Case study: Semi-independent website

Single Digital Presence (SDP) has launched a new web presence for the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (VAHC).

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (‘the council’) has just launched their new web presence on the Single Digital Presence (SDP) platform at

People who want to find out more about their legislative requirements, or Traditional Owners who’d like to become a Registered Aboriginal party in Victoria, will now be able to find information much more easily.

The council has a vision of a community that understands and respects Aboriginal cultural heritage and the cultural responsibilities of Traditional Owners.
Previously, the council had a page on the DPC corporate website that was poorly differentiated from Aboriginal Victoria content. For the council, moving to their own web presence has met a number of needs.

“For some time, the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council has been aiming to have a website that is independent from that of Aboriginal Victoria. Because the council make statutory decisions and have other legislative functions under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, one of our strategic objectives was to separate council’s business from that of the public service so that we can be seen as an autonomous decision making body,” Rodney Carter, Chairperson, VAHC.

“Victoria was the first State to establish an all Traditional Owner council to make decisions about our cultural heritage, we’ve been around now for 11 years and in our own website we can make our presence known properly to the rest of the community so they know what we do.”

What user needs research showed us

An important feature of SDP is research into user needs before content and design decisions are made.

As a starting point on the VAHC project, Marcella Marino, the SDP content adviser, conducted a range of interviews with users and internal stakeholders, a content audit and she also completed a review of Google Analytics to understand user behaviours. 

Findings showed that users could not find the information they needed and were often confused by duplicated information, which undermined trust and sent users offline in their searches.  

‘I did find the fact sheets, but they weren’t easy to find. Then I had to email someone I knew in the heritage industry to help me understand the definition of Aboriginal cultural objects, burial objects and ancestral remains. Would’ve contacted someone if I couldn’t work this out.’  University user

These findings prompted the council to rethink their digital content strategy in order to realise their vision.

How we worked together to improve outcomes for users

As part of efforts to revise the information architecture for their content, SDP worked with the council and Aboriginal Victoria to develop a content and linking strategy that would avoid duplication, helping users to find information and complete tasks.

We also worked together to re-write fact sheets in plain English, with a step by step guide on requirements under the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

We’ve also collaborated on making it easier for users to understand how to use the online mapping tool that shows which Registered Aboriginal Party is responsible for which locations across Victoria. 

What it was like to work with SDP

“At first we were unsure of how the website content would be managed with SDP. This became clearer as we worked through the process,” Susanna Collis, Manager Communications and Engagement in the Office of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council said.

“Referral to other subject matter experts in the work unit lengthened the development, revision and web writing time. Similarly, meaningful engagement with internal stakeholders has taken longer than anticipated in general.” 

“The collaborative writing process was easier than anticipated. The SDP team is highly skilled and bring a lot of focus to the task. We provided the subject matter expertise in pair writing and re-wrote many pages into simpler language. The SDP team kept us on track and reminded us of the ways we can use web based presentation and language for better communication.”

How user insights helped get through process pain points

“When re-writing content we found that it can be hard for staff to let go of often used terminology or previous ways of doing things. The SDP team were critical in providing user-testing insights to the entire team to convince them that the website really needed an overhaul and that we needed to make the language more accessible for a wider spectrum of users.”

What the site means for users

The council hopes that users will find their web presence easier to navigate and have their questions answered in three clicks or less.  Ultimately, they hope that the new site will help them reach more users. 

“Our users have to navigate a complex legislative environment, so our new site will help them get to the critical information they need, more easily. Ultimately this will lead to better outcomes for cultural heritage management,” Susanna said.

Susanna’s tips for others coming onto SDP

  • Sourcing appropriate images has been our single greatest challenge. Start thinking early about images to make your site engaging. 
  • Website development requires commitment and continuous work effort. Be consistent in your work along the entire project journey. 
  • Pair writing sessions are really important. Keep your pair writing meetings regular and focused: block out time in your diary so you don’t miss any.
  • Trust the user insights that the SDP team discover and work hard to persuade your colleagues that the website is first and foremost for the community at large and doesn’t exist for the benefit of VPS staff.
  • Have fun creating a web presence that the wider community will love interacting with! 

What being a semi-independent website means on SDP

The SDP model offers content owners a choice of standard features and functionality that can be applied depending on need. Because the design effort is so easy, content owners can focus on user experience and content.  

The council web presence is the first semi-independent to come onto SDP , providing a good example of how branding and identity can be applied in the SDP templates.

Before: Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council content did not have its own web presence and its brand identity was not present on its web page.

Screenshot of the old design for the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council screenshot

Now: As a semi-independent web presence in SDP, the council has been able to apply its brand identity.

New branding for Aboriginal Heritage Council website design

Before: Information was poorly presented and hard to find.

Latest news content on old Aboriginal Heritage Council website landing page

Now: Improved information architecture and specific calls to action mean information is easier to navigate.

Landing page of the new Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council website

About Single Digital Presence

An action of the Victorian Government Information Technology Strategy 2016-2020, SDP is a project of the Digital, Design and Innovation team at the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC).

SDP is a major digital project that will transform the way DPC helps citizens find, understand and use policy and program information online. 

The council site is the first semi-independent site in the SDP model to be delivered. It offers a good example of how branding and identity can be applied by semi-independents on, offering a consistent user experience and ease of implementation for government authors. 

Reviewed 11 December 2018

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