July 21-22, 2021 / Online

The Institutional Killjoy

Written by The Institutional Killjoy

March 1, 2021


Hello, everyone. It's really great to be here at this year's Design and Content Conference. Today, we're going to talk to you about the institutional killjoy and the transformation of public sector content. Our talk provides an overview of original qualitative research into the experience of doing content and design work in government. But before we get into the talk, we'll start by introducing ourselves and telling you a bit about who we are and what prompted us to explore the experience of content practitioners in the public sector.

Hi, everyone, I am Jessica MacQueen, I work as a content strategist for the government of Alberta. I've been a public servant for about seven years. I currently oversee the public facing websites for the Ministry of Advanced Education. I am also an institutional killjoy, and if you're working in content or design in government, we'd like to suggest that you too might be an institutional killjoy. This may not sound like a title that you wanna wear with pride, but we're hoping that, by the end of our talk, you might feel a little bit differently. To us, the title of an institutional killjoy is like a badge of honor. It means that you're part of a community of practitioners working from inside organizations to make them better and more inclusive.

And hi, everyone. I'm Sophia Hoosein, and I work as a senior business analyst responsible for user engagement with the government of Alberta's Ministry of Health. And yes, believe it or not, my role involves a lot of content work. I've been a public servant for the past 13 years, and in that time, I too have worn the institutional killjoy title. Jessica and I met and formed a really great working partnership, because we're both working in the thick of bureaucracy proper while trying to change the way content and design are done in government. We had this kindred spirits kind of vibe since we share the experience of pushing against the constraints of the same institution as we try to move the needle on how this work gets done. So as part of our partnership, we embarked on researching and developing this talk that we're delivering to you today.

So in this talk, we'll start by telling you the story of how we met as two content practitioners in government. Then we'll introduce you to the key concepts that ground this project. From there, we're gonna outline the methodology for our research. Then we'll get onto the good stuff where we show the highlights from our findings. And finally, we'll end with some time for questions.

So to set the stage for how this work started, here's the story of our paths crossed a couple of years ago. We met thanks to a mutual colleagues who saw that we both had strong opinions on the topic of public sector content, and we bonded over a shared experience of what it feels like to do this work in government.

We recognized that the common perception that government websites are bad and accessing government services is a nightmare is sometimes a fair assessment. A lot of government websites don't respond to user needs, and some services do present access challenges. So we, like many content and design practitioners, are trying to fix that. We both feel an urgency and an imperative to develop and implement better content and design practices in public institutions, but we also know that these institutions aren't always receptive to or easily able to integrate new ways of working. And by new, we mean the ways in which private industry has probably been working for a while.

So after we met, we started attending professional events together, and we talk about our mutual envy of our fellow private sector content designers, sharing the latest advances in strategy or methodology or best practices. And we were over here at our organization, still trying to get government to think about the people it designs for, we're still trying to advocate for user research, accessibility, and inclusive design, and build capacity and digital skills in an organization that needs to change the way it creates and maintains digital services and content so that it actually meets real user needs.

Now, unsurprisingly, doing this work is hard, so sometimes people give up, they burn out, when they don't see progress or when they can't influence change, they leave. We've seen a number of our brilliant colleagues jump ship and go to private industry. And we ourselves grapple with this decision around our own career paths. It's tempting at times to walk away from government and join a private design team that's agile, that knows what it means to iterate, that knows what a content strategist is, and that understands why content matters. I suppose in a way, this project we're sharing with you today is a collaborative attempt to build a life raft for ourselves and for practitioners facing similar issues in government.

It began as a self-interested exercise in survival, asking our peers, how do you do this, how do you keep doing this? And through our research, we found solidarity, shared experiences, and mutual support. And so we hope to offer that up to you in turn.

So moving on to our research, we wanna introduce you to some of the key concepts that ground this project. And to do that, we're gonna need to introduce you to Sarah Ahmed. So Ahmed is an independent feminist scholar currently based in the UK, and her 2017 book, Living a Feminist Life, gives us a theoretical foundation for our talk. In her book, Ahmed offers both theory and practical tools for living a feminist life, both at home and at work.

