A bit more on Content Strategy…

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.

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8 Replies to “A bit more on Content Strategy…”

  1. Really good article which I like because I think folks are beginning to understand that content does not live (or have to live) in documents and that a lot of the time people go to their council web site is for information. (Allegedly, 65-70%) . So open data is good. But what about Open transactions. In point 4 you mention provide access to services, either directly or through signposting.
    There is a w3c standard that is starting to be adopted called Open311, (in effect RDF for transactions) which allows developers to code to a standard api that allows access to transactional systems with all the benefits of the open community backing this.

    Any thoughts on this?

    1. Thanks Mike,

      Interesting stuff…

      I don’t have any specific thoughts….In theory the open approach to service and transactional development would be supported as an extension to point 4….but I’m not sure how that would look and what sort of services you would imagine being developed in that model? Perhaps you could explain that further or suggest an example which I could comment further on.

      Thanks again for the feedback

      1. Hi Carl
        This link gives you an idea of how open311 is being adopted in the states. I think we’re just starting to see the first greenshoots in the UK with some of the more enlightened councils. If they have an open311 backend system, they don’t have to worry (or procure!!) the apps at the front end.
        http://mashable.com/2010/08/13/open311-apps/

  2. Hi Carl.

    Something else you might want to feed into the mix is the different ‘roles’ you need to content to perform – it isn’t always about delivering information.

    Sometimes content can perform a key role of attracting and building engagement with different types of visitors that you can then ‘promote’ other information and services to. Getting this right can give a big lift to channel shift.

    In other words: you might need to assess the value/performance of a media asset (content) not just in terms of how people engage with it but also how well it attracts different types of visitors that you need to reach. So -> in addition to thinking about content against a target engagement scale, you might also want to think about it against a target segment matrix and then use that matrix to make sure you’re covering all of your target audience segments in the right way.

    And don’t forget Googles quality scores – they’ll give you an immediate, impartial assessment of what people currently think of content on your site – what they value and what they don’t. You might be surprised…..

  3. Hi Carl,

    Like the content!
    (I am non techy and a gentleman of a certain age – so please treat me gently!)

    I agree content is king, it always has been in my book! To my mind a web site is just a means to an end (a portal?) to access relevant data content.

    I would welcome your comments:-

    As you work your way through all this, please spare a thought for the other tiers of Local Authorities here in Devon. I have just retired and taken up a role as local Parish Councillor. I am a little concerned for our future as the important changes associated with localism go through, (it is now an Act of Parliament(!). Some responsibilities, accountabilities as well as some budgets holding is to be devolved down to other authorities that may not always have the same capabilities as County.

    From where I stand, I see measures of replication across tiers of government, dilution / changes as information moves down the tiers and what I can only assume must be high associated administration costs. The final frontier for measuring really good engagement and to ensure that you have fulfilled your objectives must surely be to fully include all tiers AND the rate paying constituents / stakeholders who pay for all this.

    My personal vision is to see ALL tiers of local government SHARING pertinent, accurate and reliable data and for a system that will also allow ratepayers to “opt in” to directly receive regular information on Local Government subjects in which they have declared an interest

    If you agree with the above, do you feel that future DCC systems may be able to engage with / include other tiers and their constituents? + How do your current thoughts square up with DCC’s intention to deploy SharePoint 2010 in the near future?

    1. Thanks for the comments and feedback Roger,

      I don’t disagree with what you say…in terms of whether or not the infrastructure we end up building to support this could be opened up and shared, well that isn’t just down to the county council, others have to want to consume shared services or platforms to start with…I’m certainly proposing an environment that can scale (up and down) as we are not sure of the future size of the council…so we have to build in a level of agility not previously available. I’d suggest that any local public sector organisation who wishes to explore shared services in any form, contact the council and start a conversation, i wouldn’t want to assume we would always be the provider, we would be foolish not to consider consuming other peoples shared services also if they are better placed to provide them and deliver efficiency. It may or may not be practical on either side without a level of investment or compromise but it shouldn’t be ruled out unless we ask the question in the first place.

      With regard to sharepoint, I don’t see how implementing this would impact the delivery of the content strategy…It is another system that will in some way store content of one form or another…In the picture/diagram i shared, sharepoint is simply a business application.

      In theory i’d like to see a single content strategy for the public sector, but i don’t see that happening without significant investment of time on all parts to understand the benefits…but we have only just started the journey here and i do not claim to have all the answers – i do however have plenty of questions!

  4. Hi Carl,
    Take on board your suggestion regarding engagement with County on Shared services.

    Regarding MS SharePoint, I personally consider it be more a “platform” specifically designed to share and manage content rather than simply a business application and therefore may have quiet a part to play. If, for example, it was rolled out by county as well as the eight districts who also had controlled access to stored and shared data, it could have quite an impact. At the minimum, I feel it may start to break down the huge information silos that currently exist

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