Many government websites tend to deliver content without considering their audience.

In 1996, Bill Gates wrote that ‘content is king.’

More than 20 years later, I think we’ve learned, in fact, the customer is king (or queen) and content is the humble servant. Or at least, it should be. By nature, local government content can be quite dry and confusing for the reader. If not truly written from the audience perspective, you can end up with conflicting content priorities and a poor customer experience.  

For this reason, Alex Keay, digital transformation lead for the City of Unley, knew a human-centred design approach was essential for a successful content strategy. When the City began early planning for a new website, Alex immediately started to gather data and plant the seed across departments—we need to think about content in a different way. 

“In human-centred content design, you design the platform around topics that are intuitive to the customer,” said Alex. “Customers go in knowing they have a need, but often not knowing which department is responsible for the service. We have to anticipate that and make the content experience intuitive—make it easy for them to find the answers to their questions.” 

Flipping the script 

This mindshift away from how the government has always done business to a more customer-first approach is not easy. It requires internal team engagement, education and collaboration across multiple content owners and service providers.  

“Three months before we even selected a platform, we held workshops for frontline workers and asked them to share customers’ most frequently asked questions,” said Alex. “We gave them ownership by helping to identify the “hot topics” that would guide our content priorities. Our goal was not to say ‘what we have is bad’ but acknowledging all departments have valuable knowledge and share in this effort. We wanted to give them a voice early in the process.” 

Research also included going directly to the customer for insights—testing topic-oriented content structures with small focus groups of residents. Taking lessons learned and expanding out to online testing with a larger customer community allowed the City to iterate content design and continuously improve the experience prior to a full site launch.  

Content drives the digital experience 

Bringing together internal staff insights and firsthand customer feedback allowed the City to successfully develop an intuitive, topic-based digital services experience using the OpenCities platform. Alex cited the platform’s focus on customer-first, accessibility, inclusivity and simplicity as the right partnership to underpin the best content experience.  


“Having been part of the entire journey, (departmental staff) felt a greater sense of ownership,” said Alex. “We encouraged them to actively use the OpenCities tool—for subject matter experts (SMEs) to edit and own their content areas. They were able to see for themselves how much easier it was for customers to find answers to their questions.” 

The City of Unley launched its brand new site in just 3 months from planning to go live. With cross-organizational involvement, customer-centred objectives and data-driven iteration, the City’s digital transformation is well underway. Both customers and staff are experiencing firsthand what it means to ‘serve better.’ 

Alex’s Top 3 Tips for Human-Centred Content Strategy 
  1. Allow lead time before you build. It’s important to do the customer and SME research and have the information architecture before the platform is ready. This makes sure the content drives the platform. 
  2. A project team with diverse skillsets. For an ideal website outcome, the project team should include leaders with complementary but different expertise—customer mindset, user experience/technology and digital transformation.   
  3. Find balance between strategy and tactics. Go into the project knowing you’ll need to shift frequently between big picture thinking and detailed tactics. Be flexible and be comfortable with not knowing what you don’t know. It’s a journey!