So she begins by describing growing up as a feminist and having those uncomfortable dinner conversations with her family, who saw her as difficult. But then she draws this connection to her later experience of being a feminist in the workplace and facing that same attitude from colleagues who would label her as difficult or a complainer. So she conducts a series of interviews with people working as diversity officers in universities, and these people are tasked with making these institutions more diverse and more inclusive by addressing racist, sexist, and ableist and other exclusionary policies and practices. But Sophia and I were both struck with how these experience of these practitioners seemed to align with a lot of our own experiences as feminists at work, though doing very different work at very different institutions.

So Ahmed's book has given us a language and a framework to think about our experiences doing content work in government, and we draw on her concepts to inform our thesis, so next slide, please. And our thesis is this. To do content and design work in the public sector is to be an institutional killjoy, transforming bureaucracy from the inside to better serve people. We'll impact this statement in the next few slides, but basically, it summarizes what it feels like for us to do this work. But also, we did some research and interviewed some fellow practitioners to see if we weren't the only ones who felt this way, and spoiler alert, we are not. So Ahmed shares a few concepts that help us understand this experience of the public sector practitioner, and one of the first concepts she shares is diversity work, so what does that mean?

Well, Ahmed defines diversity work as the work we do when we attempt to transform institutions. And we notice that many of our peers share this mission of institutional transformation. We're seeing to change the way that things are being done to better serve people. And why are we doing this work? Well, as Ahmed explains, diversity work is about rebuilding institutions in order to make them more accessible. We wanna transform government, because government hasn't traditionally been that great at creating useful, usable, and accessible content and services for people. Public sector practitioners are often pushing against the way that things have always been done when advocating for more accessible government content and services, and many of our peers are working to put the user at the center of the design process and to integrate principles of accessibility and inclusion into this work, but we know that government isn't used to working this way.

And so Ahmed's description of the diversity worker as an institutional plumber feels apt for the public sector practitioner too. She says, "Diversity workers could be described as institutional plumbers: they develop an expertise in how things get stuck, as well as where they get stuck." Diversity workers come to have a different set of knowledges about institutions, they acquire practical knowledge of the mechanisms that allow some things to happen and others not. In our experience, content practitioners acquire practical knowledge of how shit gets created and how shit gets stuck, but we felt like titling our presentation the institutional plumber and the transformation of public sector content would have less of a draw.

So Ahmed explains that doing this diversity work to transform an institution can be understood as pushy work. And this is simply because of the nature of working differently. To work differently is to go against the grain. She writes, "If you're going the wrong way in a crowd, you have to push harder than any of those who are going the right way." The effort required to do things is unevenly distributed, to push is thus to push against a direction. So the right way here is essentially those well-worn pads of institutional workflows and ways of doing. It's that institutional inertia that accumulates over years of doing things a certain way, and it's that status quo that change makers are always trying to shift. It's those efforts to challenge the status quo that qualify as pushy work. Ahmed writes, "Diversity work is pushy work because you have to push against what has already been built." We have to make adjustments to an existing arrangement in order to open institutions up to those who have historically been excluded by them.

So while Ahmed's study of academia is specifically pointing to how universities have historically excluded women, people of color, people with disabilities, and people from low income communities, her concepts are relevant for the work that we do too. When we conduct user research and user testing to understand pain points and barriers to access and understanding or when we reduce reading level and replace specialist jargon with simple words and sentence structure, or when we design content and interfaces that are navigable with assistive technologies and adaptive strategies, we are pushing against the way government has traditionally developed content and services. We're opening up government by designing for actual users. And that, my friends, makes us institutional killjoys.

Ahmed asserts that the diversity worker could be described as an institutional killjoy, and she goes on to quote a practitioner she interviewed who described, "You know, you go to say something and you can just see people going, 'Oh, here she goes.'" So if you've ever found yourself getting on your metaphorical soap box to explain, again, why content development should be rooted in solid understanding of user needs or why we should follow web writing best practices or why we need to establish good governance and plan for the entire content lifecycle or why government needs skilled and dedicated content professionals, you may be familiar with this sort of response.

