I was admittedly fascinated by Rahel Bailie’s “workshop on workshops” at Content Strategy Applied 2012 because of its subject matter: it was a case study about her management of the content for a very large website for the city of Vancouver. Because we’re embroiled in a city website project ourselves, I hung on her every word, pulling out gems such as: “People care about two things in a city: trash and cars.” I’ll be putting that wisdom to use in very short order.
But the workshop was also a detailed and instructional case study of how Rahel and her team gathered information from a very broad range of stakeholders, evangelizing from the very beginning of her conversations what ultimately the goals of the content project would be and helping all participants feel a sense of involvement and ownership in the process. She described how a business analyst audited every last of the Vancouver’s 66,000 webpages, evaluated them, shared that analysis with stakeholders, and painstakingly gathered requirements across departments and groups throughout the city government. In the end, Vancouver’s redesigned website became 2,000 pages, all acutely focused on six major messaging themes and more goal-oriented to help users conduct business with the city more effectively.
She did this work through content workshops: meetings with key decision-makers in each department. In her presentation, she outlined what she covered, how she presented the information and who she invited to these meetings to make them successful. Doing this work through a “workshop” model, she said:
- Is a more efficient way to gather requirements
- Provides a more holistic picture of the work to be done
- Signifies a more formalized process
- Sets up realistic expectations
- Moves the overall process along
A few things that stood out from Rahel’s presentation:
A formal process achieves success
Vancouver had tried to redesign its site four or five times before, but this project is the first successful one. Rahel attributes that to having a strong process in place, and treating it more like a business transformation project than a creative, technology or content project.
From the analysis of pages, the team put together a content scorecard to share with the groups. “How do you tell someone their content is not up to snuff? That’s like telling someone their baby’s ugly,” Rahel said. They used the scorecard to relay this news objectively, rating content on a four-point scale against a variety of criteria, including whether there was a high demand for the information, it was proprietary to the city, it fostered public engagement, and it reflected city’s brand.
Rahel used this scorecard to color-code a group’s web content to show how it rated according to the criteria — and not another word needed to be said.
Running the content workshops
In the content workshops, the team put up the personas on the wall and then spent about 15 minutes reviewing the overall web redevelopment process, including all stages, activities and tasks. They invited senior managers of each business unit — primarily the decision-makers. They then reviewed the pyramid showing what they were setting out to achieve with the new website:
Getting to the goals
With each group, the team tried to arrive at the goals, objectives, activities, and supporting content for each department. “We need to know why you exist,” Rahel said. “Then we break into groups and talk about content requirements and challenges.” Rahel’s team wrote everything down from those discussions without attempting to interpret any of it.
After synthesizing these discussions and applying the goals and objectives to content recommendations, it was easier for the team to defend decisions to cut or rework certain kinds of content. For example, the fire department in Vancouver had an entire section devoted to photographs of burning buildings. Once the team had its goals and objectives for the fire department and could evaluate content needs according to the project criteria, they were able to make a case for eliminating those pages without putting the fire chief on the defensive.
Avoiding non-specific goals
Rahel warns against letting a group define one of its goals as “to educate.” “As soon as you make your goal ‘educate,’ people can sneak all sorts of things in there. You have to be more specific.” Otherwise, you’ll soon have everybody thinking “That could be on the website!” and you’re back to the old problem of too much irrelevant content.