Thoughts on public sector web content management

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.


I work with founders and senior leaders in rapid growth businesses. My focus is building resilience, coherence and high performance in teams and organisations to enable sustainable business growth.

7 thoughts on “Thoughts on public sector web content management”

  1. Do you have any thoughts on how release mechanisms like those you describe could apply to more social media. I’m thinking of comments on blogs and twitter where timeliness is a key element in the effectiveness of dialogue?

  2. I think social content needs to be less restricted – social media is, in essence, about people talking pretty much directly with other people online (in one form or another).
    For “social publishing” we need to remove the technology barriers to people publishing, and rely on cultural factors/knowledge/awareness/common sense to control what someone blogging/twittering from within an organisation puts out.
    Plus the real-time nature of social media interactions just doesn’t seem to fit with a publishing model which has multiple approval stages in it.
    However that’s the ideal scenario, but in practice I suspect it’s more complicated than that..!

  3. You seem to be experiencing exactly the same issues as we are with our CMS and website, although we are fortunate enough to have had our funding agreed and intending to start the tender process v.soon.
    In regards to the editor/publishing process we currently have a bottleneck on the final publishing of content. I’m hoping that the CMS we choose to go with will have enough checks and balances in place that we can go with an almost fully devolved publishing strategy. I don’t want to sound like I putting all my faith in the CMS but compared to our current system, I’m a firm believer in a new CMS that will at least ‘pester’ editors/authors about reviewing content and certainly won’t let anyone publish content without our chosen level of accessibility being met, I think these sort of features should be part of a standard spec amongst others.
    Good luck with your funding, the pain and anguish is still fresh in my mind 😉

  4. A key driver for devolving publishing in my department, other than to alleviate the bottlenecking that we current experience, is to encourage staff to take ownership of their content online. Currently I have to chase people for updates. Once they are given direct responsibility for their own pages they will (hopefully) take the initiative themselves.
    One barrier we often come up against is that the required cost (of training) and time (of publishing) can be prohibitive. Colleagues can also sometimes feel that the web is not their responsibility (and often they do not have the time to support it, even if it were). We need to see a profound cultural shift, along with considerable support from senior management, for web content to become an integral, valued and prioritised part of people’s work streams.

  5. When I implemented CMS at Salford in 2003 all web content was published by the four person web team. We waited four weeks after ‘go live’ before introducing our first devolved content author to the live site.
    I wanted to be sure the first author was comfortable with the environment and the training programme we had in place was fit for purpose.
    By the time I left Salford in December 2007 we had over 300 trained authors. We refined the training programme content as we went along based on user feedback, web team experience of workflow problems and a programme of continuous improvement in accessibility and other issues.
    Key to getting devolved authors buying in to presenting a consistent user experience is to provide them with web standards – guidelines on minimum requirements, hints and tips and so forth. These are available to view at
    A three-step workflow is in operation; this can be relaxed when authors reach a certain level of ‘maturity’ in web publishing. Full details are available at
    A different process was used for intranet content. Takeup of intranet at Salford was poor so in an effort to encourage both publishing and usage workflow was not implemented. With the benefit of hindsight this was not a success. If I could go back, I’d introduce workflow for intranet content also.
    Social media is much more of an issue today than it was when I was in post. But even back in 2001 I was encouraging usage of internet resources internally to engage staff in the benefits of intranet and web for improving both customer outcomes and individual aspirations. This was largely successful but needs constant plugging away at. Having someone managing the intranet who looks for opportunities to promote the benefits of intranet and web to staff members (and making sure the distinctiion between the two is understood) is one of the tools for ultimate success. Social media has changed the agenda somewhat, but the principles remain fairly similar – encouraging takeup and usage!


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