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Published on August 8th, 2012 | by Rahel Bailie


Working on the City of Vancouver website

Many of you may not have known that I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half with the City of Vancouver, working on redeveloping their website.

When I agreed to work on this project for the city, I didn’t put my consulting practice on hold because I was going to be making tons more money. I took a big cut in income because I had the chance to work on a project that I could tell was going to be exciting, and produce something really useful for the public. I think it’s amazing that we managed to accomplish everything we did on such a bare bones budget.

One of the best governance consultancies around – Welchman-Pierpoint – recommended that the project have 24 writers to rewrite the content for the new site. We got 8. But it was a hand-picked eight. And those 8 writers managed to work a miracle. We got all of the business-critical content rewritten for the new content models in a little over a year. Wow.

Along the way, I learned some important lessons:

I learned that if you beg and borrow expertise from all over an organization to supplement your team, in the process, you’ll break down organizational silos. (We did in a big way).

I learned that you can bring best practices, and you’ll also develop more along the way. (We brought some to the site – and to the organization.)

I learned that it’s way easier to develop and implement a content strategy when you get to build on the user and UX research done by a firm (in this case, Open Road) that takes the time to think through concepts at a deeper level.

I learned a great appreciation for the other skill sets on a project: strong leadership from the director (my boss), one of the best project managers I’ve ever worked with (I’ve worked with a lot), a creative UX guy, a couple of wonderful business analysts who could slice and dice data like nobody’s business, and a newfound respect for what good quality assurance testing brings to the table.

At the beginning of the project, I was asked to enumerate all of the activities and deliverables I would create. Today was the first time I had the time to slow down and look at that list. I’d tackled double the amount of issues I’d expected to – and it all went toward improving content delivery and making the site a better user experience.

Altogether, that’s way more than I ever hoped to accomplish on this project, and I can leave knowing that I, along with an amazing team of dedicated content strategists and technologists gave it our all and have some solid results to show for it.

If you haven’t gone to the site yet, Vancouver online is waiting for you.

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About the Author

Rahel Anne Bailie is a synthesizer of content strategy, requirements analysis, information architecture, and content management to increase the ROI of content. She has consulted for clients in a range of industries, and on several continents, whose aim is to better leverage their content as business assets. Founder of Intentional Design, she is now the Chief Knowledge Officer of London-based Scroll. She is a Fellow of the Society for Technical Communication, she has worked in the content business for over two decades. She is co-author of Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits, and co-editor of The Language of Content Strategy, and is working on her third content strategy book,

3 Responses to Working on the City of Vancouver website

  1. Rebecca says:

    Thanks for the post! I think many people are curious about the time/work/project/cost breakdown for the City’s website and this helps with the discussion.

  2. rahelab says:

    Thanks – I don’t think realize that most of the cost is salary. (And I know that it’s not only me that took an income cut to work on this project – at least 3 of the people we hired on for the contract with specialty skills took cuts because this is obviously an exciting project.) What is missing from some of the conversations I’ve been seeing is context. For example, another Western Canadian city spent more than us ($3.2 million) using the same technology, and they didn’t rewrite their content – they just dumped the same stuff into the new shell – and they didn’t work out any of the content modelling we did to make sure that the content is presented in context, and grouped per audience, etc. So there’s a lot of apples-and-oranges comparisons happening out there right now. Context (like content) is king!

  3. I said it in my post about the IA presentation we did for the City, but I’ll say it here again… it’s been quite something to watch your perseverance and professionalism Rahel over the past couple of years working with the City. It was one thing for Selma and I to perform the design research and information design, it was another to re-write the site and bring it to life. You, Laurie, and the team at the City did a great job and I’m convinced that no-one else in Vancouver could have pulled off such a remarkable content-intensive project.

    So bravo Rahel. You have much to be proud of and you’re leaving the citizens of Vancouver with a great legacy.

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