Bringing content to people, not people to websites – Gov2Radio

Standard

As referenced in my last blog post, here is the podcast embedded below…I didn’t realise that I sounded so Devonian :)

A very open account and it comes from the heart as you’d expect..a good edit considering we spoke for just over an hour…for those who know me, getting me to shut up isn’t that easy…

Thank you to Allison for the opportunity to share some thinking and the conversation.

Enjoy….

http://gov20radio.com/2012/06/content-to-people/

Is text only still relevant?

Standard

This isn’t going to be a long post, as I don’t really have any answers…just a series of questions and assumptions…

My question is how relevant is a Text Only version of a website?

There maybe an obvious answer to this – Is this simply an admission that your website by default isn’t actually usable and accessible?

I’ve been thinking and chatting to my team about content strategy, user experience,  HTML 5 and responsive design and how this will change the way we think and design websites from the ground up…It is all very exciting but we also need to think the now, how do we build stuff today and what should we be including.

In Devon, our current corporate website has a text only version and if I’m honest I think it is a pretty poor presentation of the content and fails to really offer any advantage…and if we have simply designed a usable and accessible site all along we probably wouldn’t think about text only…

Our stats show that the text only version isn’t used much, if at all on most days…so this brings me back to the question…How relevant is Text Only?

The cookie monster…

Standard
Cookie Monster

Cookie Monster - By dnnya17 from Flickr

Following on from my previous post about Cookies and with less than a month to go, I’d thought I’d expand some of my thinking and the “pragmatic” approach I’d like to adopt here in Devon.

Firstly I referred to the guide developed by the Government Digital Services (GDS) “Implementer Guide to Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECRs) for public sector websites” [ pdf warning ] and I really suggest you download it and read it  – it is in my opinion a very helpful and pragmatic document and provides more practical help than the Information Commissioner’s website

The following quote for me represents the bigger challenge which I feel web managers also need to invest some time in…

The preferred method of compliance with the new regulations i.e. least disruptive to the user experience, would be one based on users’ “implied consent”. In this context “implied consent” can be taken to mean that a user is aware of the implications of taking a certain action and that by choosing to take such action are implicitly giving their consent to the related outcomes.

However, the ICO does not believe it is possible to take such an approach at present because “evidence demonstrates that general awareness of the functions and uses of cookies is simply not high enough for websites to look to rely entirely in the first instance on implied consent”.

This emphasises the need to raise the awareness levels amongst users of government websites about the uses and functions of cookies. Consistency in the presentation of cookies-related information will help towards achieving the aim of educating users, so this document sets out a recommended template for departments’ ‘Use of Cookies’ policy

So two points come out of this which are important to acknowledge, the first being implied consent, which sounds like the most logical approach and one which will impact the end-user the least and second Awareness – yes, awareness of what cookies are, what they do and why people need to understand this as they move about the internet.  So as it states the ICO state that you can’t really do implied consent if the levels of awareness of so poor that people are clueless as to what cookies are in use on a given site.

However  – It’s worth remembering I’m trying to provide a pragmatic solution here –  my personal preference is that we in fact do adopt an implied consent model but support with communication and awareness across our site which helps to mitigate any concerns.

I’ve started to experience the “click box” approach on a few websites, the ICO’s included and it really is a nuisance and doesn’t actually demonstrate people understand what they are clicking and what that means to them and disappears once you click on it once, so it fails to address the awareness issue as well in my opinion and is really a worse approach as on return to the sites I visited there isn’t really any clear and visible links to the cookie usage and privacy policy.

So one of the things we will be doing to help with a sustained level of awareness and communication is linking to content which explains what cookies are in a balanced way – Two good examples of this are AboutCookies.org and its Cookie FAQ section and CookieCentral’s FAQ section.

In support of this we will also be linking to content which helps explain how people manage cookies within their browsers and again AboutCookies.org provides some really good resources here.

We will also be communicating that our use of google analytics as a service improvement tool will be on the basis that we do not share any data as described in my previous post

I think as a web community we really should offer a consistent approach to communicating about cookies and in my view we shouldn’t be writing or creating this individually. This should be delivered either through a consistent approach to some common and reusable content which can be syndicated or a consistent approach to linking to the same resources. What ever we do the message and awareness should be the same.

Devon’s Content Strategy

Standard

In previous posts I’ve talked about developing a content strategy for the council and shared my thoughts on what it might include, i’ve shared an example of how its already informing our development as well as sharing my thinking on the kind of support I believe web teams and local government in general need to improve the overall quality of our web estate.

There is a huge amount of work to be done moving forward and my team have essentially been delivering against this strategy already since last summer, as we have been reviewing and auditing our content.

The key point to outline is that in terms of how our web estate will actually look in 4-5 years time, we broadly see an Amazon style site emerging where our web domain acts as a trusted access point over a hybrid marketplace of services, some provided directly by us, some provided by voluntary / private sector and some provided by partnerships.

The content strategy’s primary purpose is to outline an approach and shift the current thinking around how we design, develop and manage our web estate.

I’m not going to republish the whole thing here as it is quite long, so I’ll include a few bits and pieces from the 4 year strategy and if you want to see the full version then please get in touch and I can email you a copy along with a Powerpoint presentation which helps to explain and illustrate it further.

There are 3 documents in total – in my view the background makes excellent bedtime reading when I struggle sleeping :)

  • A 4 year Strategy
  • A 2 year roadmap
  • Background information
The following is a short summary of the strategy document.

