Further developing the Content Strategy

Standard

20120117-215112.jpg
It has been a fascinating process developing the councils first content strategy, the personal learning and development which I’ve had to do as well as helping others understand the benefits of what we are calling a content strategy has also been an interesting and rewarding challenge.

In an email conversation with Sarah Lay (my unofficial content strategy peer review person) we touched on the issue of whether the content strategy I am creating is actually what the content strategy community would recognise as one…we both agreed and concluded that it didn’t really matter, as long as it did the job!

We touched on the fact that in #localgov we are really getting to a point where a group of disciplines are coming together and depending on your organisation it is likely to approach it slightly differently.

The types of things the content strategy is informing, linking to and dependant on are (in no particular order):

  • Communications strategy
  • Engagement Strategy
  • ICT Strategy
  • Information Strategy
  • Access Strategy

It has replaced a traditional web strategy altogether in my mind as we recognise that the “web” as a platform is essentially how we will manage our ICT infrastructure.

So unpicking the old web strategy further, a new strategy which is the responsibility of my ICT colleagues is an Application Strategy – this is essentially the strategy that informs our delivery of online services.

In my informal consultation on the draft content strategy, it has become clear that:

a) everyone agreed with the spirit of the document but it relied on conversation and explanation to answer people’s questions as they weren’t found in the document < but this is what the process was intended to tease out.

b) I didn't clearly articulate the strategic direction and focused too much on the 2 year roadmap < people were actually more engaged in where we are going than I had anticipated.

c) people didn't understand some aspects of what it is being proposed and the full extent of how we would apply a global experience language < My view is that it will be a complete rule book covering our web domain and not just the visual design of it, it will also form a critical and core part of a future procurement and commissioning framework for web/digital stuff.

One of the benefits of developing a content strategy is that I don't feel we need a social media strategy now. If we get the content strategy correct then our use of social media platforms to increase the engagement and interaction with our content will naturally increase…this does not mean that our use of social media will simply go crazy…but more than we will focus on the needs of the content, where the audience is and how we connect our content with the audience…the logical conclusion is that it won't be on our website but in social spaces.

And it is this strategic direction which people are really supportive of and are really engaged with…I've got one more week of informal consultations then a period of refinement and amendments on my document (which I've already started) then the content strategy will be ready for formal sign off internally by our corporate leadership team (gulp).

The next few weeks are going to be interesting.

A bit more on Content Strategy…

Standard

In a previous post I mentioned that we’re moving away from creating a traditional web strategy and are moving to a content strategy.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at analytics and understanding our content and in some ways it can be quite depressing to think that we haven’t been measuring the right things in the past and we have been driven by false statistics relating to a website overall instead of more appropriate measures around the value of content itself.

At the same time I’ve been testing the draft objectives against the future direction of the council and our complimentary strategies, such as communications, engagement, information management and localism as well as our revised Strategic Plan.

In that context I’d thought I’d share the draft objectives I’ve pulled together, I’m not convinced these are 100% right, but they are a starting point…

Objectives:

  1. Improve the quality of engagement with all council content across the web.
  2. Effectively manage content and increase the ability for all content to be shared and reused by default.
  3. Reduce duplication and improve the search and access of council content
  4. Reduce the dependency on a single council website (www.devon.gov.uk) to communicate, engage and provide information. 
  5. Improve the quality of content through evidence and the involvement of stakeholders.
  6. Ensure content is concise, structured and has a clear purpose.
  7. Ensure content is relevant and appropriate for the audience and channel.

On the whole I don’t think that these are controversial with the exception of objective 4…this would not have been even considered within a web strategy as essentially that would have been about the “survival” of the website itself.  Also this might not sit that well with some people because what that suggests is, don’t focus on our website alone but focus on the power of the web itself and how our content can reach those people who need it…

.So this allows us to focus on the content and acknowledges that people shouldn’t have to visit a council website to access meaningful content about particular services. This also supports the broad approach proposed around digital engagement, in that we should take our conversations to where people are and not expect them to come to us…so our content strategy is about enabling our content to get to the people who want it without expecting them to come to us to get it…simple when you say it, but harder to achieve.

To help me understand how this influences and impacts on our web infrastructure I drew a basic picture of how this would look (see below). 

I started to realise that broadly council sites have 4 primary purposes, I maybe wrong so would welcome comments:

1) providing news and narrative about council services and council business.

2) provide public information about our services and how to feedback, complain access information (FOI style).

3) provide access to services, either directly or through signposting.

4) provide democratic accountability and transparency.

So our content was/is supposed to be meeting and supporting these broad areas…on the whole I think we sort of do, but we are not actually able to demonstrate this through metrics or even allow this content to extend beyond our current domain. Also we don’t actually make it easy for people to access the content related to each area easily….

Content Strategy - Conceptual Model

Another thing this made me realise and thanks again to Sarah Lay here, each type of content should/would have different engagement levels, and in order to improve engagement levels on our content we’d need to better understand what an appropriate level of engagement was in each area.