An institutional killjoy is someone who makes it increasingly difficult or uncomfortable for an institution to carry on with business as usual. This person calls attention to ways of working that are no longer working. As Ahmed writes, "The diversity practitioner can be heard as the obstacle to the conversational space before she even says anything. She too poses a problem because she keeps exposing a problem. Another meeting ruined." Now, we are not suggesting that public sector practitioners are ruining meetings on the daily, but just as the feminist killjoy draws attention to injustice and inequity in society, an institutional killjoy carries on this tradition of crashing the party, so to speak, by drawing attention to the ways in which an institution is failing to be accessible and inclusive. And because this way of thinking challenges the way things have always been done, it can be met with resistance.

So Ahmed's concept gave us a language and a framework for thinking through why we feel the way that we do as public sector practitioners. And for our research, we wanted to understand if our experiences were unique to us or if they were shared amongst our peers. So now we'll take you through the research we did to flush out a broader understanding of what doing this work in government looks like. So we're going to give you a high level overview of our methodology and talk a bit about how we collected and analyzed study data.

So since our research sought to understand the lived experience of public sector content practitioners, it was clear that we needed to conduct a qualitative investigation, because we really wanted to get at the experienced of people doing this work. So we conducted in-depth, semi-structured, two on one virtual interviews with public servants from jurisdictions across Canada. We talked to people from junior levels all the way up to the executive level who identified as content practitioners, and then we conducted a thematic analysis on our interview data to pull out patterns and themes that emerged in our interviews. So we asked participants 12 questions.

The key points we touched on in interviews included understanding practitioners' job titles and how they spent their days, getting a sense of organizational attitudes towards content design to see where other Canadian jurisdictions were at with respect to human-centered content design and practicing such. We also wanted to understand the contributing factors when shifts in attitudes finally happened and an organization starts to embrace human-centered content and design. We also wanted to understand the challenges and barriers that practitioners come up against when they're trying to do this work in government. We wanted to know if any of our participants had done this work in the private sector too and, if so, how the experience compared. We wanted to understand what practitioners rely on to succeed and persist in doing this work. You'll see here for question 10 that we reference a survival kit, and this concept comes from Sarah Ahmed. We found responses to this question particularly illuminating and helpful for us. So at the end of the talk, we'll share the top things that practitioners would include in their survival kit. And finally, we wanted to understand what this experience feels like for our peers.

So now on to our findings. Our interviews yielded a very information-rich and extensive data set. So today, we'll focus on the highlights of our findings to paint a picture of what content design work looks like in the public sector. One of the questions we asked was what three words would you use to describe what it feels like to do content and design work in the public sector? We know how we feel as we try to propel positive change forward. So part of why we asked this question has to do with further understanding of the shared experience of our peers. And wow, did we ever uncover some shared sentiments.

So what does it feel like? Well, here's a holistic picture of how practitioners in this study feel doing this work in the public sector. This is a word cloud or cluster, and it shows the most common responses in larger font size. So you see words like exhausting, rewarding, frustrating, challenging, confusing, fulfilling, interesting, slow, exciting, honorable, meaningful, tedious, demoralizing, and inspired. And there are two very disparate categories that really come through here. The first being frustrating, which was by far the most common response. Interestingly, this is followed by rewarding, which is the opposite end of that spectrum, but nonetheless came in as a close second.

And so let's look closer at the most referenced feeling, frustrating. Those of us advocating for human-centered content work in the public sector are doing so within a system that has firmly entrenched ways of doing business. And we're often pushing against a well-established grain. So in the words of some of our study participants, here's why it's frustrating. You have experience in training and an idea that's shot down because of someone's ego or the inability to make something because of the system. It's frustrating because we don't often get the outcome we want, or when your content isn't prioritized or valued in the way it should be. You're saying the same things over and over, and it feels like you're beating your head against a wall. It's also demoralizing, it's a set of contradictions, it's insecurity-inducing. It's frustrating when the content is not the best it can be, but the best you could get with the parameters that you're working within. So we can see there's a lot of defeat here. Your expertise is disregarded, and you often don't get to give your best because the system in place doesn't allow for it.

So we also wanna draw attention to something poignant that came up in one of our interviews. It's an issue that transcends content work, but it's worth reflecting on, because it can help us understand where some of this frustration comes from. A participant pointed out that respect for content work is definitely influenced by the gendered nature of this work, because we know that soft skills are devalued. And what we heard repeatedly from participants is that they employ a lot of soft skills to do this work effectively. So anecdotally, when I think about who is doing this work in governments and even in our broader content community here in Edmonton, it's significantly, albeit not exclusively, women who are trying to push this work forward.

