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Collaborating on Brexit content

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Collaboration culture, Content design, Continuous iteration,
Full English breakfast
Image by Christine Rondeau, used with Creative Commons License 2.0

Whether you're enjoying a slice of Banoffee pie, planning your next staycation, or just stroking your labradoodle, who doesn't love a portmanteau (combining the sounds of two separate words to make a new one)?

2016 was dominated by one in particular. No, not Brangelina, that’s over, move on, we’re talking about Brexit and what it all means.

Step forward the Commons Library

In the build up to the EU referendum there was a lot of noise on both sides of the debate – see bendy bananas – with people calling for less opinion and more facts.

To fill this void, the House of Commons Library created a page on filled with impartial information.

After the referendum, users wanted to know what happens next? How will it affect them? More importantly, how would it affect their bananas?

To meet these needs, the Library added content to their page. With information on an upcoming referendum and also analysis on what the referendum result meant, the page was confused. It lacked identity.

Let’s collaborate

This is where the content team came in. Grace Rowley in the Commons Library asked one of us to review the page. Meanwhile, one desk away, another member of the team was in discussions with the Committees teams about their Brexit content.

An opportunity to collaborate landed in our laps. Why have two separate pages covering the same topic? We got everyone together in a room and asked them:

  • what's the purpose of your content?
  • who's your audience?
  • what are their needs?

The need was simple: to find out how Brexit will affect life in the UK.

A single focus

We decided the best way to meet user needs was a page with all of Parliament’s information on Brexit. Essentially a topic page.

Unfortunately a data-driven topic page is not technically possible on our current site so we needed to focus on what this page could provide.

The Libraries and Committees create expert analysis and research so this is what we could offer our users.

Breakfast … I mean Brexit

Getting your words right makes all the difference.

The language on the library's page was best described as ‘expert’ and we’re all about plain language in the content team.

We discussed if their users know the difference between a library briefing, a debate pack and a committee report. Or, dare we say it, if they even care.

We stripped it back. We used words users were searching for on our website and search engines rather than the words we use in Parliament.

Plain language is more than just using fewer, simpler words. It’s about making content accessible.

Using an active voice is a big part of that. Newspapers use this all the time and know that ‘Women are (allegedly) grabbed by Donald Trump’, isn’t half as effective as ‘Donald Trump (allegedly) grabs women’.

Changing the language dramatically reduced the length of the page. The next challenge was now how to structure the content.

Breaking up is hard to do

The old page showed how Brexit would affect the UK in 11 different policy areas all on one page. This meant if someone wanted to know how Brexit would affect education they'd have to scroll down the page. And scroll. And scroll.

We split the page up, creating a landing page with sub-pages on policy areas like ‘Immigration’ and 'Transport'.

The first version of these Brexit pages went live last month and we'll be tracking how they perform over the coming months.

More to come

This project has been a good start but it’s still only tackled research and analysis.

We need to think bigger. Brexit isn’t going away and Parliament – as the Supreme Court decided – will have a say on the next steps.

We want to create that topic page for Brexit, a one stop shop for everything Parliament has done on your favourite portmanteau.

We just need a little help from our friendly colleagues in the Digital Service. So watch this space.

Take a look at our Brexit section and let us know what you think. 

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