Working together to transform committee content – subject matter experts' views

This blog post was written by Dawn Kofie.

Creating effective products and services isn't just about knowing how to design websites and apps that make it easy for people to find, do and understand, what they need.

An important part of this process is involving subject matter experts (SMEs) from across the organisation and drawing on their knowledge.

As well as bringing different perspectives, SMEs have experience and expertise that means they can flag up issues the project team aren't aware of.

SMEs can help us make sure:

  • we're solving the right problems
  • there aren't any gaps in what we're providing
  • the content we create is accurate as well as easily understandable

That's why we've been working closely with staff in committees to put together the pages on committees' work.

Two of our SMEs, Dougie Wands, Clerk Team Leader and Amy Kerr, Committee Assistant, have shared their thoughts on what this process has been like for them.

Have you been involved in this type of project before?

Dougie: I had the distinction of being project manager for the creation of the Scottish Lobbying Register which went live in March 2018.

It involved working with an external IT contractor, but the development process had many similarities with this project. That project used an ‘agile’ approach to develop a new website from scratch, breaking down the development into short periods called ‘sprints’.

After each sprint the developers demonstrated to me, the project manager, what had been completed via a ‘show and tell’ session.

Amy: No, I haven’t.

What did you think it was going to be like before you got involved?

Dougie: My involvement is as a member of the project board. I was asked to join the board because of the current focus on development of committee pages, given my experience of working as a committee clerk.

I’ve been more heavily involved in working directly with the project team than I expected. That’s been a positive experience because they’ve asked for and been receptive to ideas and feedback about the content which should appear on the new committee pages.

Amy: To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect as it's the first time I have been involved in something like this. I didn’t know what my involvement would be or how I would influence the project. I was unsure whether Business Information Technology (BIT) or the Committee Office would be leading on it.

What do you think of the committee pages on the old site? 

Dougie: The current committee pages feel completely familiar to me given how long I’ve been publishing or consuming their content. Because I know where to look for content it’s fairly easy to find. I doubt that the same is true for users who access our pages less frequently.

Page structure and searchability could be improved significantly to help users find what they’re looking for.

Amy: As someone who visits the website daily, I am not a fan of the layout of the committee web pages. It frustrates me that all the information is squashed into one small box rather than filling the whole screen/page.

I don’t like that at the Committees landing page doesn’t really tell you what the committee does. For example, my committee deals with transport, food and drink and you would never gather that from the title.

I also don’t like that some of the sections of the committee’s web pages are not that useful or necessary, whereas important and interesting information on what actually is a Committee is nowhere to be found near the committee’s web pages.

I can find it difficult to navigate around, so imagine what it can be like for the public?  Another bug bear of is the lack of consistency of approach to our web pages. This is something I’d hope the new beta site would allow us to take forward.

How have you found taking part in this work?

Dougie: It’s been challenging but enjoyable so far. It’s not always easy to find the necessary time to devote to the project when you have a busy day job, but I feel I have added some value so far.

Amy: I’ve found it really interesting, it’s good to be involved collaborative working. I’ve enjoyed meeting and working alongside different colleagues. It’s also great to see your thoughts and ideas influence how the web pages could possibly look.

Has there been anything you’ve found challenging?

Dougie: A key objective of the project is to write content for the new site in a more accessible, plain English style. That isn’t always easy when you’re trying to describe parliamentary procedure!

Working with Dawn, one of the content designers, to produce accessible content has been really interesting.

By combining my parliamentary knowledge and Dawn’s skills in writing for the web, we should hopefully create content that is informative and accessible for users who want to find out more about the work of committees.

Amy: Sometimes the BIT jargon used can be challenging but BIT colleagues are always helpful in elaborating on what it means so you get the used to it.

Was there anything you’ve found surprising about the way the web and online project works?

Dougie: The team all have their particular specialist roles and it isn’t always immediately clear who does what. However, when you ask, they’re very good at explaining what they do and why.

Like the Lobbying Register project, they’re using an ‘agile’ approach, which essentially means that they work in short ‘sprints’ of three weeks to deliver elements of the project.

They’re very keen to receive feedback from users (whether internal or external) in order to adjust and improve the content that’s released periodically on the Beta website.

Amy: This is a more positive surprise but, when we gathered as group for the second time and got a chance to see a basic layout of the possible look of the new website, I was very impressed (and shocked) to see that our comments from the previous session had been taking on board and implemented. It looked good.

Is there anything that would have improved the process for you?

Dougie: In a project like this I think you need to be flexible so I’m happy to go with the flow, contributing when the project team needs my input.

Amy: No

What do you think the benefits of the project will be for you and your colleagues?

Dougie: The replacement of OpenText (the current content management system) will be cause for wild celebrations across most of the Parliament I’m sure.

But more seriously, I’m hoping that by developing the new website in-house the Parliament will be better able to manage and improve it over the next few years. It will be more accessible and easier to use for everyone.

Amy: It's good to be a part of something like this and to see your ideas influence changes. It's allowing us to overcome and create solutions to the current challenges we face with the website. And also explore what we'd personally like to see in our new website from a committee office perspective.

If you'd like to know more about our work on committees email: