If you’ve ever used a local authority website you may have noticed that the standard of content varies, not just from site to site, but section to section. One reason for this is many organisations have no single team with overall editorial control of the site. Another is lack of consistent standards applied to content when it’s written.
I work for a council, but am also part of LocalGov Digital, a network of digital practitioners working in local governments. Last year we published our Content Standards based on existing best practice and the experience of the authors.
Whilst the Standards are twenty-something pages long and deal with everything from different types of content and how to write them, to how to format text like dates and currency, they can be encapsulated in one sentence, which is:
Is the information you’re presenting to the public necessary, readable, original, easy to find and well-presented?
I was recently asked by Sasha Taylor if the Standards could be adapted for other public sector websites and whether we could work together on broadening the audience of the standards. I think the answer is yes. There are many similarities, for example the public often engage with a public sector organisation not by choice, but because that organisation is the only one that provide the service.
This means that much of the content needs to be written in a different style to that of the private sector. Often there’s no need to sell the service and the emphasis should be placed on providing the information in a format and writing style that enables the reader to obtain the information they need to use the service as quickly and easily as possible.
The Standards also contain a five point checklist, which I think is as relevant to the Emergency Services as it is local governments:
- Is the content answering a question that our customers are asking?
- Is your content easy-to-read and understandable to a layperson?
- Is the content original?
- Can the content be found using search words that make sense to the customer?
- Are graphics and pictures appropriate and do they add something to the page?
Making sure each piece of content ticks these five boxes not only ensures it’s fit for purpose but tests whether it has a purpose, resulting in a leaner, easier to navigate site.
The Standards are slowly being adopted by local governments and promoted as best practice by Content Management System suppliers. You can find the Standards on GitHub here, which means you can “fork” your own copy and make changes. Changes could be fed back into the original and who knows, if there’s enough common ground perhaps they could eventually become the Public Sector Content Standards.
Phil Rumens is Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital and manages the Digital Services Team for a local authority.