand what they mean for your work and how you’ll collaborate with the wider team to help meet the standard.
You should be able to show how the planning and delivery of content helps demonstrate the following criteria.
Is your content plan based on user needs?
Usable and accessible
Are you making the experience as simple as possible for users?
What supporting content is needed to help users access your service?
Consistent user experience
What style guide and patterns are you using?
What do you want to learn about content that will be tested through usability?
How are you using data to make decisions about content?
Cross functional team
Is there a content designer working on the team?
Will a content designer manage the content when live?
How will you measure and make improvements to your content?
Do you know who is responsible for owning your content?
Does your content need to link to other content?
How are you publishing your content?
How to do it
Your team lead will work with the assessment panel to understand what’s in scope to be tested, and the timings and format of the assessment. These ‘terms of reference’ will be written down and agreed.
Once this is agreed, the delivery team and panel should have a meeting to talk about roles and responsibilities, agree the best way for you to share your work before the assessment and how your presentation should be structured.
It’s important a content designer is involved in this process if information supports your service or product. For example a service where content will help someone understand if they can get money from government, or content to help someone use a corporate system.
You should find out who is responsible for assessing content so you can work with them directly to understand their expectations and show them how you work.
What you’ll be expected to show the panel will depend on what you’re delivering and which phase of the project is being assessed.
The discovery phase is about collecting evidence to make good content design decisions. You should be trying to understand what your users are doing, their current user experience and any issues they have.
- observing user research
- reviewing existing research
- working with a service designer to understand the user journey
- analysing data and feedback
- reviewing language and readability
By the end of the discovery phase you should have delivered content recommendations and a high-level plan, which show an understanding of what the content will cover and the problems it should address.
An example might be that you have evidence to suggest users struggle with complex eligibility requirements. This means providing the information in other formats is going to be important, so your content plan might recommend a focus on creating good guidance for call handlers or staff providing face to face advice.
At this stage you need a good understanding of who you need to work with to develop content, so developing a stakeholder map is very important.
Your recommendations will also include the standards and principles you are aiming to meet and how you’ll do it. This should be shared and agreed with the delivery team before going into alpha.
Generally you won’t be expected to show any content unless you think it’s necessary for the discovery phase. For example, if you are working with policy teams on the design of a service, you might want to test the accessibility of certain language (see readability guidance).
This is where you can design and test solutions, using the insights you gained in discovery. A content designer should be fully involved in defining the sprint goals for alpha and delivering alongside the wider team.
- delivering content to support prototypes
- developing detailed content plans with stakeholders
- defining usability tests and learning if users understand your content
At the end of the alpha phase, you should be able to explain why you have designed your content in a certain way and describe any limitations to the user experience. For example, if the service you’re delivering includes complex legal terms, you should show how you’re helping users to understand this content.
You will have a detailed content plan to be ready to move into the beta phase.
This phase is where a service or product is built and can be tested with real users.
From a content perspective, you should be confident that users will be able to get to and understand the information they need - and you’ll be able to describe how you’ll measure content performance.
You need to be able to show that you meet the content standards and style guidelines you set out in the discovery phase and that there is a team to manage and improve the content when you go live.
Preparing for your assessment
When you meet with the content assessor, you might be asked to show the following:
This will show how you will plan, deliver and manage content in a consistent way, aligned to project objectives.
A content plan covering all types of content you will be producing and the channels it will be available on. You should be able to describe what is in scope for the next phase of delivery.
Editorial style guidance
The guidelines you are following to make sure the experience is consistent for users. If you are using something different to existing guidelines, it will be helpful to describe what evidence helped make this decision.
Any additional standards you are using to meet best practice (for example WCAG for accessibility).
Provide an example of a user need that has translated into content design choices and the evidence that supports this.
Show that content is produced in line with the design of the end-to-end service.
Plan for usability testing of content
How and what you will test to see if users can understand your content.
Resource plan for content design
A plan showing what content design resource is needed, based on the needs of the project or live service, to make sure the next phases have adequate support and the live service is sustainable.
Digital First Service Standard and assessment guidance
Speaking with a content designer who has been through an assessment could help you prepare. Contact OCIO assurance if you would like to do this.