But then there's the other side of this work. The side where the content that you create actually makes a positive difference in someone's life. Because remember that governments provide programs and services that help people or improve their quality of life or help facilitate important life events and transitions. And typically, governments are the only providers of these programs and services, which means at some point in your life, it's inevitable that you will interact with government content. So doing this work is seen as rewarding too, because of the idea that you really help someone. In the government, we're not doing it for the glory, we're doing it because we believe in being a civil servant. It's rewarding to know that people on social media or web comments are saying, "I got all the information I needed. Thanks, government, I wasn't expecting that." Or, "We just published a piece of content yesterday and it's probably being viewed by millions of people now, so that's kind of cool." Or, "When you're done and you've done it right, it feels good because you're doing it for the public." And when you create and deliver impactful and meaningful content that achieves a goal or solves a problem or connects a member of the public with a service that they need, it is truly a rewarding and amazing feeling. And one of the standout comments that came from this discussion really demonstrates why this work is simultaneously frustrating, rewarding, challenging, and even exhausting. One of our participants shared, "It's the most difficult and tiring job you can have, but also the most fulfilling, because when it works, it's bloody glorious. You know you've actually made an impact and done real work." The conditions can be bad, the partnerships can be difficult. You can be exhausted and sick of being booted around. But then you get a win.

And perhaps one could argue that part of the reason it's so rewarding when you get content right is because you come up against so many challenges to get it to that point. Another question we asked participants was whether they felt their title reflected their role. And in a word, no. Participants did not feel that way. Content practitioners are often doing this work in government under the guise of generalized job titles. For example, my own title is senior business analyst, and that's one of the most general titles in government. But a major component of my job involves creating UX content. Other examples of generalist titles held by content practitioners in government include web project specialist, web project coordinator, product owner, content coordinator. So often, when you're lucky enough to have a role with content in the title, it's because you are in the corporate communications orbit. Or you're a content practitioner who is positioned within a digital government office that approaches their work with human-centered design principles. The thing about having a generalized title when you're doing content work is that the title doesn't lend credence to the work. So for example, I've been in situations where my content and information architecture recommendations held no weight or influence, because I'm seen as a business analyst, not as a content practitioner. The final say on those things went to communications. But the truth is that communications often doesn't have the intimate knowledge of the product that the content practitioner or even the subject matter expert has. And the comms approach to content is one of risk mitigation and relaying government messaging.

So a colleague of ours who currently works with the Canadian government, Ksenia Cheinman, recently published some really fantastic research about content roles in the public sector. In her apolitical article, The Skills Content Professionals in Government Need, she asserts, "Content-specific rules related to digital communication are still not very common or well-defined in the public sector, even though the population size of this group must be quite large across Canada." Perhaps this is why public sector content strategists seem to have very different work days with very different content tasks than our private sector counterparts. What is often a big part of our workdays may not even involve doing actual content work, but rather establishing the working conditions to get human-centered content work done. This is more so for the majority of us who are working within bureaucracy proper as opposed to within a digital government unit. So big chunks of our days are devoted to education about content strategy and design, or even things like plain language and UX writing, or advocacy for this human-centered content design. Or raising awareness that content requires specialized skills. Or breaking down barriers and connecting silos to create collaborative work environments that facilitate buy-in. I mean, we'd love it if we could say that we spend big chunks of our time doing user research and content testing and looking at analytics, but we're just not there yet. Which brings us to our next point on organizational content maturity.

