Digital Content Agency in London – Barton Cartwright Communications

End client:

Rural Payments Agency (Defra)

Category:

Content Strategy, Content Design

Date:

March 2014 – March 2015

End client:

Rural Payment Agency (Defra)

Category:

Content Strategy, Content Design

Date:

March 2014 – March 2015

The problem

Until the UK’s exit from the European Union, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs distributed billions of pounds in subsidies to farmers and other landowners under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The Rural Payments Agency, based in Reading, is the administrative body that processes these payments.

In 2014 it decided to launch a digital transformation project to put the application and management processes for CAP payments online. This ‘digital by default’ approach forced millions of landowners – including HM The Queen – to get to grips with not just the internet, but also tools like Photoshop to indicate the size and use of their land within narrow margins of accuracy.

Sheep in Wales

The solution

Part of the challenge was that many landowners employ agents to handle the administration of farm subsidies. This had implications for fraud prevention. An initial verification process needed to be followed by a module to nominate an appointed agent. In many cases, this would be a professional administrative agency or accountant. But it could also be a trusted family member. 

At every stage, the new digital system risked not making life easier for end users compared to the previous ‘back of an envelop’ paper process. We flagged this risk within the government design community on many occasions. The new system required farmers and other landowners to draw fields, barns and hedges within narrow accuracy margins using Photoshop tools. They also had to pick specific crops from a vast online catalogue.

Combine harvester working in a field of wheat - England

The result

We worked as part of a multi-disciplinary team in an Agile environment to create content that explained how to – say – use the octagon tool to draw a hedge. Tricky stuff. Throughout, we liaised closely with the farming community. We created content and UX designs that were clear, supportive and reassuring. 

We used extensive user acceptance testing as evidence for further iterations. In the end, however, office politics and IT shortcomings led to a reboot of the digital transformation project. A public inquiry was held. The Rural Payments Agency did a U-turn on ‘digital by default’ to allow pen and paper processes to continue. 

Content Design
Content Strategy
UX Design
CAP payments Defra
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