December 2015 was the wettest month ever recorded in the UK. More than 17,000 homes were flooded in England alone.
Around Christmas we were contacted by colleagues at the Environment Agency (EA). They were concerned that users weren’t able to navigate mainstream flooding content on GOV.UK.
At the time, the mainstream guide ‘Prepare for a flood and get help during and after’ addressed several user needs. It seemed that users were struggling to find the content they needed when they needed it. For example, searching for ‘get help after a flood’ returned a guide called ‘Prepare for a flood’. We decided that we needed to consider splitting the content into separate guides.
But it was Christmas Eve and heavy rain was forecast. We didn’t have time to do a complete revision of the content before imminent flooding. So we made a few quick fixes and planned to return to the content in the spring for a proper improvement project.
Linking up with EA’s flooding services
EA had plans to improve all its flooding services throughout 2016, so we timed the work to coincide with the launch in the spring. That meant that from the beginning we were very engaged with what EA was doing on its services and we could structure the mainstream content as part of an end-to-end user journey.
EA was doing user research into its improved Flood Information Service, so we did some research on mainstream content at the same time. Some of the feedback from users supported our belief that content that isn’t clearly defined for a specific user leads to a bad experience for everyone. For example, one user said ‘Prepare – that’s what we should have done last week’. We also found that users are very keen on information that’s tailored to their location and need very clear signposting to current flood warnings.
Revisiting user needs
We also held a user needs workshop at GDS, which was attended by members of the EA content team, content designers working on EA services and a content designer from the Department for Communities and Local Government. We drafted new user needs together in the workshop and used them to come up with a content plan.
The new content
In July 2016 we spent 3 days in Bristol working on the mainstream content with EA’s content team.
We split the ‘Prepare for a flood and get help during and after’ guide into 3 new pieces of content:
We consolidated the content about checking flood risk into a single answer – Find out if you’re at risk of flooding – and made it clear whether we were describing immediate risk or long-term risk of flooding. Based on our understanding of users’ need to report a flood (or rather lack of it), we improved the structure of the ‘Report a flood or a cause of flooding’ page.
We published the revised content at the beginning of September 2016.
User research follow-up and further iterations
When we tested the new content, we found that breaking up the guide made it easier for users to get to the information they needed. Users found EA’s redesigned services helpful. One user said ‘It’s brilliant!’, referring to the 5-day forecast service.
However, we also found a couple of areas where we need to make further improvements. User journeys between GOV.UK and local council content aren’t working very well. We’ve identified ways to make the journeys smoother and will be sharing these with local councils.
Users also didn’t understand what ‘long-term flood risk’ means. Often users thought it referred to long-term weather forecasts, but the service actually identifies areas that are prone to flooding. We need to look again at the way the long-term service is referred to and make sure we use terminology users understand.