Guest post from Dave Hallworth, Managing Editor at the Department for Education (DfE), and Jeni Pitkin, Digital Content Officer at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
In January 2015 we went to the GDS Content Design Conference. This event showed there’s high demand for getting the government content design community together.
The regular content clinics and Basecamp are useful for discussing content-related questions but we thought it would also be helpful to get a small group of managing editors together to discuss more strategic content issues.
Managing editors’ meetings
On 25 June managing editors from DfE, BIS, Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Home Office (HO) and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) got together for a couple of hours, along with Persis Howe from GDS. This was a trial session to discuss shared issues and to talk about:
- what we do that works well
- what we could improve
- how we could be more consistent
- what advice we can share
Highlights included discussion of the following topics.
We agreed it would be useful if GDS could collate and share information on the different ways digital content teams are organised in government organisations. GDS agreed to circulate a survey so we can explain how our different teams are structured, and how much content we publish. (Please remember to respond if you've received this!)
At a future meeting we’ll weigh up the pros and cons of different models, learn from each other, and use this to inform the next iteration of the managing editors’ meeting invite list.
We talked about how to deal with the post-election style of policy pages, which spilled over from the meeting to Basecamp and email. Some departments had been contacting policy teams to ask if their old policy detail pages were still current and, if necessary, working with them to create new policy papers.
DfE and BIS aren’t actively encouraging colleagues to publish new policy content but giving them advice about whether, and how, we can publish it. GDS approved this approach, but there was still some confusion among the content design community.
To help clear this up GDS organised a cross-government meeting on 21 July where managing editors in departments (or their representatives) agreed publishing and tagging principles for new policy content. After the meeting GDS published a blog post about how to tag.
Tagging pages to policies
We discussed the difficulties of managing policy tagging across departments. We agreed to tag far fewer pages to policies than previously.
The new policy pages are little more than lists of tagged items so the thinking is to tag only the content types that are strictly relevant to the policy-making process (research and analysis, consultations and policy papers).
We shouldn’t tag items that may be vaguely related to policy making, such as guidance publications, which are a consequence of a policy rather than a contribution to it.
This is easy enough to apply within content teams – simply a case of informing the team and applying common sense. However, some organisations are still tagging irrelevant news stories to others’ policy pages, which dilutes the policy.
Working with GDS
More generally, we discussed the best way to communicate to GDS when an issue affects multiple departments, with the suggestion that this meeting would allow all invitees to identify and agree priorities for shared issues.
We all found the first managing editors' meeting useful, and agreed it was something we should continue. We’ve already posted (on Basecamp) some of the ideas that came out of the meeting, like adding a departmental acronym to editors’ Basecamp profiles, so we can see who’s commenting.
We met again in August and September. We didn’t add much to the agenda of these meetings as we wanted to talk to GDS about the actions outstanding. These included the need:
- to get user needs validated for all content
- for GDS to follow up Basecamp threads that need to be written into the content design guidance
- for more backup from GDS to help editors under pressure, to stop publishing content without a user need.
New topics included:
- planning for the forthcoming content conference in November 2015
- closing redundant CMS user accounts
- GDS training for policy teams so they can provide digital teams with higher-quality content more likely to meet user needs
By having regular managing editors’ meetings we can bring up shared problems, then work as a group to find practical solutions. We can also, we hope, persuade GDS to write guidance, where needed, to clarify these discussions and make everyone’s lives easier in future.