A Content and User Experience Strategy for local government

Updating my original content strategy first written in 2013. Still a work in progress, still subject to change and additions

Generic personas for local government

In common with standard practice in the communications, marketing, and brand management industries, content is best designed having in mind a number of fictional individuals and families which are intended to represent the breadth of potential users of the website. The purpose of these profiles is to enable web editors and content authors to have in their minds a picture of actual people with real and definable needs who will be users of the web content to focus on, rather than thinking in terms of a generic amorphous mass of ‘just anybody’. The profiles also are there to remind us of the wide diversity of citizens we provide services to and who wish to transact with us, find out information from us, or otherwise wish to engage with us (or indeed with whom we ourselves wish to engage) – indeed, to remind us not to focus on one particular group of citizens at the expense of other groups of citizens. 

Whilst by nature these are stereotypical, they are not intended to be seen as stereotypes of users or locations, rather they are intended to be broad brush descriptions by which it is helpful to personalise the content by picturing actual individuals going to the website to access it. It is not intended to represent a comprehensive list of the diversity of the area and its citizens, rather it is intended to acknowledge the breadth of diversity we have. 

These personas also incorporate user needs inspired by the GDS Accessibility Personas ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/understanding-disabilities-and-impairments-user-profiles/ashleigh-partially-sighted-screenreader-user ) to emphasise the fact that accessibility should not be something we think about separately from other considerations, rather it should be at the heart of our user-centred design thinking. Remember the mantra - ‘we make it accessible, we make it better for everybody’. 

Any given town, city, borough, or county will have its own unique mixture of demographics which its own Citizen Insight team will have researched - however, it is fair to say that any area will broadly consist of the following representative demographics: 

1) Mr and Mrs Mercury 

A family living in council housing in a former council estate area, with one child at school and another grown-up child living at home unemployed, and an elderly relative living in a care home in the area. Both parents are employed; they are not on the breadline, though they have little left over for luxuries. They are sceptical about the internet (although they have internet access at home they would not be considered power users), and sceptical about the council - they are aware the council empties the bins and has some responsibility for the local park, but little knowledge of how the council works beyond that and unaware of the extent of council services they do actually use; indeed, they do think of the council as being still responsible for the buses - as well as living literally on the edge of the city, they are also metaphorically on the edge of the notion of civic engagement. Mr Mercury is a visually impaired screen magnifier user – he does not consider himself to be disabled for the purposes of the Equalities Act and never ticks that box on Equalities Monitoring forms, but nevertheless his sight is not what it was. 

2) Mr and Mr Venus 

A couple of young professionals living in a private rented apartment in the up-and-coming hipster area of the city; the bulk of their use of council services is in the leisure and culture sector - libraries, sports facilities, the museum and art gallery, and council-organised cultural festivals and events. They are both digitally and civically engaged - active participants on Twitter and hyperlocal blogs, in the local Neighbourhood Forum, they were active participants in the campaign to introduce a directly elected mayor for the city, readers of the local broadsheet paper on their iPads, and keen to keep an eye on all that is going on at the Civic Centre (from both the elected members and paid officers) and chatter about what they find amongst their friends. Environmental issues feature highly on their personal agendas. Mr Venus is a partially-sighted screenreader user, having started to experience progressive sight loss a few years ago. 

3) Mr and Mrs Mars 

A couple running a family-owned business, they have little interest in standard residential council service beyond the basics of roads, bins, schools, and council tax, but a high level of interest in council services for small businesses - they pay business rates, have their rubbish collected by the commercial waste team, occasionally need to engage the services of the council rat-catcher, have to ensure they are complying with relevant council regulations and have the appropriate licenses for their business, and are also interested in what help and support for small businesses the council can offer. Mrs Mars has rheumatoid arthritis, using speech-to-text software for general text input, and an Elgato Streamdeck shortcut input device for most circumstances when using a keyboard is necessary. She is capable of using her trackball pointing device a last resort when any given application or website doesn’t work with the keyboard shortcuts programmed into her Streamdeck, but she’ll be more likely to switch to a competitor website in such a circumstance than persist. 

4) Ms Jupiter 

A successful career woman living in one of the swanky city centre penthouses, she is not remotely interested in the services the council provides to residents beyond core services such as roads. She is however on the board of the Local Enterprise Partnership. Although she doesn't have any interest in what the council provides to her personally, she is fully aware of the full spread of council services, and is very interested in what the council can do where its work crosses over into her own job. She has a complex neurodivergent autism-ADHD profile. She has learned to mask amongst professional colleagues and contacts, most of whom are unaware she has a diagnosis and just find her ‘passionate and excitable’, but that can be quite tiring for her. She does get frustrated with distractions on some websites and a lack of clarity on the user journey she’s expected to follow to complete a task, Garish colours cause her a degree of discomfort, and certain local and national news organisation websites she cannot use at all. 

5) Mr Saturn 

A student in his final year at the university, living in shared accommodation in the north of the borough and intending to stay in the county after he finishes his course. Has no job yet lined up at the end of the year in July so would not be surprised to spend a short time on benefits, however does not expect to spend a very long time unemployed if that occurs; he could just as easily secure a job ready to walk in to come graduation as find himself spending several months seeking work in what has become a tight and competitive jobs market. Mr Saturn has dyslexia and fears this may cause difficulties in job applications. 

6) Mr and Mrs Neptune 

These south of the county residents represent the average, the so-called silent majority who don't care about this policy or that initiative, and are not interested in a compelling user experience which excites and engages them in that process - they know what they want, and just need to get things done with the minimum of fuss and agro. Mr Neptune has been profoundly deaf from birth and thus is a British Sign Language user, helped in most public situations by Mrs Neptune as his interpreter. Whilst being relatively relaxed about being deaf, he does get irritated by the way most people misunderstand the fact of BSL being a separate language of itself rather than simply being standard spoken English with hand gestures, and the consequent fact that people misunderstand that native BSL users read and understand written English differently from fully-hearing community. 

7) Mr and Mrs Uranus 

A retired couple living in the relatively well-off north-east of the borough who own their own home outright with two grown-up children, one of which living nearby on the verge of making them grandparents, the other living in the South Yorkshire part of the Peak District. 

Clearly the above profiles are non-exhaustive sweeping generalisations, and clearly there will be many citizens and potential users of the council website who straddle more than one profile in their needs and interests. However, between those seven profiles they cover a significant amount of both of what people are looking for in the council website, and what the council wishes to provide to people on the site. From these seven personas we can then consider what their needs as users might be.

Generic personas are of course only a substitute for detailed personas resulting from your own user research and citizen insight. But in the absence of the latter, a set of generic personas make a good start from which you can build.