VSJ – May 2007 – Work in Progress

As part of her MSc in E-Business at the University of Westminster, Angelina Jones, AMIAP has been researching the technical aspects of Canada’s Government-Online (GOL) initiative. Here she describes her work and its outcomes.

Canada is a sparsely populated country of 30 million people, with two official languages – English and French – and 13 states across six different time zones. E-government was seen as the way to address these physical barriers. It could revolutionise government because the Internet could ‘bridge the challenges of time and distance, and enable the Canadian society to forge a stronger sense of connection both between and among its members and with its government’ (D’Auray, 2003). The Government of Canada (GoC) thus formulated a GOL Strategy in 2000 to manage the transition from traditional government and ease the process of change. According to this document, the aim of GOL is to provide:

‘…citizens with the ability to interact with the government, to receive information, to access programs and services and to do business electronically with the GoC.’

The key initiative of the strategy was to develop a front-end Web platform to cluster the Government’s services from a citizen’s perspective, rather than basing it on the Government’s hierarchical structure. The GoC believed this would guarantee the accessibility of its Web content and enable citizens to use it easily. As a result, the Government developed the Cluster Blueprint (Fig. 1) to represent the organisation of the intended online services and to provide the Government with an initial idea of how the Web platform could be designed.

Fig 1: The Cluster Blueprint

Within each cluster, the information is organised around specific audiences, subjects, and life events, managed individually by a Government department. The first release of the Canada Site was based on this blueprint in 2001 and has since been enhanced to suit the needs of the Canadian citizens based on user feedback.

Aim of the Study and Research Undertaken

Recognising the effort Canada had put into its E-Government, it was decided that my study would aim to assess the Web sites created for the GOL initiative, and evaluate the front end interfaces to decide whether Canada had successfully managed to transform their traditional government to a digital one. The following research objectives were formulated to meet this project aim:

  • To identify and evaluate how the GoC Web sites satisfy technical standards;
  • To assess the overall usability of the GOL Web sites and their content;
  • To obtain further insight into the Canadian Government and explore how successful the digital transformation has been.

In order to optimise the outcomes for the research, both usability testing through the form of a questionnaire adhering to Nielson’s Usability Best Practices (2001) and an impartial evaluation using global Web Accessibility standards were conducted. In total, 14 high-level users (frequent users of the Internet) participated in the testing. They conducted examinations of the site using their own PC environments (see Table 1 for environments).

Table 1: Hardware and software set-up used for testing



Type of computer

Desktop, Laptop

Operating system

Windows (XP, XP Service Pack 2 or Home Edition)

Internet connection

Broadband and wired connections

Internet browser

Microsoft Internet Explorer (Ver. 6 and 7), Mozilla Firefox, Bulldog

Screen resolution

1024 x 768, 800 x 600, 1027 x 768, 1280 x 1084

The main purpose of the usability questionnaire was to assess the appropriateness of the front-end interfaces used within the GoC Web sites and to measure their overall ability to serve first-time users, regardless of prior Internet usage and experience. Each question was categorised as relating to Concept; Layout & Design; Download Speeds; Navigation & Structure; and Usability. Participants were directed to view specific Web pages and rate the design of each, as well as to determine how efficiently the Web pages could be downloaded.

The impartial evaluation was mainly centred on the GoC’s fourteen Common Look and Feel Standards (2005) which tested each GOL Web site for their conformity relating to universal accessibility regardless of input device and the PC environments used. The Web pages were also scrutinised according to the World Wide Web, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W3CWCAG, 1999) to understand the source codes used and how the Web pages behaved under different browser versions and settings. This aimed to determine any dependencies on Dynamic Scripting, Active Content and Cascading Style Sheets. Lastly, in respect of the navigational mechanisms incorporated within the page design, the semantics of each Web site were tested for compliance with the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (1997).

Key Findings and Outcomes

Based on the impartial evaluation, all the GoC Web sites contained device-independent applets and scripts, allowing the choice of either a mouse or keyboard input device to access the dynamic features. Users were given the option to view the content using a screen reader but in some cases the Web pages were complex and contained different types of elements such as audio, visual and text. This can make it hard for screen readers to interpret, in comparison to plain HTML tags.

One aim of the CLF standards is to provide a ‘consistent system of navigation’ that ensures that Canadian citizens can find and access the information they require effectively. According to Guideline 13 of the W3CWCAG, only clear and consistent navigational mechanisms can increase the ability of users to find what they are looking for. The GoC has worked towards this by designing a corporate style navigational horizontal banner and menu containing portal links that are featured in each Web page. There is also a consistent vertical menu visible on the left-hand side containing relevant links for the viewed Web site. Combined, we found that the GOL websites complied with the W3CWCAG 1.0 Priority 1 and 2 checklists.

In the usability-testing questionnaire, the participants were asked to summarise the effectiveness of the GoC Web sites stating their level of agreement to the statement:

The GoC website has been carefully designed to allow its users to conduct their business efficiently and effectively online.

All participants either agreed (33%) or tended to agree (67%) with the statement. Another part of the questionnaire aimed to assess the usability of the GOL and showed a 50% agreement in that the Web sites were suitable for first-time users and 64% of participants claimed it was easy to navigate around the Web site.

Overall, the outcomes of the Usability testing suggest the GoC Web sites are usable, with meaningful content that was easy to download. Taking this further, the CLF standards also demonstrated the measures taken by the GoC to achieve universal accessibility, which, taken with the W3CWAG’s priorities, have enabled them to unify the Web presence of the GOL, for consistency and easy recognition for new users.

The creation of the CLF standards supports the conclusion that the GoC understands the impact Internet technologies have for them and their citizens. Based on this we believe that trust is vital for the endurance of Canada’s GOL and to build their citizens’ confidence to form (blind) relationships over the Internet. By investing time and money to meet technical standards, Canada will continue to secure a good relationship with its GOL users and this should work towards achieving the long-term success of Canada’s E-Government model.


D’Auray, M 2003, “The Dual Challenge of Integration and Inclusion: Canada’s experience with Government Online”, Journal of Political Marketing, Vol. 2, No. 3 / 4, pp. 31 – 49.

Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, 1997, “Dublin Core Metadata Element Set, Version 1.1: Reference Description”.

Government of Canada, 2000, “Government On-Line Strategy”.

Nielson, J 2000, “Designing Web Usability: The Simplicity of Practice.” New Riders Publishing, Indianapolis.

The Common Look and Feel Working Group (CLFWG), 2005, “Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet”, Treasury Board Secretariat Internet Advisory Committee. Government of Canada.

W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, 1999, “Checklist of Checkpoints for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 & 13”.

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