We ask participants to describe the maturity of their organization's content and content processes. And, well, we have a long way to go. Maturity of this work is, for the most part, still in its very early stages in many governments. And part of that has to do with the constructs of government roles. In the words of one of our participants, the content designer has to be involved in all of the different parts of the actual exploration, user research, usability testing, analyzing data. You don't just feed this to a content designer and then have the work start there. Government tends to segregate roles so that people know where their job stops and begins. And that is really unhelpful for this kind of work, for example, having different people doing usability, different people doing user research, et cetera. But a certain mentality is required to support and promote creation of good content design and content strategy. And that includes hiring appropriately skilled content practitioners. But it's hard for the maturity of the organization to develop and progress when, in the words of participants, work moves up the approval chain and meets career govvies with no content expertise. Or subject matter experts haven't had anyone push them or explain to them why they need to write a certain way for the web and the importance of plain language. They don't realize how specialized language is. Many ministries do cut and paste content jobs where content is provided by policy analysts or it's admin assistance. Generally, the attitude is that people don't really think about content that much. There's not a lot of thought going into how will the public understand or find this content, do they even care about it, is this something that should even be published? And finally, communications is most times still a final content approver for public content, even though they're not content designers and their roles generally don't encompass content design, user research, usability testing, and data analysis, all of which are in the content designer or strategist's wheelhouse.

So we see that there are a number of factors that impact content maturity in government organizations. And it's mostly around the structure of roles in government, the need for education, understanding, and support for human-centric design. And something that we didn't touch on here but will speak to later in the presentation is the role that decision makers play in the current level of maturity as a result of their power and influence in the bureaucracy. So we asked participants if they've noticed or experienced any shifts in attitudes towards human-centered content and design work, and if so, what the factors were that allowed for that growth, change, and attitude shift to happen. Unfortunately, for the most part, attitudes within bureaucracy proper haven't shifted enough. In cases where attitudes have shifted, we heard that it was overwhelmingly because decision makers with power and authority in the bureaucracy saw the light and maybe they reacted to an external review that reinforced the need for this change. We also heard that grassroots work and the push for change can only go so far at the practitioner level, because we just don't hold a lot of power and authority within the bureaucracy. So those broader, more authoritative and supportive shifts in mentality tend to come when leadership is ready to embrace new ideas and advocate for change. But even then, it's a slow process. And we'll delve more into this in the next section when we talk about the challenges and barriers that public sector practitioners face and how leadership support and government's aversion to risk and resistance to change come into play and work to maintain an outdated status quo with respect to taking human-centered approaches to this work.

So another question that we asked our participants was what challenges and barriers do you face? We asked this question because we wanted to test our assumption that doing this work in government is unique. That your credit constructs create a particular set of challenges and barriers that practitioners have to navigate. Interestingly, the responses we got to this question were some of the most closely aligned or commonly shared of any responses we received. So this tells us that the challenges of doing content and design work in the public sector are fairly well recognized by practitioners and pretty uniform across jurisdictions and seniority levels.

So these findings can be summarized as basically an institutional lack of understanding, a practitioner's lack of influence or authority, an institutional lack of governance, and good old resistance to change. So this sounds like a bit of a cyclical problem, right, so we have this lack of understanding about content and design principles and the work of content that permeates the institution. As a result, content, products, and services are traditionally being developed without centering the needs of the user. The end result really isn't that great most of the time, but since evaluation and maintenance isn't done effectively either, the gears just keep turning. There's a small group of practitioners that specializes in content and design work, and they can see all problems arising from the way the institution is currently working, but they lack the authority or influence to support a shift of those gears. Plus the practitioner lacks authority to establish and enforce good governance that could standardize processes and enforce adherence to best practices. And so the practitioner continues to try to point out where things aren't really working, hoping that their advocacy will gradually chip away at the lack of understanding that exists in the institution.

So let's look at these challenges in a bit more detail. We'll start with lack of understanding of content and design disciplines, and here's what it looks like, this is some of the quotes from the people we spoke with. People have a superficial understanding of web. People seem to have no idea what they're talking about in this space. I'm the only person with the training you'd expect for this work, and people with approval authority don't know anything about web content. I'm not sure if any of you can relate to this. And what about this lack of leadership support or authority to drive change, does this sound familiar to you? So this can look like not having a prominent role in the organization, putting out stuff you're not proud of, being aware of the power dynamics that inform content decisions, and feeling like you don't have the teeth to enforce best practices. What we heard was that this lack of leadership support or authority to drive change is one of the primary reasons why human-centered content design is still in its infancy in a lot of government organizations.

