How the University of Reading use a matrix team model to power their content operations

5 minute read

We spoke to the University of Reading to find out about the process they use to create content across the organisation, from the structure of the team to how they implemented GatherContent.The University of Reading use a matrix team model to approach projects, and power their content operations. This process involves members of the Content Team, Student Recruitment team (who manage the print prospectus), Marketing Officers, Business Partners, and academics.

How they used to manage content.

Before the Content Team implemented the matrix team model, all content was managed by the Student Recruitment team. The majority of this was in the form of the printed prospectus. Online content was also produced, but wasn't given the same attention as printed content. Content was sourced directly from academics, and not always put through a rigorous approval process.

The first thing the new Content Team tackled was to look at bringing both the online and printed content processes together.

What does the process look like now?

The first change was to set up regular fortnightly meetings between the Content Team, Student Recruitment team, and other stakeholders. The international team, subject matter experts and business partners are also invited as needed. It's not possible to get everyone in a room together, because of the number involved.

The goal of the model is to help cope with the number of people involved in creating content. It also ensures that there's a consistency across all the different content types.In practice, this means that a Marketing Officer works with different stakeholders. They aim to build a good rapport with everyone involved in content creation, from the writers through to the subject matter experts. The Marketing Officer combines their knowledge of the content requirements with the feedback from the subject matter experts. The Content Team can use all this knowledge to create or amend content accordingly.

Finally, the content is proofread by everyone and checked from a legal and compliance perspective.

All the responsibilities are set out up-front by a responsibility assignment matrix, displayed as a RACI diagram. This maps out who’s responsible, who’s accountable, who should be consulted and who should be informed for each task that’s ongoing. Below is an example of how that could look:

Mapping the process out means that that everyone in the project knows who in the organisation they need to get involved at each stage. It also avoids the team wide emails that fly back and forth.

How does GatherContent support this?

The way GatherContent fits in with the content process has changed throughout iterations of the project.One of the key features in GatherContent is the templates. The team can create templates including the required fields, and use tabs for the different content formats. Each template will typically have three tabs:

1) Data (common content for both print and web, such as a course title).

2) Print (e.g. a page number, or a specific piece of content for the print version)

3) Web (the additional information for the web, such as extra content, and metadata).

The print tab is quite simple, and the web tab starts to collect together some more technical info.

The other big feature is the GatherContent workflow, which enables the matrix team model to work efficiently. It allows them to see which content items are at which stage of the process. The workflow contains 25 steps in total. The workflow evolved over time as the process changed to suit everyone using GatherContent.

To simplify the workflow, the states are colour-coded to show which team handles them. There are several cycles of drafting and fact checking. The content is then moved to a status which reflects the edits that need to be made. A Marketing Officer oversees the fact checking and liaises with academics to write the initial draft. The content is then passed to the content team to edit the content, and then to the design team. It then goes back to Marketing Officer to implement feedback and changes. The Marketing Officer is key to making the model work as they act as a facilitator in the process.

Why did they build the process like this?

The content team’s main aim is to bring consistency to all created or curated content, whether published online or in the prospectus. Originally, content for print was being sourced directly from academics, and content for the web was repurposed from this. This meant content creation for the website was reactive to the prospectus deadlines. This led to inconsistency in process, tone and accuracy between the two sources of content.

The old process was falling down because it was using the printed content as the source of truth. Because it's deadlines for print drove the content creation process, it meant that content on the website wasn't updated until print content was. Differences between the two channels is acceptable, so long as the web content is more up to date. The goal is to have the most up to date content available on the website. Each iteration of the project and process sees the two streams becoming more consistent, and complementing each other.

Consistency is key, but the aim is not to produce the same content between the two streams. The user journey is central to this, for example a student might attend a UCAS fair or event and get a prospectus. Anecdotal research from events that the team attended show that students still like to have a physical copy. Once they have browsed through that, at some point in the journey they will make the leap to looking for information online.

The idea here is that the content found online builds on the content found in the prospectus. The online content hasn’t got the space constraints of the print edition, allowing the website to house more complex information.

What benefits have been seen since the process was implemented?

GatherContent has been key in enabling the model to work for the university, but the the model as a whole has seen more cross team working. Rather than content being siloed within one team, having the Content Team oversee the process has made sure there’s now greater consistency across their content.

The content schedule is now more rigorous. The model allows the team to be able to handle the extra deadlines easily. It allows the Content Team to take a step back and think how they can improve the content, because the smoother process takes care of the basics.

What issues did the team run into.

The main challenge has been resistance to change. There was some resistance in the beginning, because no one likes change. This was expected because different people were taking ownership of different parts of the content. To overcome this, over time the model has evolved, members of the marketing team have become coordinators between the subject matter experts and the content team. This has helped to reduce this resistance. The marketing team members have helped the subject matter experts adapt to a role where they controlled the content to one where they are instrumental in content, being refined by the Content Ream. Everyone involved has started to see the improvements in the content.


How three universities streamlined prospectus content production

A short eBook outlining the process of three UK universities to streamline their prospectus production.

About the author

James Deer

James Deer is founder of GatherContent. He previously founded a small digital agency in Scotland. He loves his daughter, son, wife, pug and snowboarding.

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