Further developing the Content Strategy

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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.

The Intranet is not a single system

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This post is not about stating anything new…but merely sharing some thoughts…

In my new role I am also responsible for the councils Intranet, which is currently not fit for purpose as the core technology for content, much like our public website is using an outdated technology, it doesn’t support dynamic content and is generally poorly managed.

No one  is to blame for that, we are where we are…but it is clear that we need to change the way we operate around the intranet in order to provide more efficient internal communications and better access to internal services and business processes.

One area which is often hard for people to get to grips with is that the Intranet is not a single system…you may have a content management system which presents your content and manages the intranet homepage, but this is only part of your intranet’s ecosystem…So when people refer to the intranet being rubbish or poor, they are generally referring to the top level content and the look and feel of templates…which fortunately is something we can do something about…But the whole ecosystem needs to fit together in order for an intranet to be useful and usable.

I’ve written before on Intranet’s here, here and here and this is an opportunity to get a broader view on the way forward and have a conversation about the core business purpose and not about the underlying technology, which is where my focus in the past has been.

A few weeks back I put together a single side of A4 on the core purpose and some strategic assumptions in order to frame and inform the future direction and creation of an Intranet Strategy, It was kind of quick and dirty but did the job as we now have a collective acceptance to the current picture…which certainly helps when agreeing a future direction.

This is what I wrote:

Core Purpose

The Intranet should aim to be the number one business support tool for all staff across the council.

The ultimate purpose for our intranet (the source) is to contribute to the Council’s strategic objectives by establishing an internal communications network which is able to provide an efficient, internal service-delivery mechanism accessible from anywhere and at any time.

Typical intranet objectives would be:

  1. enabling high levels of employee involvement (2 way dialogue) and productivity.
  2. support collaboration, information sharing and connecting with colleagues (staff directory).
  3. facilitating business efficiency (employee self service tools).
  4. to become a key repository (the source) for information to assist people in their roles.

Strategic Assumptions

  • The current Intranet platform is no longer fit for purpose.
  • The Intranet is part of the councils wider web presence which also includes the public website and extranet capabilities and should be seen in this context when considering and planning technology solutions.
  • The intranet is not a single system, it is an ecosystem of platforms, tools and applications which contribute to the core purpose above. Note: we will need to understand the relationship between the new desktop, extranet and a new redefined intranet.
  • The intranet should be available to all staff regardless of location.
  • The intranet should make it possible for all staff to contribute to the knowledge repository through formal and informal routes.
  • The information structure should focus on the user perspective and not on the organisation structure. As an example, Figure 1 shows a context diagram for intranet services from an end-users perspective.

 

 

FaceGov

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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:

A new view of Corporate Web Management – The Competencies

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In a previous post about the potential shift around the role of a Corporate Web Manager, I want to look at the type of competencies that this new role might be expected to perform in the (very near) future.

Just to recap I identified two different roles:

1) A “Strategic” Web Commissioner – This would in effect be the person who wrote the strategy, understood and documented the organisational needs and specified at a high level the requirements by which a commissioning exercise could take place – they would also be responsible for monitoring the value and ensuring it delivered the outputs specified. This role would also need to set and outline the standards as part of the requirements

2) An “Operational” Web Delivery Manager – This would essentially be the person(s)  responsible for the delivery of the platform. In the scenario above this could be an external organisation or a partners ICT department.

So the following represents a first draft of what I feel would be required for the Strategic Web Commissioner Role, it is divided into 5 main areas, I have also not added the additional details of what each bullet point relates to at this stage either.

You will notice that very little relates directly to the web itself. I do however feel that there needs to be a recognition that such a role would need a very good understanding of the web and social web in order to be truly effective. However I think that these kinds of things would be picked up in a person specification, which supported the following competencies.

Anyway it is very much work in progress, so I’d welcome comments and feedback.

Leadership

  • Direction setting – why are we using the web, what benefits does it offer the organisation etc
  • Influencing/ persuading – evangelising the use of the web
  • Horizon scanning  – what technology or business trends do we need to be aware of, complexity of organisational environment etc.
  • Decision making – getting things done

Planning and Programme Management

  • Requirements analysis – what we are delivering a web site for and what functions should it offer
  • Process analysis – which processes require changing for transactional delivery
  • Solutions design – what is the solution architecture
  • Programme and project management
  • Change Management and Benefits Realisation

Engagement

  • Stakeholder analysis  – understanding the aims and objectives of your key stakeholders
  • Customer/Citizen engagement – how can the web meet local needs
  • Service engagement – how can the web delivery service improvement and cost reduction

Procurement

  • Procurement Strategy – ensuring supplier independence, understanding market capability and aligning with organisational strategy
  • Delivery Analysis – internal vs external vs partnership vs shared service
  • Procurement management
    • Sourcing
    • Contracts and contract management
    • Performance Management

Monitor and Manage

  • Overall service performance management
  • Service management analysis – including feedback and co-design of services
  • Value Analysis – are we getting value

I think this is a big shift away from current web manager roles, although bits of it will be done – I believe the biggest aspect fo this will be in understanding the ever-increasing complexity of the delivery model which Councils will be moving toward in order to create a seamless and coordinated interface into the transactions and information.

