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The Commonwealth

UX strategy to transform the digital communications of the political association

The Commonwealth is one of the largest political associations; with 53 member states, it’s home to 2.4 billion citizens. Democracy, innovation, trade and environmental regeneration are critical items on the agenda. But it was difficult to communicate that through their dispersed digital strategy and technically disconnected portfolio of websites. Cyber-Duck was chosen to transform its data-driven user experience strategy and governance.


The Commonwealth communicates its priorities online through a group of websites. This structure was logical, given the diversity of their priorities: such as ocean conservation versus electoral democracy.

But the websites were built with different styles, technologies and even their own CMS. This made content governance, creation and promotion impossible; it was difficult to communicate with citizens in a user-friendly and responsive way.

Following a competitive tender and pitching process, Cyber-Duck was chosen to produce a user experience strategy for the Commonwealth. This builds upon our diverse public sector experience with clients including the Bank of England, Financial Ombudsman Service and European Union. Our objectives were to:

  1. Create a data-driven UX strategy that distilled and prioritised the key personas for communications.
  2. Draw a new website and technical architecture that could guide the structure and purpose for the website group.
  3. Produce a content strategy, editorial and governance guidelines that could support the communication aims.
  4. Underpin all work with search engine optimisation and analytics, so citizens could find and access content faster.

Initial UX audit

When an agile UX agency and a well-established, large, structured organisation come together, there’s huge potential. We could break down silos and open conversations between departments; this would ensure they were aligned.  

We kicked-off by identifying, interviewing and opening cross-department discussions with 27 stakeholders from the marketing, projects and leadership representatives across the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Together, we could identify the key ambitions, concerns, risks and opportunities and ultimately create alignment. Our Design Thinking workshops were instrumental to this.

First, we ran a UX audit on the Commonwealth’s existing website portfolio. This meant we could provide immediate heuristical analysis and targeted recommendations for short-term improvements, while the project ran.

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The Methodology

The Commonwealth has a broad spectrum of users: from Government officials, accessing specialised content with a login; journalists, looking for statistics and reports; to the general public, interested in The Commonwealth’s role.

We ran quantitative surveys with over 100 users to understand the ‘what, where and when’; 10 detailed, qualitative interviews delved into the ‘why and how’. This included users from the UK, all the way to Nigeria, Ghana, Australia, Canada, Bangladesh and India. Together, this built our understanding of the users’ wants, needs and context.

Alongside the Commonwealth staff themselves, we identified three primary user types:

  • Official users – Heads of State and Government Officials
  • Professional users – Journalists and researchers
  • Public users – 2.4 billion citizens, from students to community leaders

From this, we crafted the persona logic and user journeys. We predominantly focused on the Government Official users.

Establishing the accessibility standards for a project of this magnitude was important. We recommended the future website should adhere to The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Double AA standard. These standards are followed by other governmental organisations, including GOV.UK. Adhering does even more than benefit people with disabilities; it also improves usability and SEO.

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Technical infrastructure

Our UX audit identified the chief challenge: The Commonwealth’s portfolio contained numerous microsites for different departments, alongside its main website.

All too often, these microsites were built by different agencies; so, they didn’t even use the same technologies or CMS. This wasn’t compatible with a cohesive, easily managed digital marketing strategy. Document libraries, archives and a bookstore also joined the microsites.

We could improve the architecture by comparing existing and desired user journeys, based on our new persona and stakeholder research.

Our vision was to create a modular, permission-based architecture with show-and hide-capabilities. This would allow us to personalise and cater for all individuals within a single website.

For example, users should be able to access the same content, either through country pages or the innovation section. Simultaneously, they should be able to toggle (or select) what type of content they want, whether professional or public.

We analysed the existing digital portfolio and web systems and recommended the following website architecture and sitemap:

  • Main public-facing website – exploring the member states, the Commonwealth’s role, statistics and stories.
  • Professional parallel websites – containing reports and technical data researched by The Commonwealth
  • Gated area – reserved for Government officials, searching for information relevant to their roles.
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Content strategy and design principles

Individual departments would still have their own areas of the website, with full ownership of the content; the block-based design would mean they had complete control over their styling, while still keeping the feel of a ‘microsite’.

The Commonwealth staff already created and promoted content for a myriad of topics and audiences.

But not all was relevant for users. They could gain more from a focused, consistent content strategy.

Our UX designers proposed a new content creation policy that could empower The Commonwealth to create relevant, targeted content based on their audience’s location and interests. Likewise, they recommended reviewing all existing content to assess its quality, messaging and relevance.

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Next generation SEO and analytics

We analysed the mobile performance, page speed, duplicate content, structured data, canonical tags, URL structure, redirect chains and even things like pagination and broken links. 

Content duplication was one of the key items we highlighted, across the main website and microsites. We addressed this as a ‘quick fix’ and in the long-term, as part of the content strategy.

For The Commonwealth’s future web project, we taught the team to create a data capture plan that highlights how the KPIs/OKRs and goals will be tracked and what type of reporting tools will be used.

The Marketing & Communication team cared deeply about their position in the rankings related to The Commonwealth. Cyber-Duck advised how optimising for featured and rich snippets could increase their potential; once created, it becomes easier to become an authority for Conversational UI (CUI) devices like Google Home and even Amazon Alexa.

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Our solution

Through a research-driven approach, Cyber-Duck ultimately presented how best to approach the digital strategy for the Commonwealth website.

The strategy was devised as a proof of concept: outlining the need for, and execution of, a single website that caters for all the Commonwealth’s users.

All future content and design decision-making would be anchored in our user-centred design principles. We developed 18 manifestos to help the brand stay in-line with the Commonwealth values – user friendliness was central.

The ultimate vision leveraged the wants and needs of the stakeholders and personas; it was guided by the UX principles, architecture, SEO tactics and accessibility. It should bring together all digital assets so they are, in a technical sense, “all under one roof”.

This would ease management, maintenance, workflows and updates across multiple pages; some tasks, data and analytics could even be automated. We look forward to seeing how The Commonwealth can implement our vision.

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