Mapping the content lifecycle to the organisation

There are standard-practice ways of doing things, and there are better ways of doing things. When it comes to evaluating CMSes, the two are not the same. WHO is choosing the better approach, focusing on the content lifecycle…

Christopher Strebel

Christopher Strebel

Manager, Communications Dept, World Health Organization

Twitter: @c_strebel


Rick: What did you pick up in the book that you want to expound on?

Christopher: Your book was timely. We are considering looking into a new CMS.

One of the reasons we’re doing this is our current one, which is a flavour of Bricolage, was created at a time when what you have labelled author experience wasn’t really considered. So not surprisingly the author experience is quite difficult. Another reason is we have a lot of people wanting to create new flashy websites that our CMS, in its current form, can’t deliver.

Rick: Yes.

Christopher: We are in the process of investigating other CMSes, gathering user and author needs, creating requirements documents, interviewing other UN agencies to find out what they have done. At the same time there are some people who want to, or need to, move ahead now. To roll out a new, small CMS for a particular department, which is happening with the help of IT. We made sure the web team was involved but were able to input just a few days before the launch.

Rick: If IT try to be too helpful, you could end up with a meta-CMmess.

Christopher: That’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid.

But our system has a steep and long learning curve so there aren’t really very many authors and there are many people who want to be able to write and publish content faster. Even though our publishing is officially decentralised, it’s still de facto centralised authoring, because there are so few trained people at the departmental level so the jobs come to the central team.

Some departments have producers. Ideally, they should all be authors. But because the system is so hard to use, the web team has started to work a little to a little too much of what as Gerry McGovern referred to as web putter-uppers rather than putting more focus on content strategy.

Rick: So, the people with specialist skills end up doing a strange type of menial work. I’ve seen that a lot.

Christopher: I don’t want that to happen to the web team. They’ve got some really good skills. They should be offering a service: content management and content strategy. They should be doing governance, creating better user experience and leveraging our content in best ways possible and not spending time updating paragraphs for people, or shifting commas around.

Sometimes people forget that web content can stay online a long time. That it will be findable years later and that it needs a regular updates. Thank goodness, most people in WHO understand that they have to update their content. But they can’t access it.

I know other systems have limitations, but ours is no longer fit for purpose. For example, you have to enter each paragraph as a separate element. Right now, we’re trying to reintroduce WYSIWYG. That will help a little.

Rick: Adding paragraph at a time thing isn’t unique to you. I recently dealt with a large energy company that has implemented one of the Gartner Magic Quadrant leading web CMSes. Their implementation has been customised so that there is no formatting of copy. They can get multiple paragraphs in one element, but if they want a title, that’s a separate component, with its own edit dialog, and then the following paragraph is another component.

Editing, moving stuff around… it’s a nightmare.

Christopher: Yeah. Ours is kind of like that.

But enough about the CMS. WHO does some good things on the author experience front, too.

Rick: Yes?

Christopher: We’ve got an excellent writing team that produces really good copy. And we take updates seriously. We try to make sure our fact sheets are as up-to-date as possible. Some elements of the site are updated yearly. Some several times a year.

Rick: That’s a lot of content to review and keep accurate.

Christopher: Yes, we’ve got tens of thousands of pages. The people working on the content strategy really know their jobs. They’re good. It’s just the tool that makes it harder for them and that is what we are looking to improve.

Rick: Something that I’ve seen a bit of chatter about recently is the argument between centralised and decentralised authoring. I prefer a hybrid approach: decentralised content creation and raw data management, which then flows into a central team that can make it fit for publication. The versions are linked, so an update from the subject matter experts alerts the central team, who can ease the relevant bits through.

Christopher: That’s essentially what we have. Except the platform isn’t doing its part; we’re missing that integration step.

We have content experts, and to an extent they do their own thing. But that person who actually writes the content should be able to update it in the system. Then, the central team’s role becomes one of governance. They can check quality.

Rick: Yes.

Christopher: And that’s what I think the team’s role should be. To create a better experience as to how to move and follow content through the site.

Rick: Exactly. Following the evolution of content through its creation process is – in my view – the most important part of content management. (And the most overlooked.)

If you’ve got people in the field who really know their subject, and write stuff up – or even who draft a list of data points – that should be the scope of their interaction with content management.

That should feed someone else, who makes it readable.

Christopher: Yes.

Rick: But when the subject matter experts change their stuff – their private content – the next person should get those updates and be able to follow it through easily; pass it up the chain. And that way, the subject matter experts know that their knowledge and skill is being well used, that it is being disseminated. They’re adding value.

Christopher: Yeah. It really is about having the workflow in place. And having as appropriate a CMS as possible for the workflow that the organisation has. You need both elements. You can’t do it with just one. It’s an interesting conundrum. We often solve one side but not the other…

Rick: In a sense, the people side is pre-solved. You have the people you have.

Christopher: There’s some truth to that and that’s why we’re examining various CMSes to see if there are better ways to do things to assist the people we have and help them disseminate their content, improve their experience. I think organisations have to, every few years, review and improve their CMS, enhance its functionality; or change to a new one.

It’s always interesting to see what has evolved in the CMS universe since I last analysed the CMS market.

Rick: I think the reason that has to be done so often is that most people approach it from the web end, or the CMS end. If you come at it instead from the communications and data end, if you model the data, its interactions, connections and relationships, and how you want it to come out – not as web pages, but the clusters and relationships – you end up with an infrastructure that maps to the content lifecycle.

Then, the web is just a front end. You can restyle it any way you want. It’s an easy job.

Christopher: That’s the point you were making in the book, which is quite a good one. It’s really making sure you have the conversation with all the stakeholders. You have to involve the IT and the platform people, the developers, the web content writers, and the actual authors as well as just the web team.