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HRA corporate website - Live service assessment

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The HRA website is a key resource for the organisation. Providing information, guidance, policies, consultations, calls for comment and resources. It is often the first point of contact that researchers have with the HRA and our services.

The functions and duties of the HRA are set out in the Care Act.

The HRA are creating a new website that meets the needs of users and is future-proof, to ensure they are responsive to emerging technologies and trends, that it can build on to limit the need for future large-scale redevelopments.

The current website has grown organically as the HRA has taken on new services and responsibilities. It is dense and complex to navigate, holding around 400 pages and over 1,000 documents. The user journeys are unclear and result in a large number of unnecessary contacts by users via phone and email.

It has duties to publish guidance and best practice in the management and conduct of health and social care research and guidance on the requirements researchers conducting health or social care research are subject to.

Department / Agency:
Health Research Agency (HRA)

Date of Assessment:
22 November 2017

Assessment Stage:

Result of Assessment:

Lead Assessor:

Service Manager:

Digital Leader:

Assessment Report

Outcome of service assessment

After careful consideration the panel have concluded that the HRA corporate website is ready to move to Live.

User Needs

Following the Beta Assessment, the HRA team conducted considerable amounts of guerilla user research which reassured the panel that the full range of user needs were being reflected and acted upon. There is also a plan in place to continue doing user research as part of continuous improvement, using the guerilla techniques as well as making connections with NICE and the GDS user research lab to make the process more cost efficient and therefore more feasible for the project’s budget.

In addition, the team also collated feedback on the website through an online feedback form highlighted in a banner on the website, the communications inbox and the general enquiries inbox. These links were pushed through social media, established networks and the external newsletter “HRA Latest.” This written feedback was used to supplement insight gleaned from structured interviews with the R&D team at Central Manchester NHS Foundation Trust and focus groups with individuals from local NHS trusts and the Central Manchester NHS FT staff

The panel were impressed with this level of commitment to user research and felt that the recommendations and conditions from Beta had been taken seriously.


Aside from transitioning from the site development agency to the hosting and maintenance supplier, the structure and composition of the team remained the same from Beta into Live. The panel feel that this helped maintain a consistency and ensured that Beta testing was completed to a high standard. The panel were particularly pleased to see the contract of the product delivery manager extended to ensure continuity of service as the site is embedded and to provide a longer window for skills transfer from the product delivery manager to the communications team who will be managing the service from March 2018.

In addition the hosting and maintenance supplier were selected, in part, due to them having the requisite skills in house needed for continuous improvement purposes. The HRA team also noted that communications professionals increasingly need digital skills, particularly agile delivery skills, and that colleagues in this team (who will be taking over the everyday running of the project from April 2018) had been recruited on the basis that they provided evidence of these. The panel feel confident that this, combined, with the programme of upskilling that has been put in place will ensure there is balanced mix of skills going forward.


The panel were pleased to hear that the handover from the developer to the hosting and maintenance supplier had gone smoothly and that there had been no difficulty in taking over the hosting and maintenance of the HRA site with no changes to the technology stack required. This is testament to the commitment of HRA and both the suppliers to using an open source and readily transferable code base, something which is exemplified by their use of GitHub to enable anyone to submit a pull request. The panel were also reassured by the governance structure that has been put in place to ensure there are continuing conversations between the project board and their new supplier. This means that there is a process in place for flagging when proposed developments to the site will require financing in order to procure more of development time. The panel suggest that the communications team who will be taking over the everyday running of the site in early 2018 are in frequent contact with the supplier so that there is ‘real-time’ awareness of the current backlog. Transparency of these conversations can be maintained by making use of the tools already in use such as Trello.

The hosting and maintenance supplier have also benefited from the foundations put in place by developer during Alpha and there are clear processes in place to handle unexpected downtime. There is also constant monitoring of the site through datadog and pingdom and there is a team within the new supplier dedicated to monitoring security threats who will carry out quarterly vulnerability checks. The database is backed up nightly and is hosted with a provider that have a very high level of availability, there are also systems in place to prevent against accidental deletion. All of this will ensure the robustness of the site and any changes are tested on a list of agreed devices.

Service Design

As requested at the Beta assessment a full accessibility audit has been completed and the team have worked to make all the changes required. It was encouraging to learn that most of the changes required were to the back end of the system as the developer built the site using a CMS which already has very high accessibility standards but that accessibility was still being looked at in the widest sense with the HRA team noting that they were using a user-needs approach to find a new location for the pop-out ‘Glossary’ as its current location had been highlighted as an accessibility issue.

The team have also made a considerable effort to ensure that they have tested the site with the full range of users, including those with lower levels of digital literacy but noted there was limited evidence of these individuals needing to use the site independently. Where user testing has been possible the team have used the outputs to improve the script that operators of the central HRA support line have access to should someone call needing assistance. The panel were pleased to hear that this had been tested with the team listening in on some practice assisted digital calls.

Design and Content

As reviewed in Beta, the HRA website is exempt from and therefore not required to be fully compliant with the design patterns. However, the panel were impressed to hear how the website re-development project has prompted the organisation to think more holistically about its use of the internet and developed an HRA-wide style guide to improve consistency.

In addition the team have put in place a robust governance structure that benefits both from a project board that has representatives from the whole organisation and the functionality of the CMS which allows the team to control what editing and publishing permissions different members of the HRA organisation have. Having reviewed the documentation supporting this structure, the panel believe that it should ensure that maintenance of the content quality is sustainable and protect against a future situation where a full re-build of the site is required.

Service Performance

The panel were impressed with the amount of progress that had been made by the team in planning for continuous service performance monitoring between the Private Beta assessment and the Live assessment. The team have agreed KPIs that focus on:

  • the number of people visiting the site
  • the bounce rate
  • the average time people spending on the site
  • the number of queries to the HRA mainline relating to not being able to find the answer to a particular question on the site.

Google Analytics is being used to review performance against these KPIs (except the calls to the mainline) and these are being reviewed monthly by the communications team. Where these is evidence of users getting ‘lost’ or ‘stuck’ with a particular part of the site, the team have plans in place to review why this is and add any necessary changes to the suppliers backlog. Full progress will then be reported to the project board quarterly and, after noting the high level of organisational inLet me erest in the site, the team are investigating the possibility of building a performance dashboard that all staff can access.

In addition, it was noted by the panel that the team had acted on the site’s dependence on IRAS noted in the Private Beta assessment and taken action to make closer links with service owners of IRAS e.g. the providers of ‘does it need ethical clearance?’ and ‘is it research?’ decision tools to ensure relevant information is correct and consistent across all sites and that all the links are both accurate and working.

The panel recommend that the team continue to maintain these links so that plans to develop IRAS can be embedded in HRA’s long term service improvement plan and necessary changes to the website are made in the right sequence.


DH have been consistently impressed with the HRA team’s dedication to making a site that applies the principles of the service standard. They have considered this product from the aspects of all potential users, making it fully accessible and supported. They chose their suppliers carefully and as a result have built a site to their intended scope and budget. The team have also made great strides in increasing product development skills within their organisation and have upskilled in user research, which will allow them to continue to develop the site based on user needs. The site has also been built in such a way, and governance is in place, that it can be owned and updated by the HRA and this puts the organisation in a great position for the future.

I would like to commend all the team’s hard work and wish them every success in the future.


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