For example; if someone was looking at a piece of content which was a policy document (and didn’t download it)  and was only on that page for say 1 minute 30, I think it would be safe to assume that unless we had managed to create the most perfectly written, accessible, plain english version, it is unlikely that someone had actually engaged with it, plus if we don’t allow comments or any kind of interaction we lose the opportunity for people to directly engage with the topic.  Obvious but again taking a content approach makes you think more explicitly about this as opposed to building a website which allows for interaction! 

So I’m starting to work with our Information management colleagues on better understanding content types and formats as well as starting to look at the stats we have now and what gaps we have around analytics, the next step is to understand engagement levels now and think about what would be appropriate and how we might actually enable and support that.

This is actually quite exciting and is refreshing to step back and think about the value of our content and not the value of our website.

I’m not entirely convinced whether this is actually a formal content strategy approach, but whatever this is, the approach is certainly having a wide range of benefits.

The “local government” website

Standard

I haven’t blogged for a while now and that isn’t because I don’t have anything to say, in fact the opposite. I have so many things in my head it’s about knowing what to get down first really. So apologies for the long post…I won’t take offence if you don’t read on… :)

My new role is very interesting and also very busy, which also contributes to the lack of posts, but this is something I want to resolve as I think it is an important part of my role to sharing thinking and seek feedback on how we can approach certain areas of our work.

An immediate priority for my team is the Corporate Website and Intranet, they are in pretty bad shape and need a good tidy up in terms of data, documents, content etc as well as a complete reboot from the bottom up in terms of technology and infrastructure. One example of how bad the public website has got is that we identified 44,000 pdf documents which make up around 80% of the total size of the website…personally I feel this can be traced back to when we worked on eGovernment and it was deemed acceptable to “bung” up pdf’s as an alternative to actually providing a meaningful and useful service…some even called it  an “acceptable cheat” to meeting the BV157 indicator…but that is history and we are where we are…so my team and some colleagues have started work on reducing that size, by understanding what each pdf is, whether it needs to be published at all (is it current) or whether it needs to be moved to our records management system.

The key principle we are applying is our content management system should not be the place for these documents, so as long as they aren’t in there we are making progress… The ideal scenario of course, as I’m sure some of you are thinking “no documents on the website, that is mad, how will you do that?” is that we use the appropriate technology for the job, so documents reside in a document management system and are presented to the website via an integration or web service in some way… This really is simple stuff, but it never happened when we first moved to a Content Management system about 10 years ago…

Anyway we are making progress, albeit slowly but we have had to overcome some very simple but significant issues around ownership and access which has resulted recently (last week in fact) in a very good and consistent understanding around the role of my team in and around the web.

The bigger challenge of course is working out and agreeing what we believe the purpose and business strategy should be for a local government website.

Now for some this may seem a pretty simple question and one which I really shouldn’t be spending much time on, but it really is the most fundamental thing a local council should do before developing, building or even investing in a new website and the technology that it runs on…

I believe this question isn’t as simple as it used to be since the consultation on Open Public Services White Paper. Now the interesting thing with this is  – and some of it I agree with in principle but in practice, I’m not sure how that would play out – is that it actually means that local government would essentially disappear…we would have no obligation or responsibility to deliver any service at all… Now when you think about that, for a moment….it is actually quite dramatic change and one which local councils have not yet articulated or perhaps understood… many are seeing the decentralisation as a positive thing which will reinforce their position but I’m not sure the paper actually has the same outcome in mind as current local government colleagues think.

So when you consider a local government website in that situation what is it? A yellow pages of local services really…not an all-encompassing site with service transactions and top tasks or whatever the latest fad is for the local government homepage…it is simply a searchable directory of services which clearly and I think this is the critical part in local accountability shows who is responsible and who to complain to when something goes wrong…

It is almost like Amazon, except we won’t have anything of our own in it to sell…

That is of course quite an extreme view and not a logical conclusion but it is certainly one potential outcome which fundamentally changes the purpose of a local government website…my questions is are we adaptable enough to change as quickly as we need to?… Currently we are nowhere near that level of agility and adaptability…but we are heading in that direction.

Coming back to Amazon model (the current model), I actually believe this is more likely the representation of how local government website will and should work. For example you go online, search the website for a product/service and you get a range of options (choice in Coalition Government terms) from a variety of suppliers (diversity in Coalition Government terms).  You as the consumer of that service get to choice which option or provider you wish to purchase from and it clearly states whether or not this will be fullfilled by Amazon or by someone in their marketplace (Accountability in Coalition Government terms).

So when it comes to writing a web strategy, we also need to consider the “marketplace” and how that impacts on the development of a website and its infrastructure and core technology…We would actually become an integration hub instead of a primary service provider… That changes the proposition of a council website and any investment plan considerably.

Another angle which has recently been floating in my mind is the role of a local authority website as an economic development tool…not entirely by itself but more the data and information being freely available for other to commercially benefit from.  I like the approach being built on beta gov, which allows a user to download the data used to make and create that page…

To go back a bit for context – when I first started in local government web around 8 years ago, my ambition was that the councils website was the best, had the best functionality, best little widgets, best information, the best of everything…just like all other web managers I’m sure…However now and I’m not sure if this is age related or simply #lazyweb taking over my thinking or the episode of The Simpson’s where Homer runs for Sanitation Commissioner offering the new slogan “Can’t Someone Else Do It?”.

