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Discovery phase

What it is

A content discovery is when you work with other people (for example, subject matter experts, service designers and user researchers) to understand:

  • who your users are
  • what your users need

It helps make sure you understand the information need or problem you're trying to solve before you begin designing and prototyping your solution.

Depending on the size of your project, your discovery could include:

  • analysis of as much data as you can get your hands on
  • a review of user research (existing or commissioned)
  • mapping your key stakeholders to make sure you include the right experts
  • an audit of what content is already available and how it's being accessed by users

Once you've gathered and analysed all your evidence, you can write user needs and user stories. These will make sure any content items you produce are user centred.

User needs and user stories will help you put together a content plan to share with stakeholders and validate with your users.

Why it's important

There are a number of benefits of doing thorough research at this stage:

  • you'll make better decisions about how to meet the needs of your users from a delivery point of view
  • you will not recreate lots of costly work
  • you'll identify any improvements to the user journey – including to and from other websites or offline material, and communications with frontline staff (never assume users start and finish with your website content)
  • you'll be able to understand where the user experience could be made more straightforward – for example, making improvements to eligibility information up front might take some of the pain out of applying further down the line
  • you'll collect general insights, like how audiences with low literacy levels find jargon-heavy content, common frustrations experienced by users, or where information does not meet demand
  • you might identify cost savings that can be achieved from closing down out-of-date or legacy websites – or where an offline process is better served by a digital channel

Sharing this work is a good way of helping your stakeholders, or delivery partners, understand why you're challenging existing processes or making recommendations.

How you do it

The best place to start is with a landscape audit. This is where you get a broad view of the topic you're working on. Even if you're not including it in your content plan, it's helpful to understand any relevant legislation, consultations or policy frameworks – particularly if you are dealing with a complex topic.

User research

Find out if any user research has been done and what the results of the work were. You will want to see anything which clarifies user needs.

Stakeholder map

Identify and list contacts who will have an expert view on your subject matter, such as call centre staff, advisers or support groups who work closely with your audience. Engage with these stakeholders as much as possible.

Data review

There are lots of good sources of data, so it's worth taking the time to work with stakeholders to understand what might be available. Some may already be in the public domain, while others could be requested.

This might include:

  • access to Google Analytics
  • statistics and open data
  • call centre data

Reviewing search demand will give you a good idea of what users are looking for. This means you can identify gaps and the best keywords to use.

If there's existing research and analysis, take some time to do a literature review and pull together the findings and recommendations.

Content audit

Your content audit should help you understand the purpose of existing content and if it currently meets those user or organisational needs.

You can capture this using a spreadsheet, listing:

  • content item title
  • url
  • summary
  • target audience
  • content type
  • status
  • comments based on research

This will help identify what content is working for users, any improvements and content that should be archived. You might also recommend formats that will help users access and understand the content.

The insights from your discovery should be evidence-based recommendations, shared and agreed with stakeholders and the delivery team before moving into content planning and production.

Digital Scotland Service Standard

This article offers guidance relevant to the following criteria from the Digital Scotland Service Standard:

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