The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Helping Massachusetts Improve the State of the Web
Home to more than 6.8 million people, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the most populous state in New England.
Like everywhere in the U.S., those 6.8 million people rely on their state government to provide them with services and support, which includes providing the information they need to perform vital tasks required by law. Whether those tasks include renewing a driver’s license, applying for food assistance, or registering a new business, constituents need to be able to find relevant information efficiently. Mass.gov is the flagship website for the Commonwealth, and its main goal is to provide online support to its constituents.
- Migration to flexible, open-source platform
- Restructure of content for easy search
- User-centric design based on common tasks
The challenge facing the Commonwealth was two-fold, one part a challenge for the constituents of Massachusetts, and one part a technology problem for the government dedicated to serving those people. The Commonwealth’s website reflected its internal organizational structure instead of organizing content in a way that made sense to its users. The old site also was on an antiquated, proprietary content management system that had not been able to address changing needs over time and was about to be decommissioned.
Complex problems are best solved by having smart and talented people think and work passionately. It was a privilege for Palantir to be part of a team that included designers and strategists from another vendor, along with data scientists, content authors, and developers from the Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (EOTSS). This multi-party engagement saw many opinions and thoughts brought to light and explored, as the various groups coalesced into a single, functional team.
The team knew all of Mass.gov’s information needed to be pulled together into a constituent-focused model, so they took a data-driven approach that began with using proxy indicators (search being one of them) to determine what top tasks users were trying to complete online. This allowed Palantir to build a framework to serve content related to those tasks. By figuring out what people were trying to accomplish on the site (such as renewing a driver’s licence or reserving a campsite in a state park), the Mass.gov team would then be able to write helpful content about those items.
“We’ve redesigned Mass.gov for you, the people of the Commonwealth. We have one goal: to make it easy for you to find what you need.”
In a nutshell, the main goals were to:
- Identify high-value content
- Write related high-value content
- Structure that content in a way that was intuitive to constituents
The minimum viable product was a proof of concept focused on 10 of the most common tasks performed on Mass.gov.
A scalable framework was then built for any pages after those initial 10. By taking this approach, Palantir was able to help prove value in the tools chosen for this project quickly, which helped EOTSS validate that the tasks highlighted were useful to the constituents. It also validated that the process of entering content was scalable for Mass.gov’s editorial team.
After the first 10 pages, the team worked with the rest of Mass.gov’s content based on the concept that 20% of the site’s content addresses 80% of constituents needs. The team identified the top 20% of content by traffic (and deleted a large amount of unnecessary or redundant content), and then started optimizing the new Drupal 8 platform. Placing focus on constituents first throughout the entire build helped frame conversations and decisions for Palantir’s development team. From the way layouts were considered to feedback mechanisms, focusing outcomes on “what is best for the constituents” gave everyone on the team a common place from which to start any conversation.
Flexibility in Drupal 8
Undertaking a large overhaul of a public service is no easy feat.
From 2003 to 2012 alone, only 6.4% of federal IT projects with $10m in labor costs were successful; a whopping 93.7% failed.
In choosing Drupal as the framework for the new Mass.gov site, the Commonwealth was able to execute its vision with an extremely versatile tool. Unlike its previous CMS, building on Drupal meant the ability to pivot easily and adapt to changing needs. As more feedback was received from stakeholders and constituents during the first year of the engagement, the needs of the project changed a lot. Drupal also provided a stable platform of established tools, eliminating the need to build important features from scratch, thus helping to minimize costs in quickly getting to a working version of the site.
For Mass.gov, the big win is for the constituents of Massachusetts. Bay Staters now have a website designed specifically to help them accomplish their goals. The new Mass.gov site is an accessible, mobile-friendly, platform for the future that cuts down on the time users spend wandering through the site, trying to find what they need.