Bureau of Labor Statistics and Treasury offer agencies tools to test-drive their Web sites

It pays to find out how easy government data is to retrieve from a Web site, says a research psychologist whose job is making Bureau of Labor Statistics sites visitor-friendly.

Jean E. Fox works in a BLS laboratory where test subjects click through prototype sites and online applications. Fox described the lab and its work at the recent Interagency Customer Service Forum in Washington.

Several adjustable video cameras give BLS researchers a direct view of testers’ computer screens or hands. Researchers can also watch through a one-way mirror.

Observing the behavior and debriefing the subjects afterward yields valuable qualitative insights before a prototype goes live, Fox said.

If there are three test subjects, they will uncover about 35 percent of the snags, and six testers will uncover up to 90 percent, Fox said.

BLS makes its lab available to other agencies at no charge, she said, but they must work around BLS researchers’ schedule. And it’s impossible to test a large, complex site all at once, Fox added, because subjects’ attention span is 60 to 90 minutes.

Track mouse clicks

Another BLS research psychologist, Sylvia Kay Fisher, said her office has been testing a statistical site for the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. They have conducted four rounds of testing so far, tracking mouse clicks, observing the test subjects and debriefing them afterward.

“One clear metric was how many cuss words people used,” Fisher said.

Larry Freed, president and chief executive officer of ForeSee Results of Farmington Hills, Mich., said 12- to 15-question pop-up surveys are adequate for rating a site’s presentation.

Some managers design questionnaires for random visitors, others for visitors of specified pages or visitors leaving the site, Freed said. His company’s CS Monitor software uses questions based on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, compiled by a research center at the University of Michigan.

JavaScript code

Adding the $30,000 software requires the insertion of “a few lines of JavaScript code” into a site’s HTML, Freed said.

The Federal Consulting Group, a fee-for-service organization in the Treasury Department, will offer CS Monitor to agencies after it receives clearance from the Office of Management and Budget, said Bernard A. Lubran, a project manager with the group.

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