Adopting a Citizens First Approach Through Iterative Design

We have recently been getting involved with some U.S. Government work. And while there is no better mission than public service, you begin to realize that from a communications design standpoint, the challenge is quite real—that is, there is a great deal of content to convey to very large and diverse audiences (i.e., think about all U.S. citizens). Tackling this requires even greater adherence to some core communications principles. These include: defining audiences, understanding their needs and objectives, defining the communication strategy, and defining your KPIs.

Segmenting audiences and understanding their needs can be challenging—as it can become overwhelming at times. It is one of those activities where you have to, “trust the process.” Teams can get mired in one aspect of it, or overanalyze a group—but the objective is to keep it moving forward. We encourage teams to do this so they can get to a Version 1 document. This initial Version is not going to be perfect (it never is). Some think it should be, but in reality, it is a blueprint and a jumping-off point for a better version. It is something to edit, critique, expand upon, etc. Adopting this iterative mindset is extremely helpful for tackling complex communications challenges.

Once teams have a picture of the audiences and those audiences’ needs, they can begin to articulate a communications strategy to address them—this can include key content threads and messaging pillars that will inform content architecture. (If you have an existing website, you can use your current site traffic data as a good resource.) This will help focus content and, hopefully, reduce the amount of information that is getting presented. We find that many teams continuously add content without sunsetting or combining with existing content. It just continues to grow—and as they are the ones looking at it every day, it makes sense to them. We remind our clients that, “people do not wake up every day thinking about you.”

Finally, identifying measurable success metrics is critical. Having Key Performance Indicators can seem like an evaluative tool and negative, but in reality it is all about learning and understanding what is working. We come across a lot of teams who think that communications is one and done—like when they launch a site. Yes, it is a lot of work, but it should not be seen as a static tool. It is really an opportunity for learning and optimizing. This helps you better serve your constituents better and also, in the end, makes your team more efficient and effective.


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