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A new content operating model for GOV.UK - a bit of discovery

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Content, Vision and plans

Hello - I’m Natalie Baron, and in February this year I joined GDS as a user researcher. I was asked to look at what it’s like for people in departments and agencies to publish on GOV.UK.

The first thing to say is a huge thank you - over 50 people in 20 different departments and agencies found time to talk to us about what things are like for them. Without you, we wouldn’t have got very far at all.

The second thing to say is that what I’m about to tell you is a very small part of the picture - there is a very big story to tell, and this is just the beginning.

Learning all the things

For someone new to government there was a lot to take in, from how the Civil Service works, to what happened during ‘transition’ (when most departments moved their content onto GOV.UK).

We started with a spreadsheet of over 10,000 people with access to GOV.UK publishing tools, and began to get in touch with people in different departments and agencies across the UK.

Everything is different, everything is the same

When we started interviewing people, it seemed as if we’d hear something different from each department and agency we went to. Every organisation was at a different stage on the journey towards a more digital way of working. And while the people we spoke to often had similar roles, they had a variety of different job titles - from web managers to digital editors to content designers.

They worked in teams with different names, in different parts of their organisation. But actually, the more people we spoke to, the more a clear pattern emerged.

Everyone is awesome

One thing that stood out was how dedicated, hard-working and passionate the people we met were. They cared deeply about the people they were creating content for, and they wanted to make sure that user journeys were smooth and easy.

Stuck in the middle

But another thing that was clear was that people working in content (or publishing or web) teams often occupied difficult territory.

Since moving onto GOV.UK, they’d been asked to effect a massive cultural shift within their organisation by focusing content on user needs and writing in plain English. But more often than not, they hadn’t been given the clout they needed to do it, or had the support they needed to work in this way.

Teams often described being stuck between their own organisation and GDS. They described themselves as ‘bouncers’, or being piggy in the middle; having to say no all the time, or being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Lots of people felt they didn’t really have anywhere to turn for help. Other people described how things improved once they started feeling supported by GDS.

I think there was a lot of hostility towards GOV.UK and why do we all have to be on one website but I think when that communication started coming out and things were explained, it made a huge difference.
- Department publisher

Too little, too late

Another thing that stood out was that the content teams in departments were often only being asked to get involved at the end of a long process.

They’d get documents from policy teams or internal stakeholders that had already been through consultations, or had been signed off by senior teams or the minister. Whatever the document was, asking for changes to be made at this late stage was very difficult to do.

Content teams wanted people in policy teams to involve them earlier on in the process, where they could help explore the best way to do something.

What’s next

We’ve set up a team to work on developing a new content operating model, and we’ve broadened our discovery interviews to include digital leaders, people working on online services across government and content designers at GDS.

Once we have a clearer view of what is and isn’t working well, we can start to look at what needs to happen to make things better. As Neil outlined in the last blog post about this, we’ll be touching on lots of different aspects of creating and maintaining content on GOV.UK - from governance and organisation to capability and workflow.

Content designers, web editors and digital managers across government want to publish good content that people can find, understand and use - easily. We’ll be using our findings to design a content operating model that makes it easier for them to do that, and we’ll be blogging here every month about the progress we make.

Natalie is a user researcher on GOV.UK. You can follow her on Twitter.

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