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Iterating on the GOV.UK content review process

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Three or so years ago, GOV.UK had just 2 content reviewers checking content changes made by content designers and pressing the publish button. The process ticked along smoothly and it only took 1 to 2 days for content to be published.

But GOV.UK has grown from around 10 content designers to about 30 in that time. And it became clear that the old system of content review wasn’t working. At one point it was taking around 2 weeks to get non-urgent content changes published.

Content review became a place to drop your work when you weren’t quite sure who to ask for feedback. Content reviewers grew concerned about the quality of work being put forward for publication.

And so content went back and forth, and back and forth, through the publishing system workflow before it got published.

It was frustrating for everyone. But more frustrating than we realised.

What we did

We did what we do best at GDS. We got the sticky notes out and ran a retro.

We asked content designers what they thought, and we uncovered a fair bit of anger. It was a shock because GDS is a typically happy place. But when it came to the content review process, content designers and reviewers just weren’t happy.

We also found that different content designers had different ideas about what content review was for. Some thought content review was for training new starters in content design and collaborating on work, others thought it was just a final check before content is published.

We realised we’d never formally defined the process.

What we’re doing

Based on the feedback from the retro, we’re running an alpha in 2 of our 4 content teams.

We’ve split content review into 2 steps. If you’ve got a traditional publishing background the basic model will be pretty familiar -  step 1: editing, and step 2: sub-editing.

One person in each team will be responsible for managing the first stage. They’ll have an initial chat with the content designer to make sure they set off in the right direction.

The same person will then check the content designer’s copy before it goes into content review.

We expect the person doing the first check to address the following types of content questions:

  • does the new content meet the user need?
  • does the content structure work?
  • do the chapter titles and section headings of the guide help users through the content in a logical way?
  • are the sentences well structured?
  • is the style guide being followed?

Content review will then become a final (and hopefully quicker) check before publication - a check for consistency, style, clarity, and accuracy.

What’s next

We expect the new process to slow us down to start with.

We’re testing the process in 2 of our 4 teams so that we can compare the experiences of users of the new and old review process.

We’ll review the new process every week and change it each week based on the feedback. If this improves the workflow for content designers and reviewers, we will move to beta.

Longer term, the idea is to change behaviour. Content designers will automatically ask for peer review before submitting their work to content review.

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  1. Comment by Simon posted on

    Thanks for the insight. Just wondering how you are working with other Government departments to bring them into play with it all?

    • Replies to Simon>

      Comment by Keith Emmerson posted on

      Hi Simon, thanks for your comment.
      On behalf of Abigail: Our first step is to make sure the process works. Once we're happy that it's useful we'll need to talk to other departments and what their content publishing needs are. Not all departments work in the same way or have the same size of content team so we'll need to understand how our process fits with them.