What content will be most effective for government in 2015?
Until recently I was living and working in Jakarta, producing communications products (mainly video) for Australian Aid funded projects aligned with Government of Indonesia programs. An exciting time, and an eye-opener in the use of communications and technology in a more global context. Then, as my family and I began to plan our return home to Canberra, I learnt about an exciting opportunity to join contentgroup as Head of Content… and I was fortunate enough to win the position.
As the newest member of the contentgroup team, CEO David Pembroke suggested I introduce myself with a blog entry entitled What Content will be Most Effective for Government in 2015? By way of research he pointed me towards the UK Government and the tremendous strides they have taken in recent years in streamlining and simplifying the way they communicate with the public through their portal gov.uk
And wow, what I read and saw was amazing… so amazing in fact, that I’d defy even those with no interest at all in government communications not to be impressed with what they had achieved!
The websites of 24 ministerial departments and 331 other agencies and public bodies, all totally different in design and approach, having been streamlined down into, wait for it, just one single website!
gov.uk is designed around the user, not around the needs of the government. Simple, straightforward, easy to use… and it’s good looking too (it’s even won a prestigious design award). Their approach is based around the following principals:
- Start with need (user, not government)
- Do less
- Design with data
- Do the hard work to make it simple
- Then iterate again.
- Build for inclusion
- Understand context
- Build digital services, not websites
- Be consistent, not uniform
- Make things open: it makes things better
Having a coherent style across all government communications has obvious appeal: once you have learnt how it works in one service… you now know how the rest of it works too, making it easy to find what you are looking for anywhere.
But it was the web publishing that particularly impressed me. Moving beyond multiple departments and agencies publishing reams of content that was in no way coordinated or stylistically similar, to one unified and consistent publishing pipeline… getting content out to users far quicker and more simply than they had in the past.
Then there’s the blogs. The site is coordinating 70 different blogs! On topics ranging from health, ageing, tax, and employment law; through to climate change, marine science and the future of cities.
I played with it for a while, imagining I lived in the UK and needed information. It was straightforward, it was simple.
None of this is what I am used to seeing from government communications here in Australia. But we are starting to take some tentative steps to move in this direction. The federal government just recently announced the establishment of a Digital Transformation Office that will “operate more like a start-up than a traditional government agency, focussing on end-user needs in developing digital services… using technology to make services simpler, clearer and faster for Australian families and businesses.” The ACT Government too is moving towards more streamlined services in general, and has ambitions to align online services as well.
The federal government’s mygov site is a start, but when you look at the UK example, they still have a very long way to go. As I make my way through the process of settling back into Australian life, and look to government websites for information on things like child-care benefits or vehicle registration, I find myself with a piece of paper writing down disjointed “bits” from various web pages to try and get all the information I need concisely in one spot. Then, once I have it I find myself feeling suitably unsure of what I have discovered that I bite-the-bullet and commit to half-an-hour on hold to confirm with an operator that I am indeed understanding the online information correctly.
So, what content will be most effective for government in 2015? I don’t think the answer is so much along the lines of more social media, blogs or more online video. They are all great types of content that have their place in the communications strategy… but it’s first adopting the philosophy of creating simplified, streamlined content that is geared towards telling users what they want to know. I think the UK example shows us the future in online content for government can be a very bright future indeed. And moving forward with contentgroup I’m looking forward to being part of that brighter picture here in Australia.
28 November, 2017