Devon’s Content Strategy

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.


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.


Social Media points the way for Corporate Website Development

I have had a draft web strategy written for some time now as i need to finish off a few extra bits which will hopefully complete the picture. One of these areas is the technical architecture required to deliver the desired outcomes.

In looking into this and speaking to several of my more knowledgeable ICT colleagues on this topic it occurred to me that what we really want to do is to follow the social media approach. I’ll try to explain what i mean and include some pictures to help me.

Firstly, it is worth trying to explain what i believe the future is for local government websites and online service delivery. I must stress this is my view and does not reflect the views of my employer.

Social media is allowing us to see how people prefer to use the Internet and what features, functions and opportunities they prefer to have available to them, as well as the seamless use across multiple platforms and browsers for example, PC, notebook, PDA, Mobile, iPhone etc and this will in my view increase.

What is also interesting when seeing what social media offers is that most if not all of what it does is allow people to select and dictate the relevance of the content and services delivered to a given browser.  It is also coupled with the fact that people are also at the same time connecting with other people and allowing information to flow through their networks.

So social media is providing choice, relevance and connections, if you throw in the trend of local and hyper local and in a local government sense the drive toward Total Place. I see a model where corporate websites are essentially delivering packages of “information and services” into the wider Internet community or even social networks. This would essentially allow people to participate in particular topics, based on their preferred community.

So a “package” could be a specific service on its own or a collection of other services based on a geographic or specific community (see end of post for community types).

For example I live in Exeter, so there could be a “Exeter” package which would contain a set of services (Not just local government services) but a set of relevant location focused services. Part of the personalisation of that package could be my specific postcode and therefore a more local neighbourhood context (hyper-local). Or i may just be interested in service such as transport, which would allow me to access the travel to work information based on my preferences (think of the google maps (from here to there scenario) and the information would be displayed based on those parameters.

As a user i would simply select the services within that package which were relevant to me at any given time. For example i would select the following and then have the opportunity to display a combination of or all of the sub services within the package:

Service based packages

  • Schools (location, for admissions, term times, governor info, school news and access to my child’s school performance data etc)
  • Transport (location, for public transport info, roadworks, travel information, car tax,)
  • Environment (location, planning, waste collection, recycling, graffiti, fly tipping etc)
  • Health (location, local dentist, GP’s, pharmacies,  NHS direct etc)

Alternatively you could deliver geographic based packages

  • Exeter
  • Newton Abbot
  • Barnstaple

These might be presented in the style of widgets or gadgets, an example of how this might work on a website or even within a social network application is on the BBC website – The key thing is to allow and facilitate a deeper level of customisation within that widget itself – the only thing the BBC widget doesn’t facilitate which would be essential is mapping function which would allow you specify your geography (travel to work, school run etc)

BBC News Widget
BBC News Widget

This essentially combines local and national information within a single package. This would require everyone to develop in such a way that allowed mashups and web services with information related to the following community types.

The types of communities that we need to understand in terms of matching services and information to are in my opinion the following:

  • Community of place are people who are bound together because of where they reside, work, visit or otherwise spend a continuous portion of their time.
  • Community of interest are people who share a common interest, pastime or passion.
  • Community of circumstance – is driven by position, circumstance or life experiences rather than a shared interest. An example could be a Cancer sufferers support group.
  • Community of position – is distinguished from a community of practice community in that it tends to be more personally focused. This community is built around life stages (such as teenage years, university/college student years, marriage, or parenthood) provide individuals with the opportunity to build relationships with others during that particular phase of their lives.
  • Community of practice – refers to the process of social learning that occurs and shared sociocultural practices that emerge and evolve when people who have common goals interact as they strive towards those goals.
  • Community of purpose – people who are going through the same process or are trying to achieve a similar objective. Such communities serve a functional purpose, smoothing the path of the member for a limited period surrounding a given activity. For example community’s purpose revolves around allowing people to accomplish something they want or need to do whether it’s buying something, selling something, fixing something, dating, or the like.

What i believe is that the increasing complexity of people’s lives is being amplified with social media in such as way that the most important things we as information and service providers need to think about is how we manage and classify our content in such as way that whatever the situation, whatever the search, the right content appears and is delivered to a user. If that means it is joined together with another organisations to give context or to give it additional purpose then we need to facilitate that.

This will no doubt require a change in architecture for some councils towards a more flexible Internet service delivery framework.  This type of framework essentially provides the opportunity to allow a councils content and its services to be delivered to a presentation layer (combination of html, mobile and ditv) as well as to other platforms such as facebook, twitter, iphone app store.

This isn’t rocket science and it certainly isn’t new but in the context of social media it allows us to provide relevant content and services not through pages and groups or friends but through applications which allow a greater deal of interaction directly with us as a service provider.

Internet Service Delivery Framework
Internet Service Delivery Framework

The future looks very exciting from a user perspective and very scary from a local government web team perspective, however it certainly looks like it going to be a lot of fun getting there.