An eyetracking heat map of a Wikipedia page. Image: Wikipedia

Help Us Design Knowledge for PolicyMakers

Mathew Lowry
Published in
5 min readJul 26, 2019


We’re about to start testing new online designs to make scientific evidence more accessible to policymakers. Volunteers needed!

As set out earlier this year, our audience research indicates that policymakers and their advisors may require more than ‘just the facts’ and a usable website.

Principal K4P content types & services mapped against the Linked Knowledge Pyramid - Evidence-based policymaking: a story emerges from audience research

Now that we’ve successfully migrated around a dozen separate Knowledge Services into a single, multi-taxonomy knowledge base, “it’s time for us to turn our attention to the upper ‘Policy Layer’ of the linked knowledge pyramid (left), designed and written for policymakers and their advisors” (Designing Knowledge4Policy, January 2019).

We’ve prepared some new interface designs and a process through which testers, working from their desk, can help us understand how to improve these designs before we start writing code. Like to take part? Keep reading.

Who are we looking for?

The new interfaces are aimed squarely at the policymakers and advisors in the top half of the above figure. If you recognise yourself there, give us an hour of your time and volunteer to be a tester by filling out this form (in the process providing data protection consent, as set out in detail in postscript, below).

If you recognise yourself, give us an hour of your time

The ideal mix of testers will include:

  • PolicyMakers: policy decision-makers at European, national and regional level — principally senior civil servants and politicians
  • PolicyAssistants: their staff, who digest large volumes of material to present PolicyMakers with syntheses, choices and recommendations
  • Civil Society, Lobbyists, NGOs, etc., who aim to influence the above two.

We also want to involve some experts in evidence-informed policymaking, who specialise in understanding how policy makers and their staff receive, process and use scientific knowledge relevant to their work.

How will we be testing?

You will be invited to a one-on-one videoconferencing session. Following a brief interview, you’ll be given a scenario containing tasks — for example:

“You’re a policy advisor preparing a speech and powerpoint for your boss at an Agricultural Policy Reform conference. You need speaking points and visuals to illustrate both the problems and opportunities surrounding the agricultural sector’s environmental footprint, including potential impact on jobs.”

You’ll then be shown web pages containing the content & features you need to fulfil that task. As you try to do so, you will ‘think-aloud’ - speak about what you are doing, where you are looking, why you click on one element instead of another. In the process, you’ll give us insights into how you search and use online information, and what you think of what you find.

help us better meet the needs of users like you

This, together with additional questions during the tests, will help us improve the pages so they better meet the needs of users like you. You’ll also be asked to score your general experience on a scale of 1 to 10, and answer a questionnaire to derive a System Usability Scale score.

What will we be testing?

After looking carefully at our audience research, we decided to focus first on upgrading two existing knowledge interfaces so that they extend into the upper levels of our knowledge pyramid. Our scenarios will also study how well our audiences handle data visualisations.

The new KS Landing Page and Feature Topic designs we are testing aim to make the information and data in the knowledgebase more accessible to policymakers and advisors.

Knowledge Service Landing Pages

Each Knowledge Service (KS) is a scientific team supporting policymaking in a specific domain for several EC departments. Inevitably, each wanted their own ‘Home Page’ within K4P. We agreed, because — whether you call them Landing Pages or Home Pages — they do more than just stroke a team’s vanity:

  • each KS has its own specialised taxonomy to provide the granularity scientists need to manage and synthesis knowledge for policymaking (more: Taxonomic Architecture)
  • in the future we’ll develop community features to crowdsource knowledge, and all communities need somewhere to call home.

Today’s designs reflect their origins: scientists, presenting knowledge to other scientists

Today’s KS Landing Page designs (there are two templates to account for different content strategies) reflect their origins: scientists, presenting knowledge to other scientists.

Tomorrow’s Landing Page designs must allow policy-makers/advisors to more easily identify content prepared specifically for them. This will include highlighting any Featured Topics (next).

Featured Topics

Today, most Knowledge Services display a set of Topics on their Landing Page. Each focuses on a subset of their knowledge domain, and is composed of:

  • a flexible, manually edited Body, used to highlight key Knowledge & Wisdom for policymakers: syntheses, briefings, data visualisations, etc.
  • a dynamic search result: each Topic is also a term in the KS’ local taxonomy, so the Topic can present a dynamically updated, searchable list of the Information and Data underpinning the above syntheses.

Topics allow users to dig from Knowledge and Wisdom down into the underlying Information and Data.

Topics thus provide the ‘link’ in the Linked Knowledge Pyramid, allowing users to dig from Knowledge and Wisdom down into the underlying Information and Data.

Today’s Topics, however, demonstrate the difference between theory and practice: most Topics are too short or too long, and lack structure.

Tomorrow’s new Featured Topics will be more sophisticated, but will require a more complex content strategy. Testing our designs before we build them should save us a lot of time.

Data visualisations

Like many evidence-informed policymaking operations, the EC has invested a lot of effort into data visualisations.

They’re sophisticated and colourful, but both anecdotal evidence and our audience research indicates that actual usage by policymakers is not as high as expected. We’re integrating existing data visualisations into the tests to better understand how our audience actually uses them.

As always, transparency is one of our bywords, so we’ll publish as much as possible about the results here.

PS Data protection: by filling in the form to become a volunteer wireframe tester, you are providing your consent in sharing your details with an external contractor, namely your First and Last Name, Gender, Professional profile and E-mail address. The data will be shared for the purpose of running “Usability tests” with an external contractor (Novacomm), under Framework Contract Number PO/2016–20/A5. For the purpose of this exercise, your personal data are covered by the following Notification: DPR-EC-02266 and by this Privacy Statement.

Get involved

If you’re involved in developing policy, we’d love an hour of your time as a tester (see data protection consent, above). Feel free to send this to someone you think could help.

You can also contribute to this Publication by Responding to this post, submitting your own or by Tweeting to @EUScienceHub.