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​7 hours with the content team: a visit from Dublin

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Content, How we work

The Health Service Executive (HSE) is the Irish equivalent of the NHS – its purpose is to build a high quality health service for the people of Ireland. Our core values are care, compassion, trust and learning.

In the spirit of learning, 4 of us working on the HSE’s websites and digital content visited the GOV.UK content team at the Government Digital Service (GDS) to soak up all their knowledge, as we enter the next phase of our own digital strategy.

Most people working in digital communications, especially in the public sector, will be familiar with GOV.UK’s delightful simplicity and their dedication to meeting user needs. What a fantastic opportunity it was to meet the people behind this world renowned operation.

We spent our day at GDS eagerly picking brains and taking notes to bring home. We’re delighted to share some of what we’ve learned, and how it helped shape our plans for 2017 and beyond.

GOV.UK team members

Show and tell

We started our day by sitting in on the content team’s ‘show and tell’ style meeting, which had the fun and energy of a chat show thanks to our host Trisha Doyle, Head of Content Design. It’s clear that this is a room full of smart, dedicated people who are working hard, but also having a great time.

During this hour of short presentations we learned about the team’s work on:

  • their new content operating model (fascinating as we are currently working on ours too)
  • analysing user emotions
  • use of data in their content infrastructure
  • findings from their latest round of user research

Words and facts

When it comes to working with content publishers from other departments, the GOV.UK content team are very clear: GDS own the words, subject matter experts own the facts. We also learned that their ownership of tone and content quality was not the result of a series of negotiations – it was directed from the top.

Simple and effective, we’ve been quoting, “We own the content, you own the facts” a lot back home and working towards implementing this approach in our own content projects.

Making maximum impact

We learnt that 1% of GOV.UK content receives 80% of the page views, while 73% of GOV.UK’s content gets fewer than 10 views per month.

Most large-scale, high-traffic websites would report similar results, and based on a recent content audit we’re no exception. Identifying this ‘core content’ is essential to focus attention and make maximum impact with the time and resources available.

It can be difficult to separate the unnecessary 'wants' from the essential 'needs', but the team take this very seriously. Spending time on content that nobody wants or needs is a waste of taxpayers’ money, but spending time focusing on delivering content and services that meet user needs, is always time well spent.

A GOV.UK content team stand up

Agile content management, workflows and process

Delivery managers at GOV.UK run a tight ship. A typical day starts with a 7 minute stand-up meeting where the team cover what they did yesterday and what they’re doing today, before going off to “do the hard work to make things simple” for users (one of the GDS design principles).

The team have crystal clear workflows, where every member knows exactly what’s expected of them at every point in the content process. We got a good look at their Trello boards so we could see how their content moves from ‘Prioritised and ready’ items of work, right through to ‘Fact check’ and ‘Amends’ before publishing. We’ve adopted this approach at HSE Digital too and, while not identical, our Trello boards and workflows have been heavily inspired by our visit.

Content training

Sue Davis and Persis Howe shared their experience as trainers of content publishers on GOV.UK. They run a strict training policy - publishers (there are 3,000!) must attend content training, and are only then allowed to publish to the website. This ensures all publishers get the foundation they need to create good content that meets user needs, before a single word ever reaches a live web page.

Thank you

A massive thank you to everyone at GDS for contributing to what was an incredibly valuable learning experience for us. Special thanks to Trisha Doyle and Jon Sanger for making our visit possible, and for putting together a fantastic schedule.

We’re busy working to implement what we’ve learned from GDS and will be staying in touch to share our progress, and to continue to learn from each other.

Brian Malone is Digital Content Experience Manager at the Health Service Executive. You can follow him on Twitter.

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  1. Comment by Persis Howe posted on

    Thanks for the shout out but it wasn't me you spoke to about content training. You might mean @laurabillings

  2. Comment by Brian Malone posted on

    Hi Persis, the title of the session with you and Sue was, 'Ways we support dept. publishers: training, pair writing, style council and content guide'.

    So maybe you covered the non-training bits of that session and it all merged into one in my mind. Either way, thanks for your time! Was really valuable.