Developing trustworthy, up-to-date content on, that is designed with users in mind, requires collaboration and planning. The process can take a lot of time with multiple teams involved and various layers of approvals.

How can we navigate approvals and get content live on quickly when people need it most? Co-design with approvers at the table.

Figure out who the approvers are for the content and meet with them early in a working session. Clarify what they expect as well as what users need. Establishing this kind of ongoing relationship with approvers can help teams be more efficient at getting content live.

In the summer of 2020, we created a travel working group to create coordinated content about travel restrictions for Canada.

Departments represented in the working group included:

  • Canadian Border Services Agency
  • Global Affairs Canada
  • Health Canada
  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
  • Privy Council Office
  • Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Treasury Board’s Digital Transformation Office

With so many departments involved, finding a way to make approvals more efficient was essential. The team established a routine of regular co-design sessions with partner departments. There was a standing invitation for approvers to participate.

Co-design sessions to improve content

Any content design process should start with bringing the people who understand the subject matter together with the people who understand the struggles faced by users. This helps with buy-in for designing content that is both accurate and usable.

In these meetings, it is essential to involve everyone that has a stake in the content, including:

  • program and policy experts
  • communicators
  • front-line service agents
  • content developers / contributors
  • web support team
  • relevant theme lead

Set up regular co-design sessions. Participants may change from one meeting to the next. Invite the people responsible for the program area or content you’re working on. Together, look at various sources of data to help guide efforts at iterating and regularly improving your web presence.

Engage senior management early

It’s critical to engage senior managers who are responsible for final approval. They’re focused on organizational pressures, so this is your chance to help them understand how the team is using data to drive content design decisions. Some of the best ways to make approvals run more efficiently include:

  • sharing evidence and usability research to build support early for human-centred service design
  • sharing user stories, especially when people are struggling with using current designs
  • identifying likely obstacles in advance and tailoring discussions accordingly

Create a prototype instead of a document

It’s hard to picture how something will look live on desktop, or on a phone, when you’re reviewing a document. While working on travel content, we created prototypes. We often used the prototypes during co-design workshops. This let us try out suggestions before putting a document with tracked changes into approvals.

Prototypes are a risk-reduction strategy and an excellent change management tool. They allow everyone reviewing them to experience what users will experience, and design accordingly. If you’re using interactive elements within some of your content, it’s much easier to understand how everything works together when you’re working from a prototype rather than a document.

A prototype also allows you to do usability testing before launch. You can see how your content works with users on desktop and on mobile. This will give you valuable data to support speedy approvals. Include your analysis and findings when you present your prototype to senior management.

This will reinforce the message that decisions and changes to content and design should be driven by evidence.

Offer live demos as part of the approval process

Approval processes can take a lot of time when each person in the approval chain must wait for sign-off from the person before them. This is especially true when the approval “package” goes up multiple levels and across multiple teams. In this case, we often see “approval inflation” as well. More and more people get added to the approval chain, either for awareness or “just in case.”

To complicate matters, each person in the approval chain may make changes, but they do so in isolation from each other. They don’t have the benefit of understanding the reasoning for various design decisions - why certain words were chosen, or why sections are in a specific order.

Gathering all the approvers together for a demonstration session to go through a prototype and how it addresses user needs can significantly simplify the approval process. Use the prototype to show what the content looks like both on desktop and mobile, and explain why the design decisions were made.

  • Show them how short sentences and more white space are easier to digest
  • Demonstrate how you’ve designed the content to reduce complexity

In a demonstration, all interested parties have a chance to hear and discuss suggested changes. The content design team can explain the data, research or user behaviour patterns that have informed the design decisions. The people who actually need to sign off can identify themselves. All the people who really just needed some awareness can signal that they are happy and don’t need to see the content again.

With all that context, the real approvers know who they are and are now working from a common understanding. They can now sign off on the product more quickly and, more importantly, at the same time.

Change isn’t easy

As with any change, it may take time and persistence before your team is using this approach regularly. Approvers and senior managers can’t be available for all working sessions or for all content. You need to know when to pull them in to make the best use of their limited time. Focus on high visibility content, content related to top tasks for your audience, and content that involves multiple internal groups or multiple departments.

In high pressure situations, the temptation to rely on familiar approval processes will be great. Despite this, remember that each time you manage to include approvers in a working session or encourage them to attend a demonstration with other approvers, you’re building a co-design culture. Each time approval layers are cut and timelines shortened as a result, you’ll have more evidence that the co-design culture gets important content out to Canadians faster.

Final word

Don’t wait until the end of the design process to seek input from people who will approve the content. Involve relevant stakeholders at the beginning of the process, and identify the approvers early on. By getting early buy-in, showing the process, sharing the research, and demonstrating the rationale behind decisions, you can really speed up the entire process.

We will talk more about meeting both organizational needs and user needs in an upcoming blog post.

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