Digital practice guilds in government

A challenge of working in a multidisciplinary team is being able to share knowledge with peers. At the DTA we use guilds to problem solve across teams and learn from each other’s work. They are a great example of one of our values: We work well together. 

A group of content designers sit around a table working on some content.

Every fortnight people across the DTA, working in the same discipline, meet to share successes and challenges, and find ways to advance their practice. 

We run guilds on design and research, agile delivery management, tech, product management, engagement – and the areas closest to my heart: content design and strategy. 

Here be dragons? 

Before my first meeting, a guild in a work context was a very strange idea. Isn’t a guild something from medieval times? Dungeons and Dragons? 

Our guilds are like the medieval versions, in that they help people come together to support and further their craft. An important difference is they are not there to protect secrets: we love visits from curious people with different skills and experience. 

For me, the best bit about guilds is that they bring together people from different product and service backgrounds to solve shared problems. Everyone has access to a diverse knowledge bank to find solutions they can adapt to their contexts. 

Welcome to Content Guild 

We’ve been running a content guild since the first days of our agency. Over the years, membership has changed based on the products and services we’ve been working on, but the guild has always been there to support new content designers and give everyone a place to blow off steam. 

Like other guilds, we’ve dedicated our time and expertise to work on things that help our discipline as a whole. Our guild was central to the development of our Content Guide, which is an essential tool in all of our work and is heavily used across all levels of government. We ran special sessions (‘content crits’) to prioritise the topics and refine the guidance. 

Not everyone enjoys intense debates on gerunds and semicolons, however, so like other guilds, we’ve explored different topics based on the interests and needs of our members. We’ve hosted presentations on all sorts of topics, from content design and comms to agile delivery and content design, and from the impact of artificial intelligence on our jobs to writing for voice user interfaces. Our latest iteration has been to start each guild by sharing what we’ve read or listened to recently (Content Book Club). 

Running a successful (content) guild 

As we’ve worked with other agencies, we’ve seen them establish their own guilds, or encountered alternative versions of practice-based meetings. We’ve found that they can be a very effective way to help them get better at delivering products and services because they enable a regular creative space for collaboration across teams and a way to identify and remove common blockers. 

If you are not able to find a guild or practice event in your agency, we encourage you to start your own. Every guild will be different because it will meet different needs, but you do not need much to start: just people and a place to meet. 

Here are some things that have helped us run Content Guild: 

  • The most senior people in the discipline lead the guild. 
  • Members take turns to plan and run the events. This encourages diversity in subject matter as well as shared ownership. 
  • Run separate content crit events in which anyone – not just guild members – can participate and bring along content for expert review. 
  • Start a communication channel for the discipline. Between guilds we use a Slack channel to share links and get answers to quick questions. 
  • Meet physically in the same place every once in a while. At the DTA, if one person is remote, everyone is remote, but we still recognise the necessity of everyone being in the same location for some time regularly to truly gel. 
  • Try to schedule meetings in work time. Guilds should be recognised as valuable work activity (but lunch time may still be the only time everyone is available!). 
  • Run a retrospective at least a couple of times a year to find out what’s working and what can be improved. 

The most valuable things you can do for your guild is to be open about what you are doing and to demonstrate its value as widely as possible. Ideally guilds should be championed by the highest level in your organisation. 

Julian Fleetwood is the Content Design and Strategy Lead in co-Lab.