Thinking digital

I love the serendipity of Twitter. This week two unconnected people I follow posted links to articles containing definitions of what it means to be digital, or have a digital mindset. One from the museum sector and one from a renowned web development consultant. They sparked together with some things I’ve been mulling over for a while to form the idea for this post…

Has what it means to be a digitalist changed in the 5 (and a bit) years since I started writing this blog?

Let’s start with the original definition of a digitalist, the one that gave this blog its name, taken from a blog post by Martin Weller:

“Those who are comfortable using a range of digital media and are open to the changes that digitisation brings to society.”

That’s pretty broad. The key thing for me is being open to the changes that digitisation (or the increasing move towards digital) brings to the way we work, and to society and life in general. This is picked up by Gerry McGovern in his article on the difference between digital and physical:

“When we say ‘digital’ we mean flexible, adaptive and open to continuous change.”

To openness then, we’re adding flexibility and are perhaps moving away from tools (or media) and towards the way a digitalist thinks. It’s not just about what tools you use, but the mindset you have and approaches you take. Which leads me to the other post I read this week. In it, Jasper Visser collates feedback on what it means to have a digital mindset from participants at a workshop he was running for the Danish Museum Association:

“A colleague with a digital mindset shares ideas, uses the right tools for the right challenges, is present on social networks, asks and answers questions, etc. etc. For most participants, a digital mindset had little to do with digital tools and much more with a 21st century way of working: open, collaborative, lean, proactive…”

The Thinker by Dano, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Dano 

This encapsulates my motives behind the social media and digital training programmes I ran while working at the universities of Warwick and Oxford. I wasn’t trying to get my colleagues to begin using a wide variety of digital tools, I was trying to get them to:

  • think in new ways about the way they work
  • evaluate the technologies and tools available
  • be open to changes
  • find solutions to problems
  • collaborate and share

If they found tools to help them do this, then that was a bonus.

I’ve been wondering what the purpose of this blog is. Does it matter that the context has shifted over the years, through the different phases of my career – from libraries, to learning technologies and now websites? While writing this post, it has become clear to me that this is a space for me to share things (mostly digital) that I find interesting, or useful, that I think you will find interesting, or useful, too. Nothing has changed there. That the context is different doesn’t matter much. The digital mindset is relevant in all aspects of our lives.

Content strategy at a micro scale

Notes from Clara Guasch’s talk at Congility 2014, Content strategy at a micro scale.

Having focussed on the importance of content strategies for small companies, at the end of her talk Clara was keen to know:

‘Was any of it at all useful to people in large organisations?’

The resounding answer from the audience was yes. And here’s why.

Clara started with another great analogy:

We really don’t think about the risks associated with publishing bad content. It can damage your reputation and with that lose you customers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chosen between two companies (who otherwise seem equal) based on the quality of their web presence.

This tweet summarising one of Clara’s key points presents a question we should be asking anyone who produces content for our website:


Going back to Mike Atherton’s keynote, these key messages are the benefits we sell to our customers – what do we have that will make them better versions of themselves?

Your key messages are one of four things you need to identify to produce useful content:

  1. key messages
  2. your identity
  3. goals
  4. user needs

A major take away from this presentation for me was something that Clara identified towards the end of the presentation:

Content strategy goes beyond the website; it benefits the business as a whole.

As you develop a strategy of any kind it forces you to think about all areas of your work. It prompts you to ask big questions – what are you trying to achieve, what is the context you’re working in, what are the barriers – gives you perspective and clarity, and can identify areas where further work is needed.

How to design workflows that work

Notes from Jeff Eaton’s session at Congility 2014, Workflows that work under pressure.

This was one of my most anticipated talks from the conference. The theme is particularly relevant to me as we prepare to move to a new CMS. Alongside all the technical considerations, my team is concerned with how it will work for our editors. It’s our responsibility to design the workflow and processes they will use.

Jeff kicked off with a great analogy for working with limited tools, something I think we can all identify with:


After we were mesmerised by this story, Jeff went on to give us some practical steps to designing CMS workflows that work.

Don’t overwhelm

  • inexperienced users need clear paths
  • experiences users need shortcuts
  • both need consistency

Speed tasks, not forms

  • understand the processes and goals and build the tool around these tasks
  • map all stages in the process and find cutovers between online and offline

Workflows should work

Don’t focus on approval systems:

  • model the state of the content – draft, approved, published, archived etc
  • then identify responsibilities – who is responsible for content in each state
  • then develop a process

Divorce the design

  • remove location based restrictions from content creation
  • focus on priority and grouping of content and not where it will end up and how it will look

Our new CMS has already been chosen but there’s a lot that still needs to be done to make it fit for purpose. These practical tips have really helped me to focus my mind on what we need to do to achieve that.

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