We need to change the way we create, publish and manage digital content in the Department of Health. We need to do it now.
There are a few reasons why:
- The Department of Health is changing. We’ll soon be responsible for different things. Some functions will move out of the Department, and some will move in. If we do nothing to our digital presence, it will soon be unfit for purpose. This is our biggest driver for change.
- Digital communication is changing across government. It looks like the Martha Lane Fox recommendations will be implemented in full. Before we know it we’ll have a Government Digital Service and a single domain for government. We need to prepare ourselves for changes that we know are around the corner.
- User expectations have changed. People expect more from us than an expanding repository of official information. There are massive opportunities for us to exploit internet culture to help deliver the priorities of the Department. Digital communication is not just about managing the channels we own, but we will need to provide our owned content in different ways, and integrate our digital presence with 3rd party content and tools where it makes sense to do so.
- We have to be more efficient. We know that we will have fewer staff that we did last year to mange digital content. And our ministers have said that they expect us to save 50% of the money we spend on government websites. Neither of these things is a barrier to doing brilliant digital communication; both require us to work differently.
So we have to change. And I think we have reason to be excited about it. It is an opportunity for us to challenge all the old ways of doing things, removing inefficient or outdated processes, and replacing them with brilliant and efficient tools and techniques for making the most of digital communication.
We can bring the wider family of DH websites onto a single platform under a common brand with a coherent user experience (the BIS blueprint), including content from our public bodies and future public bodies, our communities, bulletins, advisory bodies, semi-independent committees, policy campaigns, consultations and blogs. They won’t all have a place on a corporate DH website, but they should all be part of a DH digital presence, they should all include common elements, and they should all sit on a single domain.
We’ve learned lessons from some of the things we’ve done recently that have followed this kind of approach, particularly our Modernisation channel, which is a sub-site dedicated to a big policy theme, intended to sit slightly apart from our corporate website, but do distinct job for us within the DH digital family.
We know that we will need to simplify our content offer. At the moment, we publish too many different types of digital content on too many different websites using too many different platforms. It doesn’t help our users, and it’s an inefficient way for us to work. As a digital communication team, we need to focus on what we’re best able to do, and then find ways to work with others if they can do other things better.
We will need to make some changes to our corporate website in order to focus our editorial and publishing effort on our unique content – bespoke, date-stamped features and publications, saying the things that only we can say. This will probably mean freezing the majority of our existing content, archiving it once it becomes out of date, and publishing our new, simplified content in front of it (the Defra manoeuvre).
It’s not a good time to be investing in new platforms for government websites, but we don’t think we need to. We think we can find a solution that:
- requires no major design or development work – it builds on work we’ve already done, using tools we already have
- needs new content, but does not require a big project to migrate old content
- provides easy integration of social media, reusable content and data, without change requests, and without any laborious processes for our content editors
- improves on our current offer in every case (for DH corporate content, our policy priorities, and our public bodies in particular)
- does not compromise the standards we have set for resilience or information management
- saves a significant amount of money for the Department and its public bodies in the medium term
- is a step towards a single government domain
We can do some of it immediately. We can make significant efficiencies and improve the user experience right away, so we’ll be asking people who publish content on DH websites to do it in a different way, today.
Some of it will take a bit longer, and we know that we will need to bring people within the Department along with us, explaining what will change and why, and demonstrating that our new offer can make us all more effective. You will notice a visible difference to bits of our corporate website at some point in June. And we expect to really notice the benefit of this work as changes to the Department – like the creation of new bodies like Public Health England – start to happen.
Wish us luck.