A bit more on Content Strategy…

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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.

Move aside Intranet, here comes the super powered Extranet

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Yesterday I attended the Knowledge Hub Advisory group in London, although this time I had company (Richard Carter – Head of Business Solutions and Innovation).

We were asked to give a short presentation on our vision and plans around our future Web, Intranet, Extranet etc, so we obliged (I’m not normally one to turn down a chance to talk about stuff I’m passionate about).

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t see the point in Local Government considering investments in new intranets when the Knowledge Hub is and will be available from early next year and fully live by next september. If you are also ambitious you could consider downloading the source code which is free and installing a local implementation.

Anyway, yesterday was primarily aimed at talking about how the KHub fit with our vision and our potential technical architecture and our information architecture.

You can see the full slide deck on the Communities of Practice site – however one of the slides showed the very broad concept of how we essentially want to create a Service Oriented Architectural approach which will provide more agility, flexibility and scalability as well as providing a better platform for integration (we are all facing budget reductions and it is highly likely that we will commission more services)

The slide i refer to is below

This slide is for illustrative purposes but is essentially attempting to show how by decoupling the layers of our website we can provide better integration opportunities and greater business capabilities.

The services listed at the bottom represent business applications which will need to be presented via the web, the possibility of integrating Khub in at this level is relatively simple, once we move forward with this architecture. However we are also considering whether or not the KHub becomes part of the core technology towards the top of the slide. We call this the common solutions platform or CSP. It is core technology that supports a number of key strategic priorities around web, document management and business intelligence.

I wasn’t the only one who thought it was an interesting approach as Ingrid Koelher in her post Knowledge Hub – get an early look said:

But what was the coolest for me out of the day was Carl Haggerty’s presentation on the possibilities for Knowledge Hub as part of a local authorities information architecture. Yes, of course, Knowledge Hub will be an awesome replacement for communities of practice and yes, it will give us new opportunities to explore, share and compare data and information. But it’s also a huge money saving opportunity for the sector. Carl thinks that first opportunities are particularly around the extranets – as councils need to work closely with public sector partners, the voluntary and community sectors and social enterprises around new ways of delivering public services. And, of course, there are also opportunities to link sources of learning and help within council intranets to the Knowledge Hub. But there may also be opportunities to use the Knowledge Hub as an intranet itself. Either through extended use (we’d have to work out that might be done), but also perhaps as a local instance of the Knowledge Hub code.

The last point to make is that we are on a learning journey and i’m keen to hear from other lcoal authorities who are interested in this approach or who are considering the same thing as i’d love to chat some things through with you and look at how we can save development and integration time and costs.

Do we really need web managers?

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Now this is a question that has bothered me for some time and has caused me to question the validity of my job.

I want to ensure that my councils websites is one which can benefit and deliver efficiencies for the organisation and one which provides services and information for our customers. A simple vision but one which is way out of my scope as a web manager.

I of course have influence on aspects of the website, style, tone, design (although branding is more important). But when it comes to range of services and what people really want to do in terms of performing tasks, this is something that a service manager needs to be engaged in and needs to decide whether they wish to spend their service budget on a channel that for some is still unknown. When we don’t have huge amounts of information about the types of online customers we have and serve.

My dilemma and perhaps cause for confusion is that the web is too broad an area to be managed by just one person, a web manager and their team.

When the web is in fact at the heart of a range of existing disciplines in the council.

  • Technology and Innovation – we are perhaps fortunate that our corporate ICT function has a team of Enterprise Architects who are there to look at the strategic business architecture which would include the web, but also looks at the latest innovations and how they can support and deliver business benefits, web 2.0 is one area that this team will look at.
    In terms of operational web development, this is provided by our in-house development team who do the actual programming etc.
  • Content (text, image, video, audio etc) – for me this the bread and butter of websites and is mostly driven by communications and marketing people across the council, but also involves web editors and publishers. what we need here though is a content strategy which highlights all content amd which channel it needs to be delivered to. This is wider than just websites
  • Information Management (metadata and taxonomy) – This is the field of information specialists and we also have a tool which helps us tag our pages with correct metadata and contributes to the taxonomy management
  • Services (what people come to do – the tasks!) – this has been the drive of eGovernment for the last few years and continues to be the main focus of websites now, but it driven by customer services and service managers looking to provide alternative channel of access for services. But we need to put the right service in the right channel if they are to be used.
  • Design – last but not least, a visual framework by which people navigate, search and perform information and search requests. This is a design function and in terms of framework is easy to manage but overall design needs to compliment the organisational brand, a communications and marketing role.

How can a web manager truly manage all of those aspects to ensure that the website as a whole develops consistently and in a usable way. They would need to be multi-disciplined and have a wide range of knowledge or they focus on one area and do that well.

It maybe that what we need is effective governance and key people from each specialist area to ensure that we can deliver a multichannel approach. Not to cut myself out and sell myself short, i have managed to do elements of this co-ordination for the past 4 years, but that is all it has been – “Co-ordination”, it has not been about truly managing the website as a strategic platform for business and staff. Perhaps my dilemma is that iu ahve outgrown my role instead of it out-growing me.

The web needs to be mainstreamed into everyday business thinking and when that happens you won’t need a web manager as it becomes part of how we work.  However you will need all those specialist areas to focus on the wider picture.

I could be tempting fate but stating such things but this is my dilemma, i welcome your thoughts