ConCon 2018: Lessons learned from the first ever Massachusetts Content Conference

Authors are eager to learn, and a content-focused community is forming. But there’s still work to do.

Video showing highlights of speakers, presenters, and attendees interacting at ConCon 2018.

When you spend most of your time focused on how to serve constituents on digital channels, it can be good to simply get some face time with peers. It’s an interesting paradox of the work we do alongside our partners at organizations across the state. Getting in a room and discussing content strategy is always productive.

That was one of the main reasons behind organizing the first ever Massachusetts Content Conference (ConCon). More than 100 attendees from 35 organizations came together for a day of learning and networking at District Hall in Boston. There were 15 sessions on everything from how to use Mayflower — the Commonwealth’s design system — to what it takes to create an awesome service.

Graphic showing more than 100 attendees from 50 organizations attended 15 sessions from 14 presenters at ConCon 2018.

ConCon is and will always be about our authors, and we’re encouraged by the feedback we’ve received from them so far. Of the attendees who responded to a survey, 93% said they learned about new tools or techniques to help them create better content. More so, 96% said they would return to the next ConCon. The average grade attendees gave to the first ever ConCon on a scale of 1 to 10 — with 1 being the worst and 10 the best — was 8.3.

Our authors were engaged and ready to share their experiences, which made for an educational environment, for their peers as well as our own team at Digital Services. In fact, it was an eye opening experience, and we took a lot away from the event. Here are some of our team’s reflections on what they learned about our authors and our content needs moving forward.

We’re starting to embrace data and feedback

“The way we show feedback and scores per page is great but it doesn’t help authors prioritize their efforts to get the biggest gain for their constituents. We’re working hard to increase visibility of this data in Drupal.”
— Joe Galluccio

Katie Rahhal, Content Strategist
“I learned we’re moving in the right direction with our analysis and Mass.gov feedback tools. In the breakout sessions, I heard over and over that our content authors really like the ones we have and they want more. More ways to review their feedback, more tools to improve their content quality, and they’re open to learning new ways to improve their content.”

Christine Bath, Designer
“It was so interesting and helpful to see how our authors use and respond to user feedback on Mass.gov. It gives us a lot of ideas for how we can make it easier to get user feedback to our authors in more actionable ways. We want to make it easy to share constituent feedback within agencies to power changes on Mass.gov.”

Embedded tweet from @MassGovDigital highlighting a lesson on good design practices from ConCon 2018.

Joe Galluccio, Product Manager
“I learned how important it is for our authors to get performance data integrated into the Drupal authoring experience. The way we show feedback and scores per page is great but it doesn’t help authors prioritize their efforts to get the biggest gain for their constituents. We’re working hard to increase visibility of this data in Drupal.”

Our keynote speaker gave a great use case for improving user journeys

Bryan Hirsch, Deputy Chief Digital Officer
“Having Dana Chisnell, co-founder of the Center for Civic Design, present her work on mapping and improving the journey of American voters was the perfect lesson at the perfect time. The page-level analytics dashboards are a good foundation we want to build on. In the next year, we’re going to research, test, and build Mass.gov journey analytics dashboards. We’re also spending this year working with partner organizations on mapping end-to-end user journeys for different services. Dana’s experience on how to map a journey, identify challenges, and then improve the process was relevant to everyone in the room. It was eye-opening, enlightening, and exciting. There are a lot of opportunities to improve the lives of our constituents.”

Want to know how we created our page-level data dashboards? Read Custom dashboards: Surfacing data where Mass.gov authors need it
Embedded tweet from @epubpupil highlighting her positive thoughts on Dana Chisnell’s keynote presentation on mapping and improving the journey of American voters.

The Mayflower Design System is a work in progress

“It’s great to see there’s a Mayflower community forming among stakeholders in different roles across state government. ”
— Minghua Sun

Sienna Svob, Developer and Data Analyst
“We need to work harder to build a Mayflower community that will support the diversity of print, web, and applications across the Commonwealth. Agencies are willing and excited to use Mayflower and we need to harness this and involve them more to make it a better product.”

Minghua Sun, Mayflower Product Owner
“I’m super excited to see that so many of the content authors came to the Mayflower breakout session. They were not only interested in using the Mayflower Design System to create a single face of government but also raised constructive questions and were willing to collaborate on making it better! After the conference we followed up with more information and invited them to the Mayflower public Slack channel. It’s great to see there’s a Mayflower community forming among stakeholders in different roles across state government. ”

All digital channels support content strategy

Sam Mathius, Digital Communications Strategist
“It was great to see how many of our authors rely on digital newsletters to connect with constituents, which came up during a breakout session on the topic. Most of them feel like they need some help integrating them into their overall content strategy, and they were particularly excited about using tools and software to help them collect better data. In fact, attendees from some organizations mentioned how they’ve used newsletter data to uncover seasonal trends that help them inform the rest of their content strategy. I think that use case got the analytics gears turning for a lot of folks, which is exciting.”

Authors are eager and excited to learn and share

“I’d like to see us create more opportunities for authors to get together in informal sessions. They’re such a diverse group, but they share a desire to get it right.”
— Fiona Molloy

Shannon Desmond, Content Strategist
“I learned that the Mass.gov authors are energetic about the new content types that have been implemented over the past 8 months and are even more eager to learn about the new enhancements to the content management system (CMS) that continue to roll out. Furthermore, as a lifelong Massachusetts resident and a dedicated member of the Mass.gov team, it was enlightening to see how passionate the authors are about translating government language and regulations for constituents in a way that can be easily and quickly understood by the constituents of the State.”

Fiona Molloy, Content Strategist
“Talking to people who came to ConCon and sitting in on various sessions, it really struck me how eager our content authors are to learn — whether from us here at Digital Services or from each other. I’d like to see us create more opportunities for authors to get together in informal sessions. They’re such a diverse group, but they share a desire to get it right and that’s really encouraging as we work together to build a better Mass.gov.”

Embedded tweet from @MassGovDigital highlighting a session from ConCon 2018 in which content authors offered tips for using authoring tools on Mass.gov.

Improving content and author support is a continual process

Adam Cogbill, Content Strategist
“I was reminded that one of the biggest challenges that government content authors face is communicating lots of complex information. We need to make sure we understand our audience’s relationships to our content, both through data about their online behavior and through user testing.”

Greg Derosiers, Content Strategist
“I learned we need to do a better job of offering help and support. There were a number of authors in attendance that didn’t know about readily-available resources that we had assumed people just weren’t interested in. We need to re-evaluate how we’re marketing these services and make sure everyone knows what’s available.”

Embedded tweet from @MassGovDigital highlighting the start of ConCon 2018.

Thinking about hosting your own content conference? Reach out to us! We’d love to share lessons and collaborate with others in the civic tech community.