Now, another challenge is government's risk aversion and resistance to change. So this shows up as systems within institutions that institutionalize that risk aversion. Or whataboutism every time a new idea is posed. Or old school long time public servants who really don't want change. Or prioritizing PR risk over user needs. Additionally, publishing content that really just doesn't serve the citizen all because executive said so. As one practitioner aptly put it, we're trying to apply change management in a conservative culture. Additionally, this risk aversion and resistance to change is one of the primary reasons why practitioners repeatedly assessed their organization's content maturity as fairly low or in its infancy.

Another common challenge is lack of governance and issues with the approval process for content. So participants described this as the approval process just doesn't make sense, there are too many layers, streamlining it would be the biggest help in doing our work. Content is often just waiting for approval and it gets stale because things take so long. And governance is just plain frustrating.

And the last big challenge that we heard was this assumption that content work is easy. We heard everyone in the world thinks they can develop content or they don't really know what content means or there's just an attitude that anyone can do it, which begs the question, how do you give content credibility? If we know that doing this work in government poses unique challenges, then what does it look like when practitioners get a win? As one of our participants put it, you can be exhausted and sick of being booted around, but then you get a win, people stay in the public service because they're chasing the high that comes with a win. So the responses to what does a win look like look like this. So a win looks like when we base our work in user needs, when we collaboration and work closely with colleagues. When colleagues have those aha moments and get why we do what we do. When we manage to bypass bureaucratic blocks and ship quickly. And ultimately, when we improve access for our users. In our participants' words, a win looks like literally making any effort to consider user needs. Collaborating with colleagues who may not be content or design professionals, but who learn new skills from working with us. When someone's mindset shifts and they get why human-centered design matters, and so they're more likely to carry this way of thinking into the future. Managing to push something through the system efficiently and enhancing accessibility and inclusion around the service. And I love how one participant put it, they said, "Sometimes you're just planting seeds and they have a slow germination process. Now, when I see something sprout, that's a win. It can take time to see the fruits of your labor when shifting people's mindsets especially." The reality for all of the practitioners we spoke with, ourselves included, is that change in government is slow, resistance is everywhere, and so strategies for persistence are essential to sustaining this work.

As Ahmed explains, to do diversity work is to do work that is less supported, diversity workers must be persistent. Because this kind of thought is not automatic. We have to persist because there is institutional resistance. The requirement to persist becomes a job requirement. So as you can see, this concept of persistence is really central to the institutional killjoy's role.

So we were curious what motivates these public sector practitioners to persist. And these were the most common responses we heard. Motivation to persist seems to come in two flavors, folks are often motivated, number one, to serve the public, but number two, they're motivated by their professional networks. So the fortunate thing is that, as public servants, we have a strong motivation baked right into the nature of our work. Practitioners told us that they are motivated to help citizens and contribute to the world they want to live in, to make the public good better, to facilitate simple access to information, and to meet modern citizen expectations. As one of our participants noted, there's not a lot of cachet in working with the government, but it sounds like most of us are here to serve. Also importantly, this notion of inspiration and support from a network comes up as a source of motivation for most practitioners, and as we'll see in our next and final section of this presentation, this network can also serve as a survival tactic.

We wanna conclude our talk by thinking about Ahmed's concept of the killjoy survival kit. As Ahmed explains, part of what makes diversity work work is the effort to find ways to survive what we come up against, to find ways to keep going, to keep trying when the same things seem to happen over and over again. We heard from our research participants that this work can be frustrating and exhausting. And Ahmed reminds us, if we cannot sustain the labor required for some things to be, they cannot be. So in order for this work to be sustainable, in order for us to continue to persist in the face of challenges, Ahmed advises that we think about how to protect ourselves and those around us from being diminished.

A solution she offers is that we each make a survival kit. We asked participants, if you had a survival kit stocked with tools, resources, and strategies to help you succeed in this line of work in the public sector, what would your survival kit contain? Here's how the top responses stacked up. Number one, professional network and allies you can turn to for support, advice, and understanding. Number two, standards and guidelines that define best practices for your work and help you build capacity in others. The third, partnership and collaboration, because designing anything in the public sector is not a one person show. The fourth, avoiding jargon and using strategic framing. Fifth, soft skills or human skills like relationship building, empathy, and trust. Number six, tools of the trade. This includes software like the Hemingway App, Siteimprove, OptimalSort, Trello, Slack, MURAL, Miro. Something to build wireframes or log service requests. But also analog tools like whiteboards, sticky notes, and Lego even. Seven, make time for learning and professional development. And finally, making time for reflection and mindfulness. We're going to highlight three of the most common responses to close our presentation. Professional network and allies, standards and guidelines, and avoiding jargon and using strategic framing.

