https://dwpdigital.blog.gov.uk/2019/05/14/building-a-content-design-community-of-practice/

Building a Content Design community of practice

Image of content design community colleagues
Content Design community

We’re hiring

We’re looking for experienced content folk to join our Content Design team. There are 11 vacancies, based in Leeds, Sheffield, Blackpool, Newcastle and London.

We often talk about how we design content and collaborate with other teams. What we talk less about is the part of the role that isn’t, strictly speaking, about user-centred content design. It’s all the things we might have to do to create the circumstances which allow us to do our best work.

You might find yourself as the most experienced agile person in a team. You might see that a clearly-articulated problem statement would help the team focus. Or you might work closely with other user-centred design roles to show others why we work in this way.

There was an interesting question on Twitter from @angehilton (Angela Hilton, Product Owner at DWP Digital) about what makes a good community of practice. Since I joined the Department for Work and Pensions in 2015, I’ve spent a lot of time creating and strengthening the content design community. Building the community has been one of the most rewarding parts of my role so far. This is what I’ve learnt.

It doesn’t just happen

A community of practice is more than a group of people who do a similar thing. It takes time for that group to feel part of the community – supported and happy to share and challenge. And it took time and quite deliberate effort on my part to get things started.

Work out what the community is for

How is your community different to your team? We see community events as a chance to discuss content more broadly than we do at team get-togethers. We regularly discuss what we’d like to find out more about as a community and use that to shape future sessions. Spending time defining the purpose of the community, and revisiting this every now and then, is useful. We’ve had some changes recently, so it’s a good time for us to discuss our community’s purpose again.

Share the leadership

As Head of Content Design, I set up the community. But I don’t lead it. It’s jointly led by its members. In the early days I set up a Slack channel and organised and spoke at the community events, but I’m happy to say that I’m not needed any more. There are such high levels of enthusiasm and engagement by our content folk that they might now ask me for advice and let me know what’s planned, but they don’t need me to lead the community. Sometimes momentum dips (mainly because everyone is juggling so much) so I might give a nudge here and there to get the next get-together in the diary, but it doesn’t tend to take much.

Image of DWP Digital Content Design Community book
DWP Digital Content Design Community

Be generous with your invitations

I made a conscious effort from the beginning to encourage content people who aren’t content designers, and those who are outside our team, to get involved. It’s brought our teams closer together and has also started some good conversations about how to approach shared challenges. People have approached me who don’t have a background in content design, and are interested in finding out more – I invite them to our events and encourage them to talk to other people in the community. In an organisation as big and complicated as DWP, getting to know people with a shared interest is a very useful thing.

Make it a safe space

Something to keep an eye on is how comfortable people feel sharing their work and asking for advice. If the community is full of people they’ve never met, this can make them feel vulnerable and less comfortable opening up. There are a couple of things I’ve found helpful. If you use a tool like Slack, make sure everyone introduces themselves when they join, and have a photo and location on their profile. If someone who is a member isn’t getting involved in the community, I talk to them to work out why. It’s important that everyone is engaged.

These are just some quick thoughts about my experience of setting up a community of practice.

If you haven’t already, you should read Emily Webber’s brilliant book, Building Successful Communities of Practice.

Join us

We’re not a fully-fledged agile organisation yet, and we need help getting there. It isn’t always easy. We’re looking for people who want to rise to this interesting, important challenge. The potential is huge, and you’d be part of a talented, supportive community.

Be part of the one of the largest and most exciting digital transformations in the world. Apply now by visiting our careers website or look at our LinkedIn page to see the latest jobs.

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