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Designing for open governance

Camellia Williams|

Last year, the Open Government Partnership asked vizzuality – a design and technology company – to help them learn more about who was using their website and if those people (possibly you!) were getting what they wanted from it. If not, they wanted us to make some improvements to the website and we’re excited that the time to show our new designs is almost here!

People that have worked with us before know how much we love user research. We love it because no matter how much of it we do, we always discover something surprising. For example, we asked four people that use the OGP website to show us where the OGP Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) can be found. Amazingly, each person took a different route toward the SOPs and they all ended up on a different page! It turned out that there were different versions of the document uploaded to different pages, causing confusion and dissatisfaction. What should have been a straightforward task wasn’t and it indicated a clear need to reorganise the website’s structure and make it easier for both the users and the team who upload content.

Filtering out ‘noise’ like duplicated documents is essential if you want to help people find the information they need. People want to spend as little time as possible searching for what they need, so if there’s too much to wade through, useful insights will be obscured and people might give up before they find them. The solution to this is to be really selective about what you put online and present it beautifully. When information is well presented, it leaves a more pleasing impression and is easier to recall.

When we bring together user observations and design principles like these, we can tailor the design of a website to achieve greater impact: more people involved, implementing more actions, so the world is governed in a more transparent way. So in the example I just described, our solution was to redefine the menu options and focus the content on great stories, the commitments each country has made, and simple how-to guides. With a clear content strategy mapped out, it was easier to reduce and rename the menu options and make it clear to people where they could find the information they were after.

Before and after screen shots: The menu has been stripped down to make it simple, clearer and more intuitive.

And how did we know that this was the information you wanted? We asked people like you! Our conversations with people told us you wanted guidance materials, a little inspiration, and details about what other countries are doing. Because let’s face it, we’re all a little bit competitive aren’t we? Since you wanted to know what other countries were up to, we looked to see how people were exploring that information and discovered that by far, the most popular way to do it was with the map. We saw this as the perfect opportunity to add in additional layers of detail so it’s easier to find information that might be interesting, rather than having to scavenge the site page-by-page.

Within the map it’s possible to find out who’s participating in open governance, see what commitments have been made, and view upcoming events.


A round of user testing at the OGP summit in December 2016 confirmed most of our conclusions about what people wanted to see. Of course, there were a few final tweaks to be made, there always is. In this case, we discovered that a placeholder photo we’d used of a building on the homepage didn’t reflect what people felt the OGP represented. They wanted something that showed the OGP is all about people working together. So, with that in mind, our designers set about finding photos with people in them instead. You’ll be able to see and explore the final design for yourself when the redesigned OGP website is launched sometime in the second half of March 2017.

During testing at the OGP Summit in Paris, we discovered that the photo of a building did not reflect how people feel about OGP.

Never before has it been more important to promote open governments and this is our modest contribution to the incredible efforts of everyone working with OGP.  We hope you like it and that it helps you convince other people to get involved. If you’d like to learn more about our methods, our team has written some great blogs about user research, testing, and how it all helps create something that compels people into action.  Together we can secure commitments from governments to be more open!


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