But why should local councils develop their website alone…why can’t we open the whole thing up and allow local developers, businesses etc and develop on top of our platform as well as using the data to build things that are meaningful for people… Well we can, there isn’t really anything stopping us other than the infrastructure and technology as well as the data….so just a few minor things to resolve then…

I know that no matter how hard you try as a web manager in local government, you’ll never consistently develop anything that is really that good (no disrespect to fellow web managers/developers out there, who do build some great individual things). But the challenge is making all this stuff a priority in a council balanced against resources who are looking at maintain an Adult Social care system or developing a small widget to search bus timetables…i know which one the organisation would want done first…

AlphaGov are doing some great things but we can’t compete with that level of investment or resources, so I’m hoping what they build, learn and develop will be reusable to the whole public sector community…not as one big thing but in small modules/widgets etc that can add value locally.

So I come back to a web strategy and the purpose of a local authority website…it doesn’t really seem straight forward, but it certainly is an interesting area to work right now.

 

 

 

 

 

FaceGov

Standard

I’ve read with interest the articles/blog posts (listed at the bottom of this post) about the interesting move by Takeo City in Japan, who have made the bold decision to move their entire council website to facebook.

On face value it would be easy to argue that this is a very bold move and one which will signal a new revolution in how councils around the world decide the future fate of their corporate websites…..

Or

You could argue that they have taken the easier and slightly more riskier approach and put faith in Mark Zuckerberg who is now in some strange way their website provider? What service level do they have with him, what happens when facebook change their terms and conditions and it becomes somewhere people avoid…what about google plus…twitter, linkedin….amazon even…

Or

You could argue that they lack ambition, strategy and execution to resolve the issues that they state are the reasons behind the move…

Takeo officials said move to Facebook is due to the difficulties to share information in the existing website while the city page on Facebook provides citizens with engagement options through it’s “like” buttons, comments, messaging and chat.

”For this reason, there was some opposition as it would limit access to city information for some citizens. But since we were considering the shift, Facebook changed its rules to make pages viewable to anybody, and from that point on it was a go.”

Now I’m not a huge fan of big corporate Content Management Platforms, but I am aware that with very little money and some good tactical choices you could easily build in engagement directly into a corporate platform….after all the UK Government is doing this in some of its sites already…..AlphaGov, Number 10 etc

Another reason cited was that the Mayor wasn’t keen on receiving comments on the main website from people who use anonymous names and handles. This is an interesting point of view and one for which i do sympathise but you could consider facebook connect, open ID, which could achieve similar outcomes. Is this reason enough to move your entire website across to facebook….

An interesting side benefit which I’ve yet to read is that I’m sure it is far easier for the council to manage a facebook page than a traditional council website…the cost is free, the platform is social, it is easy to publish, the residents are “likely” to be online and they don’t have to deal with ICT colleagues (just kidding :) ), they can avoid the “press release” home page, they have a mobile version as well as apps etc which present there data….I can see that the decision for some people was probably easier than it should have been.

But what about transactions, what about insight and analytic’s, what about customer experience and brand reputation…after all every page is still under the Facebook logo…but maybe that doesn’t matter anymore…

One of the interesting aspects of this move is that Takeo have started a discussion about why council websites need to exist and what role they should serve…Andrea Di Maio of Gartner states:

…..The point is that it is possible to get rid of the web site, and even more of those government portals that aim at providing a life event view of services and information to citizens and enterprises and almost inevitably fail to model access the way people do expect or need it.

Think about it.

  • Citizens who are occasional, infrequent users of a government website or portal, will most likely search for what they need: whether on an external search engine (more likely) or on the web site itself, they are not looking for a fancy, consistent interface that takes them through the “logical” steps, but just for effective search results.
  • Citizens who are more regular users, as they have periodic administrative obligations or have the right to periodic benefits, may either use intermediaries or expect those interactions to be modeled around what they see as the “logical” steps (e.g. integrated with their on-line banking access as well as their social networking connections) rather than what government believes are the logical steps.
  • Small business are likely to behave like the citizens above, while larger businesses want to run applications that do integrate with web services provided by the relevant authorities they interact with, so they are not likely to be interested in the web sites either.
  • Last but not least, anything that smells “participation” or “engagement” needs to take place on a mainstream social media platform, possibly on the citizens’ own virtual turf (i.e. their groups, their blogs, their Facebook pages) rather than on the governments’ one.

Now in part I kind of agree with the spirit of what Andrea says but the Takeo example for me is not the answer and nor is removing local government websites altogether….

We do need to rethink what local government websites do and how they are built from the bottom up to allow for much more interaction, openness and transparency.

I’d like to think that the data and content can sit anywhere but is managed from a single place….moving to facebook should not be a permanent option but “renting” or simply “having an enhanced presence” certainly seems sensible.

Related posts: