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Published on June 17th, 2009 | by Simon Wakeman

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Thoughts on public sector web content management

Over the years I’ve seen web content management in action a range of organisational environments, from a High Street retailer, an online bank through to a unitary council. While each place had its own peculiarities, many of the issues around content management for websites were similar.

Derbyshire County Council
‘s Sarah Lay has an interesting post about discussions her team is having about how content should be managed on their website.

At Medway we’re hoping for approval at tomorrow’s full council meeting for funding to allow us to kick off our website redesign project with a brand new content management system – so many of Sarah’s thoughts and questions have been in my mind while putting together the proposals for a new site.

Sarah’s questions are below, along with my personal thoughts on them:

What experience does anyone else have?
Do others implement devolved authorship?

In Medway at the moment we have a hybrid devolved/centralised model on the main website where content is published by a service-based published, checked by a local co-ordinator, then checked and pushed live by a centrally-based web editor. The model is similar for the intranet but without the third step from the central web editor.

On other satellite sites there is usually a one step publishing model, although this publisher is more often than not a centrally based web editor rather than a service-based officer.

At Egg we had a centrally-based team that did all publishing. This was mainly for compliance reasons so an audit trail of all published content could be maintained and to ensure strict control over who could publish what.

However the number of pages and range of subjects covered on the site was much less – which is why I’m not convinced this model would be great for a council – as few councils would have resources to properly publish all material through a fully centralised publishing team, and to do this would require very strong and clear communication lines between the officers running services and those publishing web content.

What is the ratio of authors to size of organisation / website?
We have more than 100 publishers trained to use the content management system (CMS) from an organisation with around 3,000 staff. However the number of trained publishers that are active is much less.

What skills do those authors have? Why were they chosen as authors? Is it a dedicated web author role or part of A N Other job?
Our publishers typically undertake web publishing as part of another job role – there aren’t any dedicated web content people outside the centrally-based communications team.

The publishers are sometimes nominated by line managers, less often they put themselves forward for the training.

While writing for the web/house style is part of the web content publisher training, I think there’s a bit of a gap with this approach as it has meant the website has grown semi-organically from its planned structure into something unwieldy and, most importantly, internally-focussed rather than user experience-focussed.

What training is provided?
Two day web publisher training course – part-technical (ie how do you actually use the CMS) and part-writing (how to write web copy and about house style).

What is the incidence of retraining?
What level of support is needed / provided?

Typically on a one to one basis as requested by the publishers themselves.

Is content ‘let free’ by authors or is there an approval system in place?
As above – three-step approval process. While this does give a fair degree of control, it can also lead to inefficiencies.

The second stage co-ordinators don’t always check as thoroughly as they could, as they know there’s always someone else that will pick up mistakes, problems etc. This leads to greater workloads for the final stage editors as they pick up problems that should have been corrected earlier on.

Having a three stage model also causes a delay in the time it takes to get content live as it has to sit in two people’s queues of content to check – while the final editors are full-time on the web, the co-ordinators aren’t. There are ways to get content live quickly, but it relies on goodwill and clear communiction rather than a structurally quick content publishing model.

Has anyone gone from devolved authorship to centralisation of publishing or ‘super users’ (sort of extension of the web team)? How was any change to the process received?
The launch of our current system was before my time at Medway, although this change is something I think Medway had to do as the previous model was, I believe, pretty much decentralised.

If you run more than one website do you have different levels of devolvement / approval? For example, do you approve web content but not intranet content?
Yes, intranet is two stage approval, while website is three stage.

I suspect as our intranet evolves in the new project, probably to something more resembling a collaborative workspace rather than a classic intranet site, we may relax the intranet approval process further – as genuine, real-time interactions on a collaborative intranet demand instant publishing rather than delays for content approval.

Update – a Redbridge perspective from Dan Harris is here.

This article originally appeared on Simon Wakeman’s communications, marketing and public relations blog at www.simonwakeman.com.

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I write on my blog about all kinds of things. Mostly it's focussed on communications, marketing and digital stuff - as that's what I spend my days doing and evenings thinking about. But sometimes I'll cover running, mountain biking, road biking or geeky gadgets too.



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