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Parliament Live - shaping a streaming service to meet tomorrow's challenges

Thomas is a product manager in the User Centered Design team in PDS and explains why a successful service needs to change.

What is Parliament Live and how popular is it? 

Parliament Live is UK Parliament’s live video and video on demand (VoD) streaming service. It offers live coverage of the Commons and Lords Chambers as well as committee meetings in both Houses 

Started in 2003, the service has grown in popularity and now attracts huge numbers of visitors. During the emergency debate on Brexit on September 2019, 166,000 people watched online. Parliament Live is currently the third most popular UK parliament website after and and this year attracted a total of 2.2 million users. 

So why change something that’s working well? 

The technologies that support are outsourced to managed service providers and the contract is now due for renewal. This presents an opportunity to improve the public facing website as well as the backend systems and data services. 

Initially the User Centered Design team at PDS were brought on board to:  

  • lift and shift the website because Parliament Live is moving to a new platform 
  • improve how it works with mobile devices 
  • meet the latest compliance standards for accessibility.

It’s important that we make Parliament Live compliant. In September 2018 legislation came into force that requires public sector websites and mobile apps meet accessibility regulations and comply with WCAG 2.1 standards (A and AA) from September 2020.  

We saw this as an opportunity to improve the website beyond the initial brief by taking a user centred approach. This means understanding what users need from the service and work out how to meet those needs. 

How did we know what to improve? 

We used quantitative and qualitative research and data; this helps us make evidence-based decisions when we decide to what improve. 

Rather than starting from scratch, we reviewed research commissioned by the Parliamentary Broadcast Unit (PBU) in 2016/17 to gather initial learnings 

As well as identifying audience segments, behaviours and motivations for using Parliament Live this research identified key problem areas for the website: 

  • Navigation and search were challenging 
  • The ability to embed and share videos was limited.

Our performance analyst also reviewed the website analytics and identified further issues for users: 

  • Home page and navigation were confusing 
  • Videos were difficult to find on the website and from search engines 
  • Features such as ‘download a video’ were hard to use
  • People did not understand what was clickable and what was not 

We used this research to see what to investigate further and focus our efforts.  

Finding out who uses the service 

Research commissioned by PBU in 2016 showed that most users are members of the public, visiting out of their own interest, rather than as part of their job. 

We’re aware that audiences can change over time, so to make sure the information we use is up to date we ran a poll on Parliament Live to validate this insight.

We collected over 1,000 responses and the results confirmed the earlier findings:

We used analytics to find out where people are coming from: 

  • United Kingdom (56.13%) 
  • Germany (8.00%)
  • United States (7.20%)
  • Netherlands (3.24%)
  • Hong Kong (2.48%). 

Why do people use Parliament Live? 

Once we understood who uses the service we wanted to understand why. Our user researcher conducted interviews with our priority audiences - the public, journalists, public affairs officers and lobbyists - to find out. Some key themes emerged. Users wanted to: 

  • watch live debates 
  • watch without some of the lag they would experience on YouTube or the BBC 
  • know that the broadcasts were timely so they could stay up to date 
  • rely on a trusted source 
  • watch live debates from more chambers and rooms
  • know who is talking at any point and go directly to moments they are interested in
  • gain more insight than they might do by reading or watching the news or checking Hansard. 

As one user put it:

You can gauge the reaction from watching people, you can get a bit more emotion... sometimes it’s helpful to show... the debate rather than the text, brings it to life a bit more.

What needs to change? 

Our research reinforces key areas for improvement and focuses attention on specific tasks. These include: 

  • helping users find a video - changes to page structure, hierarchy and language
  • helping users watch live content - making sure live debates within the chambers are promoted on the page  
  • helping users find specific moments in a video 
  • providing context around a video - this might include who is speaking, relevant background information, or relevant documents
  • helping users watch on mobile devices - for both public and professional users 

Users told us they would like much closer integration in how things worked. This includes integrations of: 

  • the Order Paper, so they can find out what’s happening in advance 
  • of Committees, so they can access documents 
  • of Hansard, so they can derive the benefits of aligning video coverage of Parliament and the Official Report 

Users also told us that they find parliamentary language confusing, and that it was used inconsistently across UK Parliament’s digital offer. As Parliament Live is a data driven website, we need to make changes to the underlying data and API to improve this. 

How will we measure success? 

We will collect information about how the current website is performing so we have a baseline of how well the new site should perform and will look at: 

  • goal completions - can people do the things they want to do 
  • analytics - what features do people use and what is not used
  • SEO performance – how well the service ranks on search engines 

Biggest hurdle? 

If we’d had the opportunity to spend more time with our stakeholders earlier in the project, this would have helped all involved understand the size of the effort required to tackle some tasks, but they were all very busy. This would have made it easier to define the scope, timeline and minimum viable product (MVP) sooner. 

What’s happening next? 

We’re currently working on concepts and prototypes. This will give us a clear understanding of what needs to change and the proposed solution. We’ll then prepare our final requirements for the tender document so that outside suppliers can pitch for the work, and we’ll make sure we have a clear plan and set of priorities when the work starts. 

If you’d like to know more about the way we’re evolving Parliament Live, please email us

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