Creating good content

Government has a complicated relationship with content. We publish too much, information can be hard to understand, and users often find it hard to work out what we are asking them to do. Research shows that 50% of users of government services experience difficulty finding information online. Of those, 24% resort to making a telephone call.* This is despite the hard work that many Australian public servant content and web teams do on a daily basis.

ThinkPlace Director Darren Menachemson presenting government content research findings.

Caption: ThinkPlace Director Darren Menachemson presenting government content research findings at a content meet-up — hosted by the DTA last year

New research, new insights

To help us better understand this landscape, the DTA worked with research firm ThinkPlace to take a closer look at how government web content currently gets created, reviewed, published, updated and retired.

More than 100 public servants, from senior executives to operational staff, shared insights and information about the content lifecycle in their agencies through workshops, interviews and a survey.

This gave us important insights into where content management works well, and where there are opportunities to improve things. What was learned creates an opportunity for transforming the way government creates, manages, maintains and archives its content.

Here are the key findings.

Things go well ‘downstream’ if they are understood well ‘upstream’

The research showed that content is at its best when its purpose is understood. This involves conversation and collaboration between the content/web team and all stakeholders — not at the middle or end of the project, but at the very beginning of the content’s lifecycle.

When ‘the intent’ of a new or changing piece of content, its user outcome, its fit and alignment with other content and with the rest of the site, are all agreed and well understood by all stakeholders, the quality of the ultimate output and results are improved.

It’s a case of spending a bit more time upfront to save time downstream — and for a better result.

Usability often gets overlooked in the rush

The research showed a trend linking a tension between the urgency of content ‘going live’ and the usability of the content being published.

Content changes often occur, by necessity, at speed, and when coupled with a thorough review/approval process, this does not always allow usability (at a page and a site level) to be an overriding factor in the publishing process.

The research also found a number of publishing patterns that helped manage this tension well. It considered how these patterns could scale to become a ‘new normal’ for publishing usable, timely government content in government in the future. For example, a journalistic approach where a team member responsible for publishing develops and creates the content by directly consulting with business/line areas.

There’s a disconnect between analytics tools, web teams and business units

Sharing data about content performance is an excellent opportunity to work out what’s working well, and what’s not. But the research shows two interesting things.

Firstly, that analytics tools (such as Google Analytics, ClickTale) have not been widely adopted across government, and where used, they are often limited to page hits and bounce rates.

Secondly, the benefits of business intelligence gained from analysing how content is performing is not widely understood or recognised by business area executives.

By helping all those involved in producing content to better understand analytics tools and performance data, there is a great opportunity for evaluation based on evidence not opinion, and better decision making.

Archiving and maintenance aren’t happening as often as they should

There are opportunities to improve users’ experience of government websites by having a stronger maintenance and archiving focus.

Rather than relying on changing content to drive site evolution, agencies could use planned and natural review cycles, as well as analytical intelligence and user research to continuously improve and cull to make for a more powerful content experience.

This is a shift to a more agile, proactive stance, and it recognises content as a component of a dynamic experience that must be continuously cared for, curated and pruned to stay healthy.

The research returned many findings beyond the highlights we’ve mentioned. One thing is clear: good content processes are worth investing in, evolving and making sure the right people are involved. By helping the public service to get it right, the end-user benefits.

Join the content design in government community

The DTA has a community of practice for government people working in content. We hold meetups, events and share information and ideas. Please email content@digital.gov.au to join this community and for a copy of this research report.

*KPMG study: 2015 Digital Ease of Use Index.

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