Thoughts on a “perfect council website”

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Yesterday i attended the “Building the Perfect Council Website” event in London. The keynote speaker was Gerry McGovern and i was very impressed although at times i thought it was hard to imagine how you actually achieve this stuff in local government, because web managers are only one cog in a big wheel, we are almost guardians of the corporate web instead of managers but still some great points none the less.

My observations and thoughts (this may not reflect exactly what he said, but will give you a flavour)

  • Get rid of those damn press releases (who the heck reads them).
  • Stop the political messages (Our Leader).
  • Nobody cares for this stuff, they are task focused and don’t have much time.
  • We already take their money and if we take even more of there time we will only create more frustrated citizens and visitors.
  • Delete most of your content as nobody reads or even maintains the stuff.
  • 80% of web management is observing behaviour.
  • Do the tasks your customers do and experience the “journey” yourself.
  • Personalisation doesn’t work, most people don’t want to do it – interesting considering i was on the panel about web 2.0 techniques with “Steve Johnson” from Redbridge and “Suraj Kiki” founder of Jadu CMS, more on this later)
  • Start with your top tasks and get them on your homepage to stop people having to search for them.
  • Don’t force “corporate” crap at your customers, they don’t really care.

I was buzzing afterwards and had so many thoughts and issues running through my head, one then stuck straight away was about deleting content.

My council and it appeared that most councils do the same as well, have started to use the web as a repository for “stuff” which someone at some point might read, it also make FOI easier (well that is the theory), but it doesn’t make using teh site easier as it just gets bigger and bigger with “stuff” that people don’t actually read but one day they might look back and say “i wonder if the council had a strategy on XXX, Oh look it was on there website all the time, that was lucky”

So perhaps a medium term action is to split the website up – not practically, but in a virtual way in to 3 sections

  1. Transactional Services and Core Information – linked with Customer Service Centre.
  2. Corporate Information – stuff you want to say but no one really reads.
  3. Archive – where all the “stuff” can sit and turn to virtual compost.

Right job done, sit back relax……phew…….Wait, there is more

I said earlier that it raised a number of issues in my head, and i started to clarify them on the train home whilst reading “clay shirky”. (I wanted to finish this sooner but got distracted by Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson also an interesting read)

Other issues included

  • Who do we really want our audience to be? We have many different types and research published by Socitm suggests that on average only about 25% of residents look at your website? so who the hell is the other 75% and what do they want to do in terms of top tasks?
  • Personalisation does work, surely it does, i mean amazon, ebay, digital banking, cookie based postcoded weather from the BBC is all personalisation, just varying levels
  • Are we all doing web management wrong?
  • How can you explain to politicians that nobody cares about them on the website?

On to “personalisation” and the workshop Web 2.0 techniques in councils websites.

Suraj, opened the workshop with the “machine is us” web2.0 video, which i have previously posted on this blog.

It was then my turn and i didn’t want to use any slides of presentation as we are on our journey to developing our new site (i will include some of the visual designs for you to see exclusively here towards the end of the post) But i explained why we are on this journey and the benefits we feel we will get.

I also said that i believed that personalisation is something that we should consider, but it will be in the implementation of it that will be key. we don’t intend anyone to register with our site to personalise it, so if you don’t your experience would be no different to anyone else who doesn’t, but if you do choose, then you may have a more personalised view of the council based on your interests and location.

Steve Johnson then gave a presentation on the real thing “redbridge i”, what was interesting to me was the redbridge conversation work that they had done around the budget process…check it out for yourself.

The rest of the day was a blur to be honest, as my mind was digesting all the issues and questions that the morning session had sparked in my head. although i asked lots of questions when opportunity arose, on the whole the event was good, but with all these things the people made it and it was great to make new contacts and meet people i haven’t seen for a while and who i should speak to more often.

Ok, as promised, the visual design for our website. NB: This reflects visually what we intend to complete over a number of phases of development.