Vision

The content strategy aims to fundamentally change the way we think about our web presence, to reposition the user at the forefront of how and why we create content and services. It intends to exploit the social web and social networks to ensure our content reaches its intended audience.

The main aim is to ensure that users can access content where they need it and not have to rely on accessing and navigating their way through a council website to find critical or timely information and services.

If the strategy is successful then we will have a hybrid web presence with content being managed once and reused and shared where appropriate. A large proportion of our content will reside in social platforms and social networks directly targeting the primary audience, for example all of our content for parents should also be available directly via Mumsnet (if practical), or aspects of our content for people from different cultures in Devon should be directly available via Devon Grapevine.

However we would also have a strong and clearly branded presence providing core information which would act as a central hub. In maintaining a single domain this ensures that our content is accessible and findable via google which is essentially the majority of users starting point on the web.

Our vision statement:

“We will have a public facing web domain that reflects and supports the diversity and agility of the organisation, reaches out and extends our presence across the web whilst providing a framework for consistency, accountability and quality around the content we provide”.

The Strategy

The content strategy is also an enabler for a number of other county council strategies for example:

  • Access Strategy
    By providing a usable online web presence that is driven by the needs of users and provides access to a range of online services to support cost savings through the migration of users from more expensive channels of access to online.
  • Engagement Strategy
    By connecting people to content and information about council services, decisions, plans etc and providing opportunities and channels to provide feedback or have a discussion directly online.
  • Information Strategy
    By ensuring that our content is reusable, sharable, open and linked by default.
  • Communications Strategy
    By providing a key purpose for all content, and supporting the key themes and messages in line with the Communications Strategy.

This strategy aims to provide specific, well-informed recommendations about how we’re going to get from where we are today – bad content and too much content – to where we want to be – useful, usable content people will actually care about and in places that make sense to them.

Our Approach

To ensure the delivery of the strategy, we need to think differently and adopt a set of approaches which will provide the foundations for success – these are explained in further detail below.

Standards Driven – (a global experience language)

Our web domain will be an ecosystem or network of solutions all governed by a set of rules (a global experience language, or GEL ) so they look, talk and behave like part of the core and are also searchable and indexed from a single (federated) search facility.

The GEL itself will be developed using feedback and evidence around the use of our web domain and will be constantly reviewed and updated to ensure that it stays current and in line with significant changes in web delivery.

Taking the GEL further it will include standards such as:-

  • Content Standards and Lifecycle Management
  • Online Feedback
  • Web Publishing and Editorial Policy (including Plain English)
  • Accessibility (including EU Cookie Directive)

User Driven (evidence based)

Using web-based analytics is essentially about looking at how your website is being used. It gives you a feel for how many visits your site gets over a given time period, how many of these visits are unique, what the most popular pages are, as well as a whole range of other information.
In order to measure and evaluate our content effectively we need to adopt a blended approach which uses traditional web analytics along with additional sources of information/data. These would include

  • Heuristic Evaluations (end users and staff)
  • Data from Customer Service Centre
  • Data from Freedom of Information requests
  • Web Analytics
  • Feedback and complaints
  • Profiling and Content Engagement
  • Online Surveys

A Procurement and Commissioning Framework – (working with others)

It is important to acknowledge that the council will not be able to deliver and implement the content strategy in isolation or alone. In order to achieve the aims of the content strategy we need to ensure that the GEL is consistently applied whenever county council content is being presented online whether via a website, mobile phone app, digital TV service etc.

Development through iteration (agile and response)

The content strategy requires a new way of thinking about our domain and website and for these reasons we should adopt a more agile approach to development. The main reason for this is that the web is a dynamic, constantly changing environment and subsequently drove a large number of our “microsites” to be developed outside of our corporately provided systems.

A refreshed Web Architecture – (future proofing)

The content strategy also plays a key role in shaping and informing the web architecture as part of the ICT Corporate Business and Solution Strategy as well as the emerging Application Strategy.

Provider Engagement Network – a buddypress win

Standard

Just before christmas a colleague within our social care commissioning team approached me and asked about how we could help provide an online network to enable providers of health and social care services to raise issues for discussion between one another and with County Council and NHS Devon.

Initially I suggested he explore some free to use tools on the web to help him refine his requirements and better understand the types of features he feels would be of value.  I think most people assume I’ll simply throw a tool at them…but I’m keen to ensure that people focus on the problems they are trying to solve and how these can be solved.

About 3-4 weeks ago we had a catch up call on the phone where we went through the features and how he would like the network to operate. Now as a stroke of luck perhaps, the requirements he listed exactly matched the forum i happened to be using that day which was the UKGovCamp buddypress site.

So I suggested we create a buddy press test site on my teams hosting and we explore it further with some of his other colleagues the following week.

So that is what we did,  we sat down and went through the out of the box features and they loved it…we refined some of the features and created some additional privacy which took about 2-3 hours  – we didn’t even create any visual design aspects, as we said we could apply these at any time once they had them created. We then handed over a fully functioning online network platform last week and they launched it last Friday!

This rapid launch surprised me a bit but it wasn’t a problem…although on Monday this week we made some additional changes based on some very early feedback from users on Friday evening and Monday morning, but that didn’t take very long at all.

So far this week it has had a flurry of people signing up which has been great and we have had lots of great feedback from people.

We still need to work through some of the community management challenges and processes and help them facilitate the community and allow it to grow in a sustainable way…but we’d rather do that live then wait until we felt we were capable of doing this before launching.

Thanks go to Matt Down in the team who pulled all of this together in pretty much no time.