Building a Community of Practice

Building a Community of Practice

I recently led a meeting of the Welsh local government Service Design Community of Practice, focused on all things related to content design (what else?!).

This was a really interesting session that helped me get to grips with how content is thought about and managed across the authorities we work with at WLGA. More importantly, we knew that content design was a topic our community members were keen to discuss.

Taking a step back though, you might be wondering what a community of practice is, and why our team have set one up for service design within local government in Wales. Essentially, they’re a space for people with a common interest to build a network where they can learn from each other (the GOV.UK website also has a good explainer of communities of practice).

This may involve sharing different ways of working, reviewing best practice, collaborative problem-solving, and general discussion and networking. Crucially, it’s driven by the community members themselves, so that they get the support they need.

As each local authority typically manages between 800 and 1400 services each, it was clear that there was a big opportunity to make a difference with a community of practice in this area.

And it’s an opportunity that’s only going to grow. The pandemic meant that authorities had to quickly move to bring more of their services online for more people – and as citizens have got used to the convenience and flexibility of these new options, they must continue to be expanded and improved to meet demand.

Our community of practice sessions are run each month, and the team have run 3 so far. I was excited to have the chance to lead the most recent session, and it was great to see the community members engaging in lively discussion.

We started with different authorities sharing insight into how they manage content, including who is responsible for it and where it sits within the wider team. There were also a lot of ideas for ensuring consistency, through standards, principles and KPIs.

The discussion then moved across a range of topics related to content design. These included choosing the right tools for user needs, managing Welsh language requirements, and tackling accessibility issues around elements such as PDFs.

Accessibility turned out to be a particular area of interest. Community members were keen to build accessibility into all areas of content, making it a priority consideration from the start and much more than a single assessment to be passed at the end of a project. They shared some useful suggestions for training and other resources – and I was also able to plug my own appearance on a digital accessibility webinar run by CDPS.

The need to encourage buy-in and raise awareness was another recurring theme, for accessibility and also content design more generally. We know this is an ongoing journey for local authorities, but hope the community of practice provides a space for helpful discussions at any stage of that journey.

We also hope to support engagement through the introduction of a content design learning framework, which we’ll be talking about more in the near future. This will signpost people to a range of resources on all aspects of content design, including accessibility as a foundational skill.

You’ll notice I’ve said ‘people’ and not ‘practitioners’ or ‘content designers’. We don’t want to limit the framework to those with ‘content’ or ‘design’ in their title, especially because many of those who are currently doing content design don’t have the official title, and may not even recognise themselves in the role.

The framework will need to work for these people, whether they want to learn more about the formal discipline of content design, or are after more general advice to help them work more effectively. We also want it to be open to those looking to move into the area, as well as wider stakeholders who need to know a bit about what content design is and why it matters.

The feedback we’ve had from this community of practice session has been really positive. People enjoyed hearing from others in a similar situation to them, and found the discussions, stories and resources useful. We’re now looking at running future content design and accessibility sessions as part of the community of practice, as well as other ways we can support in this area. No matter what we do, we’ll do it with input from the community, to ensure it delivers value and works for them. We’ll of course share more about these plans as the details emerge.

I realise I’ve teased a lot of good stuff we have coming up here, so do watch this space, and don’t forget to sign up to our mailing list for updates! And if you have any comments or questions, you can email the team at digitalteam@wlga.gov.uk.

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