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Digital by default: it’s part of the Blueprint’s vision for how we deliver services to customers. It’s also become a bit of a mantra for how we do things — or really, how we want to do things — in the Digital Transformation team.

So how are we going with that?

When first we published the Blueprint (PDF, 5.8MB) in May 2014, it was a PDF on the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) website. It had been developed for print and was over 60 pages long. But it wasn’t accessible.

The audience for the Blueprint is the government sector — so at least we weren’t preventing the public from accessing a service that they need — but we weren’t really leading the way with digital or ‘walking the talk’. And there are people working in the public sector with accessibility needs too. So how could they find out about Digital Transformation for their work?

It’s understandable how this stuff happens. We focussed our efforts on producing a great document, designed for the visual experience of the printed page. It went to Cabinet, but we didn’t have the expertise in our team to get this up in accessible HTML in a timely way. And it was important that the Blueprint was timely: we didn’t want to delay sharing our direction and we wanted to be transparent.

It’s understandable, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK — it’s not. As leaders in Digital Transformation, accessibility is a core consideration for us. One of the actions in the Blueprint is around assisted digital — helping customers transact digitally and providing alternatives for those who can’t. This includes supporting users with accessibility needs and making sure everyone has access to information, including those who can’t do this digitally. We take this seriously and have written about assisted digital in other blog posts. We need to learn from this and we want to do things better. So what have we done since?

Options for converting the Blueprint into HTML

We were already starting to build a bit of an information hub about Digital Transformation on the website as we knew agencies wanted to know about what we were doing. We asked around and found there were several ways to approach an accessible version of the Blueprint.

  1. Outsourcing the conversion into HTML to an external company.
  2. Copying and pasting all 60+ pages into the Content Management System (CMS). We explored this option, but given the original content wasn’t marked up in a way that was easy to convert, this was going to take considerable time.
  3. Creating the content as standalone HTML pages based on the look and feel of the original print document. This wasn’t ideal as it meant the content would not look like the website. It meant an inconsistent experience for users if they clicked on these pages. But it also appeared to be a quicker option, and likely cheaper.

Given the Blueprint was becoming more of a historical document by the minute, and the fact that we’re currently working on the next version — the Blueprint refresh — we chose option 3. We didn’t have the right skill set in our Digital Transformation team for programming and development, so luckily we were able to get some help from one of the interns from the Technical Service Solutions area of DIA.

We got support from the Digital Engagement team at DIA to spot check what we were doing for compliance with the Web Accessibility Standard along the way, and we produced the HTML pages. But when we came to do a full quality assurance check, we found that we needed more work to fully comply with the Standard. We wanted our content to be compliant. As Digital Transformation, and part of DIA, we support the Web Standards and getting this stuff right is critical.

So…where did this leave us?

Like any print document, the Blueprint content continued to date as the clock ticked on (e.g. the alignment with the ICT Strategy and Action Plan, changes to our 10 Actions). We started thinking that a better approach might be to change tack, and put only the relevant content sections directly into the CMS — reducing the content and creating a more consistent user experience.

Lessons learned

Our biggest lesson from this exercise has been about creating content with a view of how it will live in digital channels from the outset. We don’t want to be in the position again where we’re converting print documents to broadcast our information online. We need to think differently as a team about how we work, how we create material and the best way of sharing it. The ways we’ve been working don’t support delivering accessible content.

The Digital Engagement team has been doing some great work on building capability around the Web Standards. They held series of workshops from November 2014 to February 2015 about the Web Standards Self-Assessments that agencies had to complete. These were hands-on sessions where people could get answers to questions about the Web Standards and Self-Assessments.

The team is planning to hold similar sessions — web clinics — on an ongoing basis where agency web practitioners, but also web design and development firms, can bring Web Standards questions, technical or otherwise, to the table for help and discussion.

Our mission with the refreshed Blueprint is to work differently. We’re connecting with the Digital Engagement team early to share ideas on how the Blueprint could be published online and the context it would sit within. We're also interviewing some of our users across government about how they want to use the Blueprint in future.

We’d appreciate your thoughts on our journey. Do you think we should be putting some sections of the current Blueprint up on in HTML in the short-term? Or are we better to re-direct our energy into the refreshed Blueprint, and do it right the first time, digital by default?

What are your experiences in putting up content that meets the Web Standards and is accessible? How are you tackling the conversion of historic documents from print and PDF into HTML? What are your challenges and what have you learned along the way? How can we do digital by default better?

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