Web renewal is about you too, not just your content

As a content strategist working on Canada.ca, I work with government departments who want to understand how the new site will support their content. They want to know for example which template to use, the best practices for writing page titles, or how to format lists.

Aside from these practical concerns, there’s an equally fundamental issue to consider as departments prepare for the move to a single federal government website. Canada.ca represents a considerable shift in deciding which content should be published and why. It’s more about content that supports what users want to do.  And it will be written in a way that a wide range of people can understand and use it.

This is a positive direction but there’s a rub: this isn’t just about changing your content; it’s also about changing your skills, processes, and mindset.

What does this mean for these content creators? Some public servants have written Web content more or less the same way throughout their career. They are subject matter experts but might not be aware of content development best practices. They’ve operated under risk adverse constraints which, despite their best efforts, often results in the choice of legalese over plain language. Web Renewal is asking these people to make significant adjustments to their approach, maybe not all at once, but certainly over time as Canada.ca content is measured for its ability to let people do tasks successfully.

The good news is that departments can take proactive steps to help people adapt to the change. As web teams prepare their content inventories, manage worn-out content known as ROT, and identify their top tasks, they also can also draw up a strategy to account for the people side of change. This strategy needs to address five areas:

  1. Awareness – Identify everyone affected by this change. Design a communications plan to tell key stakeholders what’s going to happen and when. Think about opportunities for two-way communication which is more effective than an email that might never get read.
  2. Buy-in – Expect that some people might not be excited about this change. They could have concerns or they could outright reject the notion that anyone can tell them how to develop content. Anticipate which stakeholders need extra support and address their concerns head-on. Having a champion to remind people of why this change is needed and what it will do to support their business outcomes can help bring people along. Ensure management at the working level is well informed since they need to explain this change to their teams.
  3. Knowledge – Plan how people will get the skills to move through this change successfully with a training plan. This shift requires not just an understanding of plain language writing principles and techniques, but it also demands different skills to plan, design, and evaluate content. Update any written procedures for web content development (or create them where none exist). Share the new procedures not just by posting them on an Intranet but by talking to teams who create content. Answer their questions in person.
  4. Ability – When we ask people in our organizations to develop the abilityto change, we are asking them to act or work in a new way. Develop a coaching plan for how you will support people as they come up with issues when writing content.
  5. Reinforcement – We want to make sure content owners maintain the new ways of developing content. Plan how you will acknowledge successes. Get feedback which will help you see if corrective actions need to be taken, and take action in a timely fashion. Monitor and measure the effectiveness of new or updated content. If none exists, create a performance measurement strategy that spells out how you will measure task performance and act on the results.

Change is hard. It can be frustrating and disorienting. A solid change management strategy takes the real feelings people have about change and provides a way of managing its impacts. It demonstrates not only our desire to have a winning project, but our empathy for colleagues and clients who will experience the change in their day-to-day lives.

Denise Eisner is a senior consultant at Systemscope. She’s getting ready to sign up for her fourth Tour for Kids.


Denise Eisner is a senior-level web strategist and communications specialist with a passion for creating enhanced user experiences. As a member of the Government Service Excellence practice, Denise’s experience and specializations include web strategy development, information architecture, web analytics (WebTrends and Google Analytics) and web project management. She has led large-scale content audits, developed performance measurement frameworks, and coordinated site updates to meet Treasury Board policies standards and guidelines. Engaged in the evolving spheres of information technology, corporate communications and media for almost two decades, Denise has transformed business objectives into web strategies and information architectures for corporate and government clients in the U.S. and Canada.


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