Laura Dewis on learning from failure

Laura Dewis on learning from failure
Laura Dewis, Head of Digital and Content at the Pensions Regulator, checks in with us to share her advice for succeeding in the digital and content arenas

Laura Dewis, Head of Digital and Content at the Pensions Regulator, checks in with us to share her advice for succeeding in the digital and content arenas. Read on to learn more about the importance of patience, humility and having a robust content strategy. 


Why did you choose to pursue a role in digital and content? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance? 

I wanted to be an investigative journalist: my heroes were John Pilger and Kate Adie. One of my early reports in a local newspaper was edited to be more attention-grabbing and became inaccurate in the process. Perhaps I was naïve, but it was the opposite of the reason I was drawn to journalism. That is when I learnt to code and started to publish my own blog in the days before WordPress. From there I was lucky enough to get ESRC funding to complete a Masters in Electronic Publishing (in the early 2000s when everything was called E-something!). This brought together computer scientists and journalists to learn each other’s trades. Throughout my career, I have always had a foot in both camps.


What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the digital and content sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular? 

Patience, which I’m not known for! Even though it is a fast-paced industry, for those of us working in sectors that have had to adapt, you often have to work at the pace the organisation can manage. Humility is important. I’m happiest when I can talk with other specialists in my field, but as was said repeatedly at the brilliant Service Design in Government conference, “No one cares about your double diamond”. If you confuse people, you’ll lose them. And in terms of leadership, you have to care about the well-being of the people doing the work.


What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out? 

The organisations I’ve worked for have experimented with where ‘digital’ sits. I understand the challenge: the digital agenda is broad and needs experienced leadership. It’s inevitable that organisations spend time working it out. In a 5 year period, my team was moved three times from Analysis to Technology to Communications. It can help to build relationships and gain organisational knowledge when you move between different departments, but it is also a distraction and can be disruptive. Strong informal networks and a clear mission are more important to get the thing done. I’d like us to spend more time building those things in organisations.


What one thing would make your working life easier?

We’re working on it… we’re developing a training course in content design for people who aren’t content designers. While there are a lot of things that would make my working life easier – no failing legacy technologies, ability to recruit into vacancies, a regular lunch break – it is reducing the friction in the content development process that will make lots of people’s working lives easier.


How is the role of digital and content perceived in your organisation? 

Pensions have been around for over 100 years, much longer than digital. Regulation is our core business and where most of our staff have expertise. Digital and content are seen as an enabler to regulation, but the opportunities are not universally understood. I have a fantastic team who are changing that project by project – it is wonderful to have lawyers embracing pair writing, and policy professionals getting involved in user research. We’ve had a content strategy for around 2 years now, and that was co-designed by people in multiple professions, who understood that we need to make our content easier to use.


What do you think the secret of success is when working in digital and content? 

I’ll let you know when I find it. Maybe it's learning from failure! Of course, it is very helpful to work with experienced teams, who build confidence by delivering something tangible within weeks.


At React & Share, we’re obsessed with helping our clients measure and report their efforts - what measurements do you think digital and content teams should be presenting to internal stakeholders?

I think those set out by the Government Digital Service are a good place to start: cost per transaction; user satisfaction; completion rate and digital take-up. I’d go beyond internal stakeholders and publish those measurements. In terms of content, it often depends on what we’re trying to learn. We’re interested in how people find our content, what they are searching for, how long they spend engaging with it and whether their behaviour matches our expectation. We use that insight to help us decide whether we need to structure the content differently, re-write it, or provide some clearer instructions.


Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in digital and content? 

Having spent a large part of my career working with data, I’m interested in how we can apply metadata to content, so we can produce content more efficiently. If I could make it really easy for my team to maintain, re-use and personalise content, they would be able to spend more time using their creative skills. Structured content has been around a while, so it may not be in crystal ball territory, but it feels to me an underused solution that could solve a lot of problems.