Leading content strategy at IREX
IREX is a global education nonprofit with offices in 20 countries and programs in 120 countries.
As the organization's first content strategist, I led the development and implementation of a digital content strategy, redesigned and managed key digital properties, and helped teams embrace user-centered design, agile principles, and product management fundamentals.
Redesigned irex.org through content strategy and UX processes
My first major project at IREX was to redesign the organization's main website. The old site had been created years ago and had ballooned in size, while incurring considerable technical debt, UX debt, and content debt. Meanwhile, IREX was finalizing a new strategy under new leadership. The site needed to help donor and partner organizations quickly evaluate IREX's impact and capabilities while serving the needs of more than 60 projects.
To avoid a lengthy waterfall process, I pitched a phased approach to the leadership team. Leadership approved the proposal of launching a redesigned site within 6 months and then iterating on it during subsequent phases—a major change in how the organization approached digital projects. We launched the new site on schedule, and we've been improving it based on ongoing user research ever since.
For the site's content strategy and initial redesign, I conducted stakeholder interviews, a competitive analysis, and low-cost user research that included user interviews, surveys, and analytics. The research uncovered a number of important user needs that competing organizations were failing to address. We documented IREX's business model and reached agreement on priority user groups and objectives.
Working with our agency partner, I defined content types for discussion, then created a content model and taxonomy that would allow us to curate content from across the site in order to highlight different combinations of content for different audiences. Our digital agency worked with us to select a CMS and to design a sitemap, wireframes, and design comps, using real content for each deliverable. I conducted remote moderated usability testing on the wireframes while there was plenty of time to make changes to the information architecture.
As we worked with teams to confirm the structure and workflow for the new content types, I turned our content inventory into a content audit and prepared a migration plan in a detailed content matrix. We automated part of the migration and handled the rest manually.
Because we'd addressed content issues at every step of the way, the new content was ready on time, and it worked in the new system. Since the launch, the site's structure and content have consistently earned favorable feedback from priority user groups as we've iteratively improved the site's capabilities.
For more information about the redesign, see "Creating a Content Strategy at a Nonprofit" and "Redesigning Irex.org: An Interview with Josh Tong."
Improved digital governance and streamlined IREX's digital presence
Historically, IREX was a decentralized organization with little digital governance. I was hired in part to help the organization use its digital presence more safely and effectively.
When I conducted an inventory of websites, social media accounts, and other digital properties, I found that IREX owned more than 140 properties, many of which were outdated, abandoned, or duplicative. This was creating a confusing experience for users while exposing the organization to unnecessary risks and costs.
After obtaining approval from our leadership team, I convened a cross-divisional working group to draft a digital governance framework. The framework specified who would be responsible and who would provide input for digital strategy, digital policies, and digital standards. Then I worked with the responsible teams to draft the organization's first digital policies and digital standards, which we published in our digital handbook.
With this foundation in place, we turned to streamlining IREX's digital presence. We drafted digital ecosystem maps, conducted an audit of digital properties, and recommended how to consolidate or improve existing properties. During the first phase of the initiative, we closed 65 properties and realigned existing properties to better support users' needs.
We worked with teams to identify a digital product manager for each property. Since most of the product managers did not have a background in digital or communications, we provided formal and informal opportunities for training and coaching, as well as guidelines and templates to make it easier to do consistent, high-quality work.
For more information about this work, see "Key Components of Digital Governance in Organizations" and "Improving a Digital Ecosystem through Content Strategy."
Refreshed IREX's brand through editorial and design guidelines and templates
IREX was founded during the Cold War, when the organization administered international exchanges between the United States and the Soviet Union. Much has changed since then, and IREX's editorial and visual identity needed to align with its contemporary portfolio of work.
After our director of communications identified new brand pillars, I conducted a card sort to develop a message architecture, then translated the results into editorial and design guidelines. The guidelines included a brand narrative, an elevator pitch, key messages for each issue area, and guidance for tailoring content to specific audiences. We tested the messages with audiences before finalizing the language.
