Public Health Organizations (PHO)s often have broad mandates, diverse stakeholders, and numerous services. With physical distancing and increasing digitalization, more users are accessing PHO content online instead of in-person. How do healthcare leaders ensure that their PHOs’ online assets meet their diverse users’ needs? One answer is information architecture (IA). In this article, you’ll learn what IA is, why it’s relevant, and how to carry it out in your organization.
When IA Goes Wrong
Before jumping into definitions, I’d like to demonstrate worst-case scenarios:
Users bounce off your site because they don’t think it’s relevant to them
Users end up contacting your organization because they can’t find content
Users don’t understand which section of your website is intended for them versus other groups (e.g., the public versus healthcare providers)
Users leave your site because they don’t connect with the language that’s used
Your brand perception suffers because users cannot follow through on simple tasks (e.g., finding, booking, contacting)
And the list goes on. Let’s explore what it feels like when IA is done well.
What is IA?
You likely remember the experience of trying to figure out an old remote control. Then folks at Apple came along and broke the system, creating a remote that’s elegant, intuitive, and easy to use. Or consider how Netflix organizes tomes of content into intuitive categories. This ability to remove unnecessary noise and discomfort is what elegant IA feels like for the user.
Comparing the simplicity of Apple Remote to others. Source.
The U.S. General Services Administration defines IA as "organizing, structuring, and labeling content in an effective and sustainable way. The goal is to help users find information and complete tasks.” Let’s explore its relevance for PHOs.
The Use Case for IA in PHOs
Information architecture is especially relevant for public health organizations (PHOs) because
PHOs often have blue-sky mandates and numerous programs, campaigns, and initiatives
PHOs often service diverse user groups, each with their own needs and mental models
PHOs often operate on legacy decisions that drive current state user interactions
As I’ve seen in my work at PH1 Research, and corroborated by academic research, PHOs have a great deal of room to grow with their digital assets. For instance, Theresa Devine and colleagues found that of 100 health websites, 42% did not meet 3/6 reliability criteria, and 58% did not meet more than 10/19 usability criteria.
Considering that ever increasing amounts of users will engage with your PHO through online means, there is more of a precedent to ensure their experiences are attended to. What does a good website IA mean for your PHO?
An increase in traffic by the right people
An increase in user satisfaction with your website and brand
An increase of program use and take-up by the right people
An decrease in contact because users can quickly navigate your website
In other words, focusing on great IA will ensure your PHO is positioned for success in the age of digital experiences. The first step is to assess your PHO’s IA current state.
IA Audit Systems
Many leading authorities in user experience have come up with ways of auditing IA. Each has strengths and weaknesses. For your PHO, choose the one that is a) actionable and b) aligns with your overall user experience strategy. Here is one example:
Researching User Experience
Now that you have a use case for creating strong IA and understand the fundamentals, it’s time to do the research. Sadly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The tools and techniques need to be dictated by the project goal and type(s) of audience. Thus, your leadership, operations, and researchers need to be aligned on being human-centred.
However, to be human-centred, your team needs to understand its audiences. Here are three suggestions for going about this process (in order of least to most complex):
When you have a better understanding of the diversity of stakeholders, and the types of people who interact with the output of your IA, you’re ready to research IA. Examples of research methods include:
Card sorting exercises: to help rank importance of content/ categories
Treejack: to build structure bottom-up from the user’s point of view, or to validate the content structure that you hypothesize meets their needs
Wireframing and prototyping: iterating through various rounds of incremental improvement
Throughout your research engagements, consider the importance of being representative with your participants. At PH1 Research, we often find that recruiting and testing with diverse user groups ensures that data, insights, and outputs are more robust and evergreen.
What to do now?
Alignment on vision and goals
As a leader, ensure you understand the importance of improving your PHO’s IA
Consult with diverse laterals to learn about common IA issues that your users experience
Create a human-centred strategy to improve current state IA and ensure iterative improvements with service rollouts
Evaluation and audit of current state
Recruitment of representative audience
Pull in a diverse internal team to create a stakeholder user map
Define user groups or personas
Establish recruitment criteria so that your findings are robust and meet the needs of diverse audiences
Prototyping of potential enhancements
Carry out 3-4 iterations of testing, prototyping to make improvements between each round
Ensure prototypes are low fidelity; this saves your team development time and prevents users from focusing on aesthetics as opposed to IA
Ensure there is a feedback capturing system for user complaints for future service enhancements
Delivery of information architecture
At PH1 Research, we’ve supported many PHOs with improving their IA and user experience. Our clients include the BC College of Nursing Professionals, BC Centre for Disease Control, the BC Lung Association, and many more.
When you have questions about improving your PHO’s digital assets, IA, or user experience, contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.