July 15-17, 2020 / Vancouver, BC

The Institutional Killjoy and the Transformation of Public Sector Content

What does success look like?

Jessica MacQueen, Sophia Hoosein

Doing content strategy work in the public sector comes with a unique set of challenges, given the inherent complexity of government content ecosystem and deeply entrenched ways of doing business: government tends to develop content in silos, bureaucracy often gets in the way of streamlined workflows, and many decision-makers feel the perceived risk of engaging citizens outweighs the benefits of understanding their needs.

Given this context, the public sector content strategist may find it difficult--and even disheartening--to attend talks and seminars from leaders in the field, only to reflect on how much their institution would need to change to make good content strategy work possible. For most jurisdictions today, doing human-centred design work fundamentally challenges the way that they develop and deliver products, services, and content.

Some governments have tried to address the need for transformation by centralizing this effort through website consolidation initiatives and digital government units. However, these units are still in their early days and don’t yet have the capacity to holistically tackle organizational content and design challenges. While these units may have a mandate to work differently, practitioners working throughout the rest of the public sector remain subject to traditional ways of doing business.

This talk shares insights from original qualitative research that asks practitioners from the public sector: what does it feel like to do content work in government? How are you surviving - or thriving? What does success look like?

We leverage Sara Ahmed’s theorizing in her book, “Living a Feminist Life” to propose a new way to think of the public sector content strategist as an “institutional killjoy” doing “diversity work.” We assert that these terms can help practitioners better understand what is at stake, and what is required, to do public sector content strategy well. By using these words to describe the experience of the content strategist in government, we move towards a shared language that may help other practitioners articulate and think through the challenges they likely encounter in similar roles.

Moreover, we take up Ahmed’s call to develop our own killjoy survival kits, and share concrete examples of the sorts of tools, strategies, and artifacts that government practitioners have used while working to transform the organization from within.

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