Have your say on MPs’ Expenses

Just before Christmas 2009, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority approached us to see if we’d be interested in producing the online part of their first consultation on MPs’ Expenses. This was exciting, to put it mildly — so we leapt in with both feet.

As is often the case with this kind of work, the deadlines were short and the team rushed. The consultation was only five weeks long, and there was even less time to analyse the responses after it closed. With this in mind, we came up with a format that gave respondents a meaningful way to respond, while also making the responses as easy as possible to analyse.

Most of the questions have yes/no answers, and a few have options you can choose between. Each page has a box for free text responses, instead of each question — and the box is limited to 500 characters. We were a bit nervous about limiting input in this way, but hopefully it’s a good compromise. Very few people contacted us with extra things they wanted to say, so it hopefully most people didn’t feel constrained.

Given the number of questions, the length of the text and the constraints of the form, it was really important to make the site as intuitive as possible. The text boxes make it very obvious if you put too much in them. The final form at the end confirms that you really are finished, and the buttons are subtly differentiated using icons and colour. You’ll also find that using the sidebar menu to jump around is safe — even if you’re in the middle of writing a response. We’re using javascript to make sure the form gets submitted. And everything’s unobtrusive, accessible and standards-compliant.

The site was implemented using WordPress. It’s a fantastic platform to work with. There’s no doubt that WordPress’s amazing flexibility is what made it possible to launch this quickly — and on time, and on budget. Everyone seemed pleased with the way it came out (including a real user) so we’re pretty pleased!