Supporting the Electoral Commission to make political financial regulatory guidance clearer, simpler and easier to use.
Client: The Electoral Commission
Type of project: Knowledge Framework, User Experience, Clear Communication
Region: UK and Europe
Have you heard of the Electoral Commission? Not everyone has, but if you’ve ever voted in the UK you will have experienced part of what they do.
The Electoral Commission an independent body, set up in 2001 by the British Parliament. Their remit is vast – spanning everything from the standards on how elections are run right through to regulating party and election finance.
One of The Electoral Commission’s responsibilities is to regulate donations and loans for the UK’s political parties. The Electoral Commission needed to communicate guidance to all parties. So alongside all the main parties there were hundreds of other, smaller, parties who need to comply with the same regulation but didn’t have dedicated, in-house compliance teams.
The Electoral Commission asked us to work with them to improve the service experience and communication of their guidance – and in doing so make it a more user-friendly tool for parties.
What needed to change
A need for review: The guidance hadn’t been reviewed for several years – but it had been added to almost constantly. This meant that structures were difficult to understand, wording was often dense and confusing and examples (originally designed to clarify) were now confusing.
Impenetrable guidance: The volume of legislation made finding the right guidance difficult. In addition, the structure of the existing guidance was complicated and hard to follow, especially for new party officers and volunteers.
The complexity of the subject – and the desire to set out detailed, specific guidance rather than general guidance in principle – has led to guidance becoming hard to navigate and focused on nailing down every possible legislative loophole rather than create a low-effort, useful experience for users.
One size fits all: Guidance had been treated with a one-size-fits-all approach. This has meant that users at a range of levels of understanding had been treated alike.
Local accounting unit treasurers from smaller parties were trying to understand and use the same information as the national treasurers of major parties. This made accessing information at the right level very difficult, which in turn increased queries passed to the Electoral Commission’s teams.
A complex and varied audience: The existing guidance was also heavily copy-based. There was little in terms of navigational support, clear structures or wayfinding to help users find what they needed.
What we did
We love projects like this. Taking disparate, complex information and restructuring, rewriting and redesigning it to be clear, simple and accessible.
User need analysis and research
Initially, we worked closely with internal teams – conducting users research to understand how they used guidance, exploring where the key pain points were and looking at how the information was used. We needed to understand the types of users, their knowledge and the types of information they might need.
Target users were different in several important ways:
- some were volunteers, others full-time party staff
- some were new to post, others had been in post for years
- some had extensive internal party support, others worked almost alone
- some were part of major national parties, others were key figures in much smaller parties
Each group of users had a different problem with the guidance. Some users perceived guidance as being too complex and based on over-specific examples.
This was particularly the case where volunteers in smaller parties felt it was hard to find the information they needed quickly.
A complete restructure or topics and areas
The user research allowed us to create a clearer idea of the different users, their levels of need/understanding and options for how to restructure the information. We distilled it down to the relevant facts and began developing a taxonomy that would allow users to understand quickly.
We then developed an overarching information framework, showing different user types and levels. This allowed us to completely restructure guidance to fit each user type.
Accessing information at different levels
Developing a new architecture and matrix for the guidance – with user tiers that allowed the guidance to be accessed at different levels in different ways.
Each topic was broken down into a structure that allowed users to access the highlights, or delve into deeper detail when they needed to. We were able to create simplified and specific overview documents to help users understand the general principles behind regulation before moving on to more detailed guidance.
At the same time, we realised that the guidance – as it stood – could be simpler to navigate. So we worked on a series of design cues and navigational toolkits that improved finding the right information at the right time.
A more human tone and language
Every technical organisation suffers from expert syndrome – where the people inside the business know their subject so well they can sometimes forget we’re not all experts in their field. The guidance reflected this – often full of jargon and complex language.
We started to change the tone based on the type of guidance and the type of user who accessed it. Broader areas or topics were developed with a simpler tone and language. More in-depth information (mostly accessed by the larger parties) contained greater detail.
Redesigned and rewritten guidance
We then designed a series of document exemplars. This meant that Electoral Commission staff could produce their own documents as guidance changed and evolved.
We also rewrote their entire suites of guidance as it stood. This meant breaking each areas into a series of documents and building a new set of guidance that was easier for users to access and use.
Tools and training for guidance teams
Finally, we developed a range of tools and training to support in the transfer of the guidance back to teams. This included support on structuring information, best practice for usability and support on the revised tone.
- The Electoral Commission needed to completely overhaul their guidance on donations and loans for political parties.
- From user research we completely change the way the guidance was structured, designed, written and accessed.
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