Content Design Discovery Project – Our recommendations for next steps
Blog written by Matt Lucht, contracted Delivery Manager for the project.
Our recommendations for next steps
In our 1st blog post we described why the Welsh Local Government Association funded a content discovery project. And in the 2nd blog post we talked about what we learned during the project.
This blog post outlines our recommendations and next steps.
Recommendations for alpha
Our recommendations for what to do next are threefold.
- Content ownership and a style guide
- Put in place and test some of the best-practice recommendations
- Establish a service transformation project that will take forward what was learned through this discovery
Content ownership and style guide
Ownership of content
It was clear from speaking to the local authorities that there were gaps in who owned the content.
We feel that within each of the local authorities there needs to be someone, or a small team of people, identified as the owner of the content for the organisation, who act as a gatekeeper to ensure the facts are given to the end-user in a way they can understand.
That person or team has to be empowered as the owner and supported to write content that is based on clear user needs and written from the perspective of the user.
The content owner needs to be enabled to establish content design best practices across the organisation and will require the backing and support of management teams to make sure these best practices are followed.
For this to have a positive impact there needs to be a change in the dynamic from the subject matter experts or service owners being the custodian of the content to a role where they’re responsible for fact checking and ensuring accuracy of content, but not the writing and publishing.
In short, we feel that the service area experts continue to own the facts, but the empowered content owner owns the content and owns how that content is provided to meet the end users’ needs.
We recommend that the organisations establish a style guide to provide a framework for writing better and more consistent content. A style guide can be created over time, but a great starting point would be to adopt the GOV.WALES style guide.
This will need to be continously reviewed to ensure that there is a shared way of referring to things across Welsh government and local authorities, in clear non-formal Welsh and English.
Content design training courses
When we identify who owns the content in the organisations, those who own the writing content for local authorities would benefit from going on content design training courses.
There are a number of training courses available, but a good place to start would be the courses run by the Welsh Local Government Association.
There is also a recommended reading list on the Labs, Learn by Making website that has some really useful resources.
Content design best practices
Through the various workshops and conversations that we’ve had during discovery we’ve been able to highlight some suggestions of best practice that could be implemented.
These could be tested within service areas before rolling out across the entire organisation.
Content request process
Right now content is added to the website without consideration for the user needs that the content should be trying to address.
Ideally all content (whether it’s new or an update to existing content) should come in via a standardised content request form. This request form will help publishers think about what that content is really for, and whether there is actually a user need for it.
We feel that following a defined workflow will help provide visibility of what content is due to be published, and provide help when considering the priority of each content request. We’ve built an example workflow in Trello that can be copied and reused.
Community of practice
The content design challenges that we’ve observed are by no means unique to the 4 local authorities, or even within Welsh public sector organisations. We believe that content owners joining the CDPS user-centred design and Content Community of Practice who meet on a regular basis to discuss approaches to problems would be really helpful. Details of this can be found on the Content Design resources board.
There is also a Community of Practice for Content Design in Welsh Local Government Community that meets every two months. You can find out more on the WLGA Digital website, and sign up for the next meeting which is happening at the beginning of April.
This could also be supported by a shared Teams or Slack channel across local authorities for sharing links, content crits and ideas.
On top of our user research sessions, we believe that it’s important to understand what users think about your service on an ongoing basis. This approach will allow the local authorities to identify opportunities to continually improve the content of the service.
We’ve written up a guide for how to set-up on site feedback and a template for a feedback form.
Establish measures and metrics
Identifying the right measures and metrics for content can be tricky, but it’s definitely worth spending some time to consider.
If you try to establish measures for the website as a whole, you’ll likely struggle, and there will be too much information to manage. However, by picking an area (or service) of the website and first thinking about what it is that content is trying to achieve will help you identify problems more quickly.
Services that result in an ‘apply for’ or ‘pay for’ application are easier to measure. If the goal is to inform a user then you’ll need to think about other things that indicate success.
Where possible try to avoid vanity metrics like ‘number of page visitors’ as this alone may not be an indication that the content is working.
Quite often there won’t be a single metric that tells the whole story, but a number of factors combined. For example, web analytics, page feedback and number of calls to the contact centre can help tell the story of how your content is performing.
Do more prototyping and testing
Teams within local authorities need to be empowered to do more prototyping and testing in order to find ways to improve their services. As this discovery demonstrated, having the right people with the right skills focusing on a specific problem helps develop solutions in a very small amount of time.
Prototyping allows local authorities to focus on a specific problem and safely test new ideas. It gives an opportunity to continually put things in front of users and get important feedback. Without prototyping and testing with users you increase the risk of releasing a substandard service to the user.
We’ve previously talked about the scope of local authority services being incredibly broad and varied. There isn’t a big bang solution that will fix all the content problems in one go, and at the same time.
However, as mentioned above this discovery has clearly demonstrated that by empowering a small team who have the right skills and are able to focus on a specific problem then you can quickly find ways to make improvements.
Our recommendation would be to pick a service, ideally one that is generic across all local authorities in Wales, possibly council tax (we might be slightly biased) and use that as an exemplar of how things could be done.
Council tax as a candidate for alpha
Using council tax as a case study for this discovery we barely had time to scratch the surface. It’s a hugely complex and interesting area with many opportunities to offer a better experience for users, and provide greater efficiencies within the local authority service teams.
As a service that is common across all of Wales, and one of the services that is delivered to most residents in-one-way-or-another, it’s something that could be worked on once and implemented by each local authority.
There are a number of ways in which the scope for an alpha could be kept to a manageable level, one could be to maintain the remit to ‘apply for a council tax discount’ and increase the number of scenarios that this service caters for.
The shape of the team
Depending on the specifics of the alpha the skills needed might vary slightly, but typically you’ll want to include:
- someone who is able to run user research sessions and help the team understand what should be focused on next
- someone who is responsible for writing clear content that uses language consistent with what users of the service understand
- someone who is comfortable building prototypes to allow the team to quickly put things in front of users
- someone who understands the subject of the service and is able to make decisions on behalf of the service
- someone who can support the team by making sure they stay focused on the right things and ensure that they aren’t blocked or side tracked.
The shape of the team as described above could be resourced from within the local authority providing that individuals were empowered and given the opportunity for training and crucially allowed to establish user-centered design ways of working.
However, it was clear when we moved to the prototyping stage that there is a significant gap around the role of a developer. This came up a few times in the discovery, but it was the fast-paced development of the prototype that really brought it to our attention.
We believe that someone who is able to take high-level prototypes and build production quality products that can be used by real users in a live environment would greatly enable the local authorities to make and maintain change.
It’s worth noting that the role will also help with the support and maintenance of products as they are built – which seems to be a barrier to some transformation projects. The lack of the role poses a risk that when something breaks, no-one is around to fix it.
We know that this is a specialist role that requires the person or people to have specific skillsets, and suggest that further discussions are needed on what the investment into developer skills looks like for the organisations in the future.
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