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…


  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.


Moving away from web strategies and it’s about time

In my role one of the outputs that I was expected to create was a revised Web Strategy, which at first I was more than happy to do, I wrote the previous one so it wasn’t really an issue to simply refresh it in line with current priorities and national drivers.

However once I got going I started to notice a difference in the conversations I was having with people and more importantly the conversations with people about “the web”.

The big shifts were primarily about what people think “the web” actually is?

Some people naturally thought it was a single website and in particular the councils website, others were clearly thinking more about “the web” as a platform for service delivery and transformation and others were thinking it was an online repository for information about the council and a few other definitions as well which in their own way were right.  It is in fact all of those things and of course more…but this was certainly not the view when I wrote the last strategy.

I’m fortunate that a number of the areas above have their own strategies and are embedding “the web” directly into those strategies, so it makes it easier to simply work out what aspects we actually haven’t got a plan or strategy for. For example we have an ICT Strategy, Access Strategy, Information Strategy and we are currently producing a new Communications Strategy.

In my previous role I lead on a piece of work which was essentially an ICT focused Web Strategy, the main objectives of it are to refresh the web architecture to make it fit for purpose and also reduce costs through the provision of common solutions. This is (in my humble opinion) a web strategy as it focuses on the web as a platform from which other things can be developed and provided, after all that is what the web is – a platform.

With the other strategies all pretty much extending the remit and scope of the previous web strategy – either a spark of genius on my part to lay foundations, or it failed to meet anyone’s objectives ! – I along with a few others asked ourselves what are we trying to produce and should we produce anything at all.

This was when I remembered a conversation with Sarah Lay from Derbyshire County Council who produced a Content Strategy as part of her studies – so I contacted Sarah and whilst she was unable to share her work at this point in time she was able to provide some pointers and her justification for producing a content strategy.

This conversation and an afternoon searching the web reading articles, blog posts, research and anything related to content strategy I decided that we were missing the most important strategy  – a Content Strategy < obvious now but we simply hadn’t considered it.

The realisation hit me like a flashback as I went through the approach, expected outputs and benefits at a high level and sure enough, the reason for our current failures in our web technology and platform, our content, online services and even our online democracy offering all came down to the lack of a content strategy.

We haven’t been asking what we want our content to do, we have been asking what we want our website to do and this is the reason we haven’t fully embraced Social Media as well as why some people don’t see the value…when you come at it from a content perspective you can see a variety of benefits and added value with content.

Now I’m still working on the details but broadly a Content Strategy will help the council in the following ways:

  • Specifying the key themes and messages in line with the Communications Strategy.
  • Providing a clear purpose for all content.
  • Conducting a content gap analysis and specifying the structure of content.
  • Ensuring the councils content is accessible, reusable, shared, open* and linked*.
  • Ensuring that appropriate metadata frameworks, retention, review and content life cycles and related content attributes are in place and content is properly managed.
  • Measuring and evaluating the success of our content.
But I guess one of the key objectives and outcomes is that we hope to have increased engagement with our content regardless of where someone interacts or consumes it.
It also helps focus our thinking on what we require of technology as we need to ensure that the technology supports the objectives of the content and not a website.
This is a fundamental shift in thinking as a previous key objective was to grow the number of visitors of the council website from, for example 3.5 million visitors a year to 6 million visitors over 3 years. But what is the point in that measure if your population is only 700,000 and no one is actually engaging with content?  So it is about asking the right questions and we will continue to measure visitors but it won’t be a key part of evaluation.
Anyway getting to the point where we actually have a strategy isn’t going to be straight forward as in conversation with Sarah she reinforced the need to adopt an evidence and research based approach, which I entirely support and was surprised that as a sector we haven’t pushed this harder…in fact “we” tend to use external reports such as Better Connected as our only research base…I have my views on Better Connected and whilst I think bits of it add value, unfortunately it is not greater than the sum of its parts when you read the whole thing!
We need to do some work before we can get a comprehensive Content strategy, but we are certainly in a better place now as we know the direction of travel and we know the stages we need to go through.
The first stage being an Audit and Analysis of our content, some of this is already underway but we now have a greater focus and because we are framing this within a content strategy we are now asking ourselves whether the existing methods of measuring success of a website apply across to measuring the success of content….the issue is that the majority of measures don’t exactly match so we need to rethink our approach to evaluation.
It is a journey and one we should have taken years ago, but I’m just pleased we are actually now taking it. I’ll share more over the coming weeks as things start to take shape and my thinking clears…

Integrating social with your corporate website – localgov style!

I’ve been managing, albeit slowly, to catch up on the many blogs, documents, videos etc I’ve saved for “later” (the joy of owning an iPad in my view).

Anyway I was very interested in this webinar that was funded by Janrain and Badgeville that the Altemeter Group’s  Jeremiah Owyang gave some excellent insights into How to Integrate Social Into Your Website:

I’ve embedded the webinar below, it is well worth watching.

It got me thinking about how far a local authority or public sector website can actually integrate social into its corporate website without it looking, well “crap” for the want of a better word.

I’m not aware of any examples of seamless “social” integration within a public sector corporate website in the UK (yet) to the level that Jeremiah suggests, but progress is being made which is reassuring across a range of aspects and I guess that priorities are different wherever you go.

I do think that utah.gov‘s approach to some of its “social” and “mobile” provision is something that we in the UK could certainly learn from and adapt. I won’t comment on the site as a whole as it didn’t actually seem to work very well in google chrome, so reverted back to Firefox to check out content. I think it is fair to say that I suspect that the broadband speed in Utah are much better than they are within Rural England, so perhaps large images load fast for their core audience.

Despite the initial challenges to accessing the site, I did find some very good things which I’d love to see developed further (note not replicated) here in Devon, for example Utah Collaborate sets a nice tone but doesn’t quite go far enough to really be about “collaboration” however it is better than most if not all things I’ve seen elsewhere (NB: I’ve not done formal research in this area and my visits to websites have been random)

The collaborate idea could be a great platform for linked data and service design as well as a space for developers to show of their apps or services directly to the end users…I think if we created a much better relationship to our local developer community the whole collaborate idea would be about how other people can develop our services with or without us better than we can, thus saving money.

Utah, have got something which sort of creates a foundation for this alongside the collaborate space and that is Utah Widgets. I think that this has huge potential for people to hack data sets and create widgets based on their preferences, I’m sure Utah have a roadmap for this kind of thing, but what would be good would be to see a range of community data sets includes alongside the ones provided already and the widget space become a “mash-up” centre in a similar way the Knowledge Hub plans to provide this function for the UK Public sector as a whole.

Finally I do like the way that they integrate Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms within the site and don’t initially send people off away from the corporate site – this is a key lesson I think we can all learn from.

On a separate but linked note, the way that the online services and transactions are promoted on Utah is not something I feel would encourage people to interact online….but the social aspects are good….the reality is the online services are where the costs savings are.

Your Social Business Maturity Level

I was looking at my RSS feeds earlier and came across an excellent post by Jeremiah Owyang – The Web Strategist.  The post is called Spend wisely –  finally an investment roadmap for social business buyers.

The main thing I loved about the post was this one side maturity assessment, which could be used in conjunction with the Social Media Strategy and Framework in a previous post of mine.

Another thing I liked about the post was the following graphic which gives you a very broad overview of how you can match spending or resource commitment to your social business maturity.

Check out the full report here on slideshare

Move aside Intranet, here comes the super powered Extranet

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.