This Is Us
Whether intentional or not, our websites tell a story about us. The color palette, text, design, and functionality, all convey a message about who the site is for and who’s behind it. Some state websites are designed for the general public, while some speak to a relatively narrow constituency. The thing we all have in common is that users visit our websites for a purpose -- to renew a license, to research legislation, or to apply for assistance (to name just a few examples). Our users are on a mission when they come to a state website, and their success at quickly finding what they’re looking for is our top priority.
Last fall, our team began discussions about revamping the Digital Services website. We spent most of the year helping other state organizations serve Georgians during the unprecedented challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as we’d wrapped up the migration of 80-plus state websites to GovHub, the DSGa team tackled the relaunch of Georgia.gov, and welcomed Insurance, Consumer Protection, and the Council of Accountability Court Judges to the GovHub family.
At times, we joked that we felt like the proverbial children of the shoemaker who go without shoes. We devoted so much energy to supporting our partners that we didn’t prioritize our own website.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that you have to take care of yourself in order to be your best for others.
It’s good practice to take a step back every year or so and reassess your core values, reconnect with your purpose, and create something fresh.
Due to the team’s continuing growth, about half the folks at DSGa weren’t even working here the last time we took a deep dive into our website content. This became a great opportunity not only to rethink our website, but also articulate what values drive our work as a team. It was a way to get us all on the same page.
Beyond usability, what kind of lasting impression are our users taking away from their experience? How does this impact their opinion of our competency and credibility? Does our content have a personality, and if so, what should it be? We wanted to make sure we were delivering on our core goals: training, governance, constituent satisfaction, and cross-state relationship building. We also wanted to be cognizant of any other messages -- whether intentional or not -- we were sending to our users.
If we’d been meeting in person, we might’ve had someone writing on a whiteboard as team members shouted out ideas. Or we could’ve given everyone Post-Its and had participants write one idea on each square of paper. Due to COVID-19, we did this virtually. We created two columns: What We Are and What We Are Not.
“We are thought leaders,” someone said.
“We are not political,” someone else offered.
For several minutes, we exhausted our brains thinking of as many descriptions for each column that we could come up with. By the end, we had more than 30 descriptions, many of which were similar or overlapping, in each column.
It prompted further discussion, particularly where disagreements surfaced. Through this kind of back and forth, we began to whittle around the edges until a distinct personality began to emerge. Major themes began to appear quite clearly, and we were able to sort our traits into distinct narratives.
The goal of this exercise was to define content lanes so that our website consistently delivers on DSGa’s core message. Remember, DSGa not only builds and supports GovHub; just like Sy Sperling says in the vintage Hair Club for Men ads, we’re also a client! Because one of our values is transparency, we are going to share the end product of this exercise so that it may inspire you to create something similar for your organization. The primary statement is a distillation of the team-suggested descriptions, which follow:
1. We are strategists on the leading edge of trends in civic technology.
- We are: Thought leaders, experts in best practices, iterative, agile, proactive, strategic, big picture, scalable, holistic, trustworthy, standard bearers, current, responsive, educational, informative, vendor/product agnostic
- We are not: Stagnant, complacent, passive, opinion-based, esoteric, jargony, product-specific, promotional of products or companies, a mouthpiece for anyone.
2. We are tactical problem solvers who won’t shy away from a challenge.
- We are: Innovators, experimenters, adaptive, responsive, flexible, creative, problem solvers, thoughtful.
- We are not: Easily deterred, limited by precedence, bound to cookie-cutter solutions.
3. We are in this together. We are here to help you succeed.
- We are: collaborators, partners, customer centric, your guide/sherpa, success amplifiers
- We are not: Just a tech shop, wasteful, SMEs in agency domain, bureaucratic, humorless, just your vendor, rule enforcers, enablers
4. This is our higher calling, and we do this work because we want to make a difference in the world.
- We are: Hopeful, earnest, empathetic, inclusive, diverse, mission-driven, active civil servants, service oriented, aware, friendly, approachable, open, inviting.
- We are not: Cynical, jaded, political, revenue or externally driven, salesy, pushy, marketers, ego-driven, accolades-driven, judgmental, boastful, negative, exclusionary.
By articulating these core narratives for the team, we are able to stay focused and on message. When creating content, we look at it through the lens of these narratives to make sure it’s in line with who we are and our mission. It also helps us make sure we don’t over-serve in one content area while neglecting something else that’s important to us. We can be strategic in planning our editorial calendar and spread the work of creating content across the entire team.
That means some of our content will be quick tactical tips for website managers across the state. Other pieces dive deeper on a specific project, such as our usability testing for Georgia.gov. We’re proud of our diverse and highly accomplished team, so we expanded our bios to highlight our commitment to public service.
We also believe in saying things out loud. Our team culture is very open and collaborative, so we sometimes take for granted that everyone is on the same page. This exercise was a way to bring new staffers up to speed and establish the set of core values that inspire our work every day.