Weeknotes from Content and Publishing (S1 E2)

Hello there. I manage the Publishing, Content Design and Digital Content teams at the ONS in Digital Publishing. Each week I’m attempting to give an overview of my work, key projects we’re involved in and encourage my wider team to blog more often about their work. You can find me on Twitter.

This week I’ve mostly been lost down the rabbit hole of understanding the past, present and future of the ONS content strategy. Almost 5 years ago the ONS signed up to a strategy which was designed to bring more rigour and definition to the products we make, how we make them, why we make then and when do we know we’ve been successful.

It was an important underpinning to the re-launched ONS website (way back in 2016) and set out how we were going to make better use of digital – skills and tools – to continue our transformation from a paper-based/PDF publisher to a digital-by-default organisation, as required by our overall strategy.

So this week I’ve been working on a series of surveys of staff about our content and products and most importantly of our users and how they see the priorities.

We’ve had more than 1,500 user responses so far and we’re still pushing the internal consultation but the initial results are fascinating. I will get around to writing what will likely be a series of blog posts about our content strategy in the near future but I’m hopeful the survey results will help us re-articulate our strategy, and also get the buy-in and support we need from across the organisation to think about products, development and governance as part of their world and not just Digital Publishing.

The UK Statistics Authority is under-taking a wider staff consultation on the follow-up to the Better Statistics, Better Decisions strategy so the timing is good to make sure we’ve got a content strategy that aligns. To that end, I’m interested in getting some influential ONS users together in the coming months for a discussion about the role and purpose of the ONS. We’ve got so many different users, uses and needs from the ONS and its website I’m keen to get some voices into a room, in front of staff, and hearing first-hand how they see us as an organisation. But finding the time to organise it is another challenge itself…

We are the champions

The week has also seen us discussing the renewal of a community of staff who are interested in communicating our statistics and analysis as well as we can. Traditionally these have been called Presentation and Dissemination Champions – terminology I’ve long disliked given those terms represent the antithesis of engaging communication – and we’re looking to expand the network, and get a community together with my teams in Digital Content and Publishing/Content Design to share projects we’ve worked on, ask questions, build relationships and learn from others.

What else to note…

All publishing on the ONS website is managed by a central team and given last year we released more than 1,000 bulletins, articles, methodology papers etc, it’s a massive undertaking simply to have the right process, workflow and tools in place to manage it successfully. We use Sharepoint to manage the flow of requests and documents and I spent some time this week talking about further improvements, which include adding in a Commissioning/planning step at the beginning and an Impact measurement step at the end of the publishing process.

If successful, it would create a single end-to-end process for teams around work that they intend to start, publish and then measure the success of that piece of work.

Objectively speaking

We’ve been poor – definitely, my fault –  at getting objectives for the wider team in place and this year I’m attempting something new. I want everyone in my team to have a set of common goals, under which we will then have sets of different tasks/projects which should all roll up to a single body of work. It’s something I had when at Microsoft – a clear thread and purpose across and through the whole team. It starts with agreeing a team-wide set of objectives, having mine signed off, the senior managers in the team doing theirs, and the wider team following the same structure. So I need to crack on.

One of the challenges of working in a team with specialist skills is that there are sometimes cultural barriers between us and the wider organisation. We can speak a different language, have a different culture and that can lead to uncertainty over how best to engage with us or understand what we do and why. So the team has been working to pull together a toolkit which sets much of this out. It’s inspired by the Service Manuals, Design toolkits and guidelines of organisations like Coop Digital, the FT and The Pudding.

I’ve been looking through drafts of the initials pages and it’s great to see us articulate the who, what, why, how of our work.