SOCITM Better Connected 2014 - Moving Forward Practically

How can Local Authorities take practical steps to make content and the user experience their focus? Through adopting a clear Content Strategy...

It’s that time of year and SOCITM Better Connected 2014 has landed for us all to digest and learn from. In past years, our customers have always done extremely well in the review and each year we congratulate them and also think about ways we can help our customers improve. This year is no exception and we were really proud to have seven of our customers at four star and fourteen at three star last year and the same again this year.

better connected 2014

User focus

As always, the report is full of useful guidance pointing the way to more user-centric, transactional experiences facilitated through streamlined user journeys and content. “Rationalize your content. Be aggressively focused on the user” (p. 5) is the mantra all should be adopting to improve the experience. On your website content is king - and an investment in content is what is needed to improve the user experience.

This is clearly illustrated in the Reviewers’ recommendations of this year’s review. A nice clear list of points to consider when writing your content from what to include, how to structure it, focus on associated tasks, and how the whole thing should seamlessly join and link together.

However, the issue facing Local Authorities isn’t necessarily a lack of understanding of what they should be doing - and the recommendations could be seen to reiterate what a large number of us are already aware of.

In recent conversations with customers it is very clear that web teams within the Local Government sector are fully aware of, and supportive of, the need to rationalise and fine tune content to improve the user experience (particularly for mobile users) - but that they do not have the resource or support to follow this through as content is continually defined by the perceived needs of the ‘department’ as opposed to the actual needs of the customer.

Their ability to build the user experience they want and need is compromised by the need to back down in the face of demands and requirements issued by service heads and senior management (even Councillors) who, while they possibly understand the needs of their customers, do not understand the medium of communication.

An ‘approach’ is not an enforceable strategy

We are now very used to talking about a ‘Top Task Approach’ when considering our web content - but this does not really go far enough. You need to adopt a formal, documented content strategy, not an ‘approach’ to your website content, if you wish to achieve a focused and efficient user-centric customer experience. And as part of this content strategy it should be defined that the final say on items of content lies with your content experts - your web team.

Content strategy is the missing piece of the puzzle that will help you create the web experience that your customers want and will return to. It provides a framework for every aspect of your content lifecycle including content style, structure, relevance, review cycle, and workflow governance.

“Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” Kristina Halvorson, The Discipline of Content Strategy, 2008.

It’s about providing a clear, defined approach to presenting your useful content in a usable manner to serve the customer. It needs to be a strategy that is adopted at the highest level within the organization in order that it can be enforced - and it needs to become deeply embedded within everything that you do.

Unfortunately, there is no ‘off-the-shelf’ approach to content strategy as the structure and politics of your organisation will always need to inform this. There is no quick fix, but in terms of content there is never going to be. Spend the time investing in the development of a content strategy that meets the needs of your users and the long term payoff in terms of channel shift will be there. You simply need to think about users and their needs, which are increasingly mobile.

Get started with Content Strategy

If you want to get started with Content Strategy then we have produced a brief guide to point you in the right direction.

Request a copy of Content Strategy: A Brief Guide

Useful content tools

Council website usability dashboard - http://council.usability-test.org.uk/
A fantastic crowd-sourcing tool for Local Authorities to use for user testing tasks and features.  The purpose of this site is to build up a picture of the usability of different council websites in England, Scotland, and Wales - but doing so by letting users carry out a series of task-based tests, to gradually build up a comprehensive objective picture of the usability of the sites across a much broader range of tasks than other methodologies do, by crowdsourcing the data.

LocalGov Digital Content Standards - http://www.localgovdigital.info/localgov-digital-makers/outputs/digital-content-standards/
A Content Standard which could be adopted across local government. The standard seeks to improve the quality of content across the sector and be a resource which councils can take wholesale for their own use, or append localisations to.

GOV.UK content style guide - https://www.gov.uk/design-principles/style-guide
A useful resource to use as best practice. The GDS design principles ( https://www.gov.uk/design-principles ) lay out a sweet set of clearly defined standards that can be adopted for any website - Local Government or otherwise.

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