We worked with our agency partner to develop a new logo, palette, and typefaces, as well as templates for print publications. Because employees manage a number of social media accounts on behalf of the organization, I developed social media templates in Canva and Photoshop to help teams save time and stay on brand.
Conducted long-term, multichannel campaigns to support strategic initiatives
For decades, IREX deliberately kept a low profile while quietly implementing life-changing programs on behalf of US government agencies. As the aid landscape shifted, IREX's strategy called for diversifying its base of donor organizations to mitigate funding risks and create more room for innovation. Our leadership team decided that IREX needed to introduce itself to new donor and partner organizations by becoming a thought leader in strategic areas.
We met with teams that were planning to create content for this initiative. Drawing upon user interviews from the irex.org redesign and analytics from previous initiatives, we shared what we'd learned about the types of content that our target audiences valued the most.
In the meantime, we started designing a multiyear, multichannel campaign called Learning Signals. We tentatively decided to overhaul our e-mail newsletter to make it more relevant to key audiences and use it in coordination with website content, paid and organic social media posts, employees' professional networks, and targeted outreach to media outlets to earn the interest of key audiences.
Through a comparative analysis of peer organizations' approaches and an analogous inspiration exercise with staff, we discovered that many e-mail newsletters in our industry were "self-centered" in promoting their own content, while influential voices in other industries put their audiences' interests and needs at the center of their work.
With these insights, we structured Learning Signals so each edition would share the following things:
A practical guide for practitioners or a credible piece of original research.
A selection of related links to other organizations' materials, along with a brief description of why we found them interesting or useful.
A Google Doc for sharing work in progress and for inviting feedback, suggestions, and other ideas.
We set objectives for each edition and gauged progress through quantitative and qualitative data. Over the course of a little more than a year, the campaign directly led to important meetings with new donor organizations, positive feedback from subscribers, and partnerships and funding for strategic programs.
Introducing content strategy from below at CRS
CRS is a global relief and development nonprofit with offices in more than 100 countries.
I started at CRS as a production editor for technical publications. By the time I left, I was leading content strategy for CRS's largest division, managing user-centered redesigns for websites and digital asset libraries, and serving as a founding member of the organization's content strategy team.
Led the merger of a satellite site's content in a redesign of crs.org
Before I joined CRS, the organization had structured its digital presence in a way that reflected its org chart. There were two main websites: crs.org, which targeted US Catholics, and crsprogramquality.org, which targeted donor institutions, partner NGOs, and researchers. I was on the team that managed the latter site. Our mandate was to produce technical publications that would help practitioners in our industry while demonstrating the organization's expertise.
About 70% of CRS's revenue came from the donor organizations that crsprogramquality.org served. We conducted user interviews and learned that these audiences didn't understand why they should have to leave the organization's main site in order to find the content that they needed.
Interviews, surveys, and analytics helped to uncover insights about what types of content audiences truly valued and how they wanted to access them. For example, we learned that users needed some manuals as PDFs that they could take overseas to rural areas with limited internet access, while certain chunks of content in fact sheets, briefs, and brochures would be far more useful as HTML in topic pages. Meanwhile, some of the marketing materials in our library were making it harder to find and trust the site's peer-reviewed research materials and tools.
At our recommendation, CRS decided to merge crsprogramquality.org's content into a redesigned crs.org. I managed a user-centered process for our division's part of the transition. With support from an agency partner, we conducted stakeholder interviews, surveys, a competitive analysis, a heuristic evaluation, and card sorts. We developed personas, conducted a content audit, established content types, created wireframes, and contributed to the information architecture.
I led content curation, preparation, and migration for our division's portion of the redesign. This included establishing guidelines and processes for the site.
As a result of this cross-divisional collaboration, colleagues and I created the organization's first content strategy team to better coordinate efforts between departments while working with executives on foundational content strategy issues.
For more examples of my work at CRS, check out the following blog posts: