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COVID-19 response

Before the pandemic, our research found people experienced 3 main pain points in dealing with government: inconsistent, inaccessible and confusing content; difficulty finding the right information at the right time in the right context; and no single source of truth across government information sources. These pain points were amplified as people searched for information about COVID-19.

Trusted sources of national information

In response, we worked across the APS to deliver the Government’s coronavirus information products, australia.gov.au, the Coronavirus Australia app, and the Australian Government’s WhatsApp channel.

Developed within days in March 2020, these products provided the trusted sources of nation-wide information people were looking for. By June 2020, there had been 29 million visits to australia.gov.au, 4 million downloads of the Coronavirus Australia app, and 1 million users of the WhatsApp channel sending and receiving more than 16 million messages.

For australia.gov.au, we worked across the APS and with states and territories to get the right content in the right place at the right time. To address the challenges of content governance, we met twice daily with people from across the APS and state and territory governments to agree on content and manage risk. We established a cross-agency governance forum that evolved to include the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission to cement the whole-of-nation view. At the same time, we kept a relentless focus on the user and good content design.

This approach enabled us to deliver and iterate the platform, while at the same time updating content at least twice a day. This made sure people were getting the critical messages they needed from government and National Cabinet.

Secure contact tracing

Another key component of the Government’s response to the pandemic was the COVIDSafe contact tracing app. This is one of the most important, highest profile capabilities the DTA has delivered.

We collaborated with the Department of Health, the Attorney-General’s Department, and the Australian Cyber Security Centre to adopt a privacy-by-design approach and strong cyber security controls. We listened to user feedback and adjusted our approach to better meet their needs. We leveraged international experience, sharing code with Singapore and the United Kingdom, and our learnings with governments all around the world. We also worked with the ICT community, with more than 20,000 emails and thousands of phone calls received in the first month of operation alone, several leading directly to product improvements.

Within a month of launching the COVIDSafe app, there were more than 6 million registered users, one of the fastest uptake rates for a health app in Australia.

Data analysis to meet user needs

During COVID-19, the gov.au Observatory used raw data to help ministers, senior officials and agencies understand the community’s information needs.

As portfolios of services grow, and questions become more complex, standard analytics services may not provide all the answers. To help make sure services were meeting community needs, we used raw data to provide a rich source of information and a cloud-based data warehouse to allow the focus to be on data engineering and science rather than the infrastructure.

This allowed quick access to accurate information. Together with automated report production, this approach freed up time to focus on richer insights beyond page hits and bounce rate, such as URL clicks and scroll depth. This helped create a deeper understanding of the community’s engagement with the services to ensure we were connecting people with the information they were looking for.

Power of collaboration

The national COVID-19 response work highlighted what is possible with unity of purpose, speed and agility, and true collaboration. Agency and jurisdictional boundaries blurred, and we established multi-agency multidisciplinary teams, often with state and territory and industry support, in record time. Working in an agile way allowed us to respond quickly and flexibly to fast-changing policy and user needs, and to iterate delivery to provide incremental improvements. We collectively delivered because we thought and operated differently, and this allowed us to rapidly meet the needs of government and the community.