Lithys 2018: Australian Taxation Office - B2C Community Innovator

Lithys 2018: Australian Taxation Office - B2C Community Innovator


Company: Australian Taxation Office

Company background: A global leader in the administration of both taxation and superannuation systems, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is a federal government statutory agency that sets itself apart from both the private and public sectors. Our innovative mindset and insatiable drive to exceed industry standards has allowed us to develop intuitive, accessible and user-centred digital products and services that make tax easier for every Australian – from individuals with simple tax affairs, through to legal professionals requiring technical and complex information, and everyone in between.

Contact: Elizabeth Bott

Title: Director, Digital Experience

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Lithy category: B2C Community Innovator

1. Describe the innovation(s) and how you settled on the decision to innovate (user request, Lithium suggestion, internal idea, etc.)

ATO Community is a peer-to-peer online forum powered by Lithium. It allows members to anonymously ask questions about tax and super in a moderated and reliable environment at a time that suits them. We have a broad network of technical experts who answer our members’ questions and provide guidance. To bolster trust and confidence, our experts flag legally sound and correct answers as “certified”, allowing our users to identify credible content at a glance.

Launched in May 2017, the concept of ATO Community is a unique and radical one. It’s supported by the social media maturity model developed by the ‘Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’, which confirms that an online community forum is a critical step to bolstering a collaboration capability and ensuring citizen participation. Although online forums are a common part of today’s social media landscape, very few government agencies around the world have endeavoured to create, host and moderate an online forum for their citizens. This means we are navigating a largely uncharted territory. What makes ATO Community an even more novel and pioneering platform is that it focusses on the specialised subjects of Australian tax and super, helping to demystify these often daunting topics for the public.

The decision to develop a digital platform seldom employed by government stemmed from several bodies of internal and external research, the findings of which showed that the Australian public wanted:

  • to ask questions about their tax and super affairs online anonymously;
  • answers to be in simple language;
  • real life examples to relate to;
  • trustworthy content;
  • to be empowered to self-serve.

Without such an outlet, people were turning to third-party websites instead of the ATO for tax and super information, highlighting that we had a gap in the services we offered. After further research and contextual inquiries to better understand our users’ needs, it emerged that a trustworthy, anonymous, easy to use and simple to understand online forum would help to amend our service shortcomings. From this, ATO Community was born.

2. Tell us about how you made it happen

To ensure that we designed and delivered a superior product, we prioritised user experience at every step of ATO Community’s development pathway. We undertook a multiphase process, the first being the Discovery phase, during which we developed a comprehensive understanding of user needs, the broader service landscape and the technical limitations we could face. In the proceeding Alpha phase, we conducted contextual inquiries to further define user needs and, from this research, built prototypes and wireframes of an online forum.

Figure 1. The design and delivery process for ATO Community.Figure 1. The design and delivery process for ATO Community.

We then built the minimum viable product from the Alpha prototype in the Beta phase. In Private Beta, we conducted several rounds of moderated usability testing during Australia’s peak tax period to gain insight into natural, end-to-end experiences. We tested with a diverse sample of the Australian population, including Indigenous Australians, people with disabilities, people whose first language was not English, people with low literacy levels, as well as people with different tax requirements – e.g., individual tax payers and small business owners. We used these diverse user experiences to inform the continued design, build and iteration processes.

Before we entered the final Live stage, our Public Beta soft launched in May 2017 in order to conduct unmoderated usability testing. We worked closely with Lithium to address accessibility concerns that we identified by conducting an internal audit of our Beta site. These issues resulted from a disparity between the accessibility obligations of the US and Australia – the US Section 508 legislation is based on WCAG 1.0, whereas Australian government agencies are required to comply with WCAG 2.0. The flexibility of the Lithium platform enabled us to correct most issues with JavaScript. For issues that were beyond a simple JavaScript tweak, we worked closely with Lithium Support to resolve problems hardcoded into the product. ATO Community has since achieved an ‘Accessibility satisfaction rating’ of 6.2 out of 7 from Vision Australia. Our collaboration is also driving changes to the core Lithium Community product, with Lithium incorporating accessibility into their roadmap for the future.

3. What were the results? 

With more than 500,000 total visits, 10,000 posts and 5,200 members who frequently contribute, we have delivered a robust online community that fosters a constructive dialogue about the Australian tax and super systems. An astounding 75% of users have reported positive experiences, with participants applauding the forum’s transparency, openness and easy to understand answers to common questions. Forum discussions are purely organic and grassroots, yet some conversations have received more than 75,000 views without promotion. ATO Community has featured in over 4.18 million search results, increasing traffic to trusted ATO content rather than third party websites.Figure 2. ATO Community’s current figuresFigure 2. ATO Community’s current figures

Figure 3. Our user feedback.Figure 3. Our user feedback.

Lithium has helped to measure ATO Community’s performance in a broader context by developing performance benchmarks derived from similar organisations. These benchmarks revealed that ATO Community exceeds most benchmarks and its growth is appropriate for its age. Further comparisons by Lithium show that our platform is performing above average compared to other support communities in many areas, as you can see in Figure 4.

Figure 4. ATO Community compared to other, similar forum.Figure 4. ATO Community compared to other, similar forum.

We have gathered user feedback with site intercept surveys to monitor call deflection - a critical indicator of ATO Community’s effectiveness. The results show that 33% of users who found an answer did not have to contact an ATO call centre because the information they sought was easily accessible on the forum. Increasing self-service and reducing calls helps to empower our users and reduce wait times.

Further highlighting the forum’s success, ATO Community is the first ATO service to pass the Australian Government’s ‘Digital Service Standard’ and is one of the first Australian government agencies to pass the ‘live’ assessment. This achievement confirms that we have built a simple, frictionless and accessible digital platform that prioritises user experience. The success of the platform will act as a catalyst for continued innovation and ongoing improvement into the future.



Awesome entry ATO!!  I can't resist bragging about how perfect the ATO Certified Label is for the customer experience and how well it's been implemented as a solution in the community.  Just take a look Smiley Very HappyATO Certified Label.JPG 

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Thanks @DeAnnaR! We are particularly happy with this feature as research has shown that it clearly addresses our users need to easily identify trustworthy content. We know that people come to our community to help them make important financial decisions, so the level of certainty and trust they need from us is extremely high. Besides, we think it is such an elegant solution to a complex problem (if we do say so ourselves :))!