Better Connected 2015: Content and Governance Together

Better Connected 2015

So SOCITM Better Connected 2015 has been published and I can’t believe it has been a year since the last report. We are really pleased to see a number of our customers getting three and four stars, with four sites highlighted in the SOCITM Insight Top 20 (City of Edinburgh Council, Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council, South Lanarkshire Council and Warwick District Council).

Overall I don’t think that the content of the report contains anything unexpected but as a Content Strategist I was really pleased to see a whole section dedicated to governance this year. As a result the report really reflects the need for Councils to begin seriously thinking about Content Strategy. Better Connected 2015 gives us food for thought on the Content Components (task focus, streamlined content, the stuff we always talk about) and People Components (governance, strategy, resourcing, the stuff we don’t like to talk about or that we pay lip service to).

Move along, no surprises here…

SOCITM’s recommendations and niggles provide food for thought in terms of how to write and present your tasks and associated content.

  • Really focus on the user journey

  • Make the information architecture clear

  • Design now for mobile devices first

  • Prune your content

If you are not actively considering these absolutely essential Local Government Website Management 101 points then the polite version of my response would be, “you should be.” Ten years ago when we were all first getting involved with this thing called the web we were all making it up as we went along - it was unexplored territory. Now we have a better understanding of how and why people access our websites we should be automatically thinking of these points.

One aspect of the Reviewers’ niggles that struck a chord with me was the criticism of the way in which some Councils implement ‘Find my nearest’ features. This is one aspect of Council websites that as a user, without my professional head on, I find frustrating as well. I do not want to go to a single point to find everything a Council can think of that might relate to my postcode, I want to find something specific (e.g. a school, a recycling centre, a museum, a car park, a park, etc.) without having to put in my postcode and then either filter the results or sift through a mass of irrelevant results.

It is always a better user experience if you can focus on a single task. While we do this with other services (e.g. pay your Council Tax, make a planning application, report an abandoned vehicle, etc.), often the same approach isn’t taken to location-based information. My suggestion would be that Councils really need to do this. Make all tasks specific and relevant to the user’s immediate need - if you are a Jadu user it is really easy to create searchable directories of car parks, libraries, anything customers may want to locate by location. ‘Find my nearest’ often equates to ‘one directory to rule them all’ and for me that is not a good experience when I am looking for one thing.

But enough of my ranting, for me the most useful part of this year’s Better Connected wasn’t the recommendations, it was the small section that dealt with web management practices.

The missing piece of the puzzle...

It has always been a niggle of mine that Better Connected provides some great advice about user experience, but that what is really needed is a clearer focus on how to get from A to B. I have long suspected that most people know what they should be doing in terms of task focus, user journey, etc. What is lacking is the internal buy in and strategy to make it happen in a large number of local authorities. As a result last year I suggested on this blog that:

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.

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.

Paul Johnson, SOCITM Better Connected 2014 - Moving Forward Practically, Reposted 15 August 2014

Therefore I was extremely interested to read Section 7 of this years report that focused on web management practices. It is the first time that SOCITM have placed any kind of focus on what goes on behind the scenes, based on feedback provided by 40% of local authorities (164 in total) in response to a survey about the management and performance of council websites. The survey asked about five key areas relating to the upkeep and maintenance of site (the People Components):

  • Governance (job titles, responsibility for the web, reporting of performance, number of websites)

  • Strategy and policy (digital champions, digital strategy, organisational commitment, service re-design, procurement, standards)

  • Management of content (devolved content management, final say over the quality of online experience, content management systems, forms systems, pruning of content)

  • Performance and usage (visitor feedback mechanisms, channel shift, monitoring of web usage, use of ‘My Account’, customer profiling, use of data for website design)

  • Resources and budgets (resource profiles across authority types, use of experience specialists)

The survey findings that SOCITM present really do seem to lend support to what I said last year, and what I have been continuously trying to be an evangelist for when working with customers. Your website will not be successful unless you have a clearly documented and adopted Content Strategy that is supported at a senior level.

For me SOCITM’s list of recommendations at the end of the section really provide the basis for a sound Content Strategy when merged with the more content based recommendations from the website review survey - and they should be thought of as a single, holistic solution and not separate issues.

One criticism of the report for me would be that for me the term ‘Digital Strategy’ is misleading - it is all about content and that should be the focus of your strategy. Adopt a Content Strategy for the web, make and manage better content, and make your website better.

If you want to know more about Content Strategy then please contact us for a copy of Content Strategy: A Brief Guide or find out how we can help.

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