Professional network and allies was the number one thing that participants would include in their survival kit. This could look like finding allies within the organization who get the work and help to push it forward strategically. Or it could be curating your Twitter, LinkedIn, or Slack networks to learn from practitioners in other jurisdictions. One participant put it nicely when they said, "In every jurisdiction I talk to people, we're disrupting the hierarchies of government through peer networks. We find ways to raise these issues strategically so that you don't always have to climb the approval chain. Through effective networking and being strategic about how you present opportunities, you may be able to short circuit some of these blocks."

The second most popular thing in this crowdsourced survival kit is standards and guidelines, and this can include content strategies, service manuals, guides for web writing accessibility, editorial calendars, style guides, you name it. Content practitioners wanted to include standards and guidelines for two reasons, standardization and capacity building. So these standards and guidelines serve to help them do their work with confidence, knowing that they're adhering to best practices. But also, they help them to build the capacity of others, especially people who are not trained in content. So don't give someone a fish, teach them how to fish. Don't do the work for them, teach them how to do it, this came up in multiple conversations that we had.

Another popular thing in this collective toolkit is a strategy of avoiding jargon and strategically framing your work so that it resonates with non-practitioners. Ahmed describes how diversity workers strategize against resistance to their work, she writes, "So diversity workers might try on different styles or methods of argumentation, the business case for diversity, the social justice case, and so on, as well as different words because of this resistance."

We heard from many practitioners that they thought a lot about how to talk about their work so that their colleagues, clients, and executive would understand and care. Ahmed shows us why being strategic about the words we use to talk about our work is important. She says, "For diversity workers, words become tools, things you can do things with. Decisions about words are decisions about usefulness: you use the words that are useful, the words that travel furthest, or that enable you to get the message through." I mean, this is music to the content strategist's ears, right. And unsurprisingly, a group of content practitioners are going to be especially thoughtful about the words they use. Here's how a few practitioners think strategically about framing their work. They say things like, I started to speak my client's language. I didn't tell anyone this was human-centered design, I make innovative practices less scary by not calling them by their name. I speak to stakeholders in their language. Empathy and understanding enables me to know how to talk about my work with my stakeholders. And I can get my best results when I don't even tell people it's design.

So with that, we've reached the end of our talk today, and we want to leave you with this thought, perhaps a bit of a provocation or a call to action. We began this talk by suggesting that our project was a collaborative attempt to build a life raft for ourselves and public sector practitioners who might be facing similar issues. Ahmed shares a powerful sentiment at the end of her book about persistence, solidarity, and survival as a practitioner who doesn't feel quite at home in the institution they're working to transform. She suggests that survival is not a solitary activity, but rather something that we do together. She writes, "Survival can be about keeping one's hopes alive, holding on to the projects that are projects insofar as they have yet to be realized. You might have to become willful, to hold on when you are asked to let go, to let it go. Survival can thus be what we do for others, with others. We need each other to survive; we need to be part of each other's survival."

We're so grateful for events and gatherings like the Design and Content Conference for serving as connection points for practitioners to be part of each other's survival. We've heard repeatedly from our research participants that they would love to find more opportunities to share with and learn from other public sector practitioners. We hope that our research can help public sector practitioners feel a sense of solidarity and shared experience that we've gained from this project, and we hope that this research can also serve as a window into that public sector experience, perhaps bridging that public-private practitioner divide a little bit.

We've now come to the end of our presentation and we're happy to answer your questions. And we also wanna say thank you so much for listening, everyone. We also wanna thank the Design and Content Conference and the Republic of Quality team for hosting us, and we extend our deepest gratitude and thanks to our research participants for sharing their stories with us.

If you're interested in learning more about our research, you can connect with us on LinkedIn, we have our information up here on the slide. And we have plans to share our comprehensive research findings in an article or publication in the near future. So LinkedIn is probably the best way to stay in the loop about that.

So once again, thank you, everyone, and we will see you again some time, hopefully. Thanks very much.

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