More than 8,600 people took part in a web survey to tell us the most important reasons why they interact with our site to do with funding and tenders.
Tasks such as finding out about current and upcoming opportunities for funding emerged as the most popular among the 8,630 responses, showing us that our users’ primary need is for practical information on what EU funding is available.
The results of the week-long poll provide us with solid and consistent data about our users and what matters to them.
Going forwards, we have a strong case for creating an ‘information architecture’, or content structure, based on evidence of what visitors to the European Commission website want. It's in our interest, because the more able users are to meet their needs, the easier it’ll be to achieve our organisational goals, such as allocating funding to the projects that deliver value for Europe.
Here's a roundup of some of the key results of the poll.
4 'top tasks'
Participants were given a list of around 44 tasks and asked to identify the top 5 most important to them when interacting with the Commission in connection with funding and tenders.
Over 25% of votes went to 4 tasks. It’s the kind of correlation we were hoping to see, because it pinpoints a small number of tasks that are relevant to a large proportion of people, the so-called top tasks.
The top 4 tasks for funding and tenders were:
1. Open calls, current opportunities for funding, grants
2. Upcoming calls, opportunities for funding, grants, subsidies
3. How to apply for funding, grants, subsidies
4. Submit an application
What's on top is really the practical stuff directly about access to funding. Information on the objectives of a call came lower down on the list for users.
The survey data is important for designing this section of the site because our focus should be on making the most popular tasks straightforward to complete. We won't be starting with a long-winded explanation of why the Commission does what the Commission does.
The results are exciting because if we can get the architecture right, then we can match what users want to do with what the Commission wants to do. The main organisational goal behind funding is making sure we select projects capable of delivering value for Europe. If people are unable to find their way through the website to apply for funding because it's too confusing or time-consuming, then it's likely that some worthy projects won't get to the funding stage.
We’ve heard about European funds that couldn't distribute all their money because there weren't enough successful projects. It might be that there wasn't enough interest, but it could also be that some candidates found it difficult to navigate through the current site.
How did we do?
Commission staff completed a separate internal survey to see how our answers compared with the user results.
Our predictions weren't too far off when it came to the task of seeking information on open calls. We underestimated its popularity by 13%, but normally a margin of error above or below 20% is not significant. It was 3rd on our top-task list.
What we really got wrong was the popularity of 'how to apply' – we overestimated that by 88% meaning it was number 1 on our list, whereas for users it's only the 4th top task, less important than finding out about the funding itself.
Areas that we overrate, like how to apply, are often reflected by an overabundance of content on the current site. As we transform our web presence, we'll be focusing on whether the amount of content on a certain task is proportionate to its weight in terms of the user need. This is why gathering evidence from real users is integral to the transformation process.
The chart below shows how our estimates compared to the answers of our users.
User interests dominated by one area
We asked participants to choose their main interest areas when applying for funding, from a list of 30 interest areas.
Popular interest areas were education and training (42%), environment (36%), and arts, culture and entertainment (26%). Employment, economy and trade were all less popular with users.
However, the results show that 51%, just over half of all respondents, were motivated by funding for research and innovation projects.
We can already see a strong overlap between the research and innovation 'class', or grouping of related tasks, and the funding and tenders class. There’s a logic behind this, since the EC dedicates substantial funding to research and innovation, for example through the 80-billion-euro Horizon 2020 programme.
The funding and tenders and research and innovation user surveys were deliberately carried out in parallel, and one task we're expecting to see when we come to analyse the results of the research and innovation poll is, "can I get funding for my innovation?"
1 in 3 are researchers
The majority of people who responded to the questionnaire were either employed or self-employed, with only a minority unemployed or retired.
Private sector companies represented the largest sector, with start-ups and small- and medium-sized private companies representing a much bigger chunk than large private sector companies, while exactly one fifth of respondents work in non-governmental organisations.
Participants came from around 15 occupation groups, including teachers, professors, and academic researchers, managers, consultants (who assist in funding applications), and business researchers. Altogether, when researchers in academia and business were combined, they comprised 1 in 3 participants.
Half on a daily or weekly basis
We asked people how often they interact with the funding and tenders section of the site, and responses show that daily and weekly visits make up close to half of all visits, at 47%.
We worked out how intensely the websites are being used by giving a weight to the frequency of visits over the course of the working weeks in a year. For example, daily visits represent a higher intensity than infrequent visits to the site. We calculate that daily visitors come to the site on average 200 times per year, representing 62.9% of the total volume of visits.
Together, daily and weekly visits add up to 90%, which shows us that people who are involved in projects or are keeping an eye out for funding opportunities keep coming back to the site.
If 90% are heavy users, then we must make it easy for them, and if we make it easy for the heavy users, then we also make it easy for the first time users too.
Finally, the geography
Participants mostly came from EU countries, with Italy, Spain, France, the UK and Germany the most represented countries. Some respondents came from countries outside the EU.
There were no surprises that the big European languages were more represented than the small, and the ‘passive’ or second language most chosen was English – a whopping 92%.
Stayed tuned for the results of the research and innovation poll…