A major project is underway in the European Commission to improve how we communicate online. A cross-departmental project team has been set up to work on reducing the number of websites the Commission has (currently 460) and to help our users find the information they are looking for. We will be posting more about this project in the coming weeks and months.
The team wanted to start from the basics so we worked on a number of principles of online communication.
We were inspired by what the UK government digital service had done with their design principles. Putting principles in place helps put some structure on many ideas we had from prioritising user needs, to having a clear content strategy, to the importance of training and digital skills.
The principles were discussed and signed off by the senior management board which oversees our project. We have 10 principles at the moment but they may well be changed over time as the project grows. Happy to hear any comments or feedback.
10 Principles of online communication
The Commission has decided to rationalise and modernise its overall web presence. Getting there from where we are now means radically changing how we think about online communication and how we work together. The principles offered below are designed to help us do that.
1. Users first
We start by understanding who our users are and which of their needs we can serve.
We base decisions about content and design on evidence and data about actual users and their most common interaction with our content – not on our assumptions. This means frequent and regular user surveys and testing.
Clear content helps people ’self serve’, thereby reducing user inquiries through more costly channels (helplines, emails etc.).
3. Content over technology
What’s important is the substance of our content. Our content must be:
- relevant, accurate and usable. Users are looking for topic- or task-related information that helps them answer their questions.
- clearly worded – using our users’ words, so they can both understand it and find it through a search engine. This is also important for our image – as a professional, efficient organisation that is engaging with real public concerns.
4. Less is more (and cheaper)
Rationalising and consolidating our digital content helps us focus on key content with real value to our users. A smaller volume is easier to manage – and deliver in multiple languages (where necessary).
5. Be consistent
Our users cannot be expected to make any distinction between our DGs and agencies. To most of them, we are ‘the EU’. As things now stand, a journey to the information a user needs can take them across several sites, each with different look and feel. Adhering to good-quality common components, templates and forms makes life easier for users – and cheaper and easier for us in the long run.
6. Joined-up digital services
Our content must get to the user in the right form – Commission website, social media, etc. – and adapted for PC, smartphone, etc. – in the most resource-efficient way. It must fit all formats (without rewriting). This will save resources and avoid confusing users.
7. Be open
Genuine transparency means providing easy access to useful information that users can reuse and develop into new services and products for public use. Easier access to our information will help our stakeholders (whoever they may be) to engage with us, at the same time keeping the organisation open, relevant and in touch.
8. Manage content
Our content must be kept constantly updated in response to user feedback, and deleted or archived at the end of its useful life. We must look closely at how we plan, deliver and manage content.
9. Keep learning
Invest in acquiring (and helping colleagues to acquire) the right skills, training and coaching to make the most of digital communication. We should look at how digital can help us work better internally, helping us work better across teams and DGs.
10. Collaborate & co-create
All the above means avoiding duplication of effort and making optimal use of scarce resources by:
- proactively working with other DGs that have related or overlapping content and work together for a better user-experience
- looking beyond our organisation to improve our performance (how do others do it?)
- actively participating (asking for and offering help, expertise, input) in the growing community of digital/web practitioners working on EU websites, including partners in the other EU institutions.
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