Government sites by their very nature tend to be complex. They must cover a multitude of priorities and speak to a multitude of audiences. This presents real challenges in terms of making it easy for people to get the answers they need from their government.

One area where people often struggle is understanding eligibility criteria for government programs. In the last couple of years, the Digital Transformation Office (DTO) has been studying the use of interactive checklists to simplify the way we present eligibility criteria.

The behavioural principle behind using interactive elements is that people slow down and pay more attention when they can interact with your page. They become active participants in your content instead of passive observers. This helps them better understand and retain the information.

Using checkboxes and radio buttons in web content

Checklists help people break down complex eligibility lists to ensure that they meet all criteria.

A long description can be found after the image.
Eligibility checklist for the Canada Recovery Benefit

Eligibility checklist for the Canada Recovery Benefit, showing interactive checkboxes beside each eligibility requirement.

Faced with the standard approach of explaining eligibility criteria with long pages of static content, we’ve seen users fail to grasp precisely what they need to be eligible for a program. A checklist helps them step methodically through the web content by having them answer a question, or affirm a choice. The interaction helps them engage more deeply in finding the right answer for their particular situation. The interactive checkboxes and radio buttons make the page feel more like a mobile app.

Last month, we added a beta design for large checkboxes and radio buttons to the design system. This update makes it easier for people on mobile devices to see and touch the controls on a small screen.

Checkboxes and radio buttons design pattern

Combining these controls with interactive questions lets you present people with a sequence of simple questions and lead them to the specific answer they need.

Interactive questions design pattern

Interpreting eligibility correctly is extremely important for applicants and program staff alike. Neither wants to waste time if the applicant isn’t eligible. Designing eligibility criteria content to include interactive checklists means you are better able to ensure people understand and complete every step they need.

What users say about checklists

In 2019, the CRA and DTO first tested and later implemented an eligibility checklist in the Canada Child Benefit optimization project. Participants in the testing had very positive comments about the design pattern.

P6: “I’d check off all of them. I mean whichever ones apply to me”

P19: “I like that you can see it is checked”

Canada Child Benefit - Who can apply

In response to COVID-19, the Government of Canada launched new economic benefits on very tight schedules. The CRA and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) used eligibility checklists to help users work through the eligibility criteria and choose which department to apply with. In both pre- and post-launch testing, participants had positive feedback about the interactive lists:

P6: “These checkboxes are good”

P2: “The green checkmarks feel really reassuring”

P4: “I love the green check mark”

Canada Recovery Benefit - Who can apply

Final word

Because government programs are designed for diverse populations, there is often an inevitable complexity to establishing eligibility. However, with careful design, that complexity doesn’t have to be passed on to users.

Carefully analyzing how to break things down using interactive elements can significantly improve the user experience of applying. Receiving complete applications from eligible people means less wasted time for program staff, and fewer calls to call centres. It means less time following up on grievances and incomplete applications, or re-processing re-applications. Most importantly, it means Canadians who need and are eligible for government programs can get access to them - the first time they apply. Win-win-win!

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