I’ve ended up having a few weeks off from noting due to holidays, sickness, and generally needing to use my non-working days for non-working things (demolishing an old shed and building a new one this weekend).

Trying to get back on it now as I do find it such a useful practice for sorting my thoughts and being able to see progress more easily.

Connection conversations

Two stickers from LocalGovDrupalCap 2024. One shows the Birmingham Bull circled by wording 'Birmingham 2024 LocalGovDrupalCamp' and the other shows a bee circled by wording 'Enhance LocalGovDrupal'

Lots of good conversation this week at the LocalGovDrupalCamp 2024 in our offices in Birmingham.

It was great to catch up with Will Huggins of Zoocha and Bryony Shadbolt of Nomensa – it’s now 6 months since I left Alzheimer’s Society where both these agencies were partners.

Also good to catch up with Mark Gannon on both local gov and musical exploits, briefly say hello to Juksie and Will Callaghan, make new connections with colleagues at Wirral, and spend time with current colleagues at Birmingham too.

A reflection for me in being back in the buzz of in-person catch ups: I have some gaps in my memory which are likely down to trauma meaning I can feel hazy on whether I’ve met some people in person before, and don’t always remember all the different context to how I might have connected. Compounded by the ongoing struggle of committing faces to memory – I might have met with you online but that doesn’t mean I can confidently recognise you in person. Tl;dr: brains are fun.

3 things this week

Accessibility personas from GDS

I picked up a few useful-right-now bits from LocalGovDrupalCamp alongside a ton of inspiration and fuel for thinking. Out of those practical bits capturing the accessibility personas from GDS.

Not a replacement for research with people with lived experience this set of personas simulate in browser how things will work for people with accessibility needs. This includes things like cataracts and reduced dexterity due to arthritis as well as those using screen readers or screen maginification.

For small or small-budgeted teams these are useful in getting a sense of where you might need to make improvements, and if nothing else screen-recording with a simulation present will make a compelling video for stakeholders or those sceptical about why we need to make accessibility and inclusivity the default in our digital (and non-digital) work.

Talking in patterns

A lot of my time at work at the moment is spent thinking about patterns. I’ve mentioned in previous weeknotes about looking at service patterns for local government, and have been continuing to progress these as well as start to join them up with design and content patterns.

I’m about at the point of joining this pattern thinking with that on structured content. My thinking on this so far is considering how we might store blocks of content centrally (in the CMS) and reuse them as needed across our website (or see below for beyond our website).

This could be content components like error messages, or contact details. But it could also be information based-content which can and should appear on several pages – something like a call to action to sign up to eBilling for council tax. Why create and maintain this separately on each page where it appears when we could create once, publish everywhere.

Is anyone in local government doing this, and doing it well?

Moving from singular to sytem focused content strategy

Related to the pattern work I’ve been thinking about the shape, and layering, of content strategy for local government.

The default assumption in most content strategy in the sector is that we need to pull people to a website or app and have them do their transaction or get their information there. This approach has led to a focus on centralising in lots of different ways – a focus on a single-brand core website, and authoring models among them.

This isn’t a bad thing. Reduced duplication and clear journeys for users is a good thing! Being efficient and consistent in the way we work and what we publish also gets the thumbs up.

How about this though: this centralised work is the base layer to a broader content strategy. The aim changes from singular – ‘publish information in a consistent manner on a single website’ to contributing to a system – ‘maintain and publish in a consistent manner on a website with the intention this information will be reused by other tools and platforms so the user can find and be presented with the right content, at the right time, in the format best suited to them’.

In this strategy the council website becomes both a destination for users and a knowledge repository from which content can be accessed (via API for example, or being scraped). It remains the single source of truth but has many more opportunities to be accessed.

This strategy needs a change of focus from being producer’s of a council website to stewards of council information. Lots more to think on around this but as ever would love to hear from anyone exploring similar or further along with thinking of this kind.

An additional thought this week

Everything takes longer than you* (*I) think it will

How long could it possibly take to knock down an old, rotten shed? Longer than I estimated, it turns out. And it also takes up more space in the skipbag than you’d (and by you, I again mean I) accounted for.

And just like the shed, lots of other things take more time and space than you think or hope they will. This isn’t always a bad thing.

Moving fast and breaking things is probably best suited to shed demolition, while moving slower and considering things has a lot going for it when we’re working on public services which have an impact on real lives.

I’m working on finding the opportunity rather than the frustration when things move slower than I think they will.

Shall we connect?

I’m looking for conversations and opening my calendar for opportunities to connect across 2024. Drop me a message if you’d like to chat or grab a spot in my Calendly (new spots opening soon) and we can find something that works I’m sure.

If you’re a vendor please check out the latest news on my employer before grabbing a slot – these conversations are not an opportunity to try and sell to me. And if you do work at the same organisation as I do reach out on Teams so we can say hello!

You can also get in touch through the ways on my get in touch page so let’s see what we can arrange.