Guardian – New DCLG website Not User Friendly and Buries Housing Statistics
In November, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) moved its website over to the new government wide site gov.uk. Not something it had any choice over, although the department was obviously keen to impress by being the first to make the change. Unfortunately the haste may have been the reason why the end product is less friendly for users when it comes to the department’s housing statistics than it might have been. If improvement of accessibility and transparency were the criteria for the new website then, at the very least an opportunity seems to have been lost.
While the data sets are all still there, this is not immediately apparent and still less so is how the user can dig them out. Navigation tends to be hierarchical, giving the user a better search tool but more options for taking the wrong route. The result is a labyrinth which the expert or frequent user will learn to navigate but which will either deter casual users, or lead them to the least useful statistics.
The navigation problems start at the outset. On the old website the “statistics” link appeared clearly on the homepage. On the new site, it is found at the very bottom of a very long page. The user has to scroll down past a large amount of departmental promotional material, including a gallery of ministerial photographs, to find it tucked away at the very end. It’s easy to miss.
You then arrive at a page where a number of routes are presented. There is a list of “statistical series” – or topics to most people. The housing ones have been combined with all the other departmental statistics making it harder to visually scan.
When you select something that looks relevant, the site opens a list of “publications” and at the bottom of this is a link which leads to a list of the live tables. These tables usually present a time series and relate to lower geographies although these attributes are often not revealed in the title. This means you may have to open a number of tables just to determine their scope.
The publications on the site are generally “statistical releases”, covering recent quarterly or annual statistics – usually although not always accompanied by explanation and commentary.
Alternatively you could try using one of the statistics search options. This distinction is not useful unless the user already knows whether the required statistics are national or not, otherwise it just provides another opportunity for plunging down the wrong route. The search filters are helpful if the user selects housing for “topic”, statistics for “publication” and DCLG for “department”. This takes you to a full list of publications, each of which has a link to the associated “statistical series” which in turn provides a link to the relevant “live tables”.
Particularly unhelpful is the removal of the direct links to live tables and local level statistics from the homepage; for most external users of DCLG housing statistics these are the most useful outputs. Also of note is the way signposts to other possible sources of government statistics on housing have disappeared altogether along with links to the UK Statistics Authority code of practice, the Statistics and Registration Service Act and the Freedom of Information Act.
The new website is convoluted but with enough time and knowledge of what should be there users can eventually find statistics, but is this really in the spirit of making access as straightforward as possible as called for by the UK Statistics Authority Protocol which has, after all, now been in place for four years. The new, non-expert or casual user is likely to struggle even more.
While the department’s current struggle to cope with drastic cuts in resources for statistics is clearly a factor, there is something wrong with priorities that result in access being reduced.
Mick Johnston is director of MSJ Consultancy