Overheard at Confab 2021


Sustainability, inclusivity and asking the right questions


  • By Emma Bedard
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  • May 25 2021
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  • Categories: Articles
Content Strategy Inc. logo next to laptop with cupcake on the screen.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend what I thought would be a pretty average conference. As the newest member of the Content Strategy Inc. team, and new to the world of content strategy, I had never heard of Confab. In my experience, conferences can be overly technical (and sometimes dull), so I wasn’t sure what to expect from Confab’s online event. But excited to learn more, I sat down in front of my computer on May 5 eager to see what all the hype was about.

Two weeks later, I’m still blown away by the quality and thoughtfulness of the conversations held over those three days. By the end of Confab, I had gained a renewed interest in the work that I do, and a strengthened desire to create more usable, inclusive, and purposeful content. 

I hope these tidbits I’m sharing today will also inspire you to approach your content projects with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

Accessibility and inclusivity should be the default, not the best case.

We know that we need to be making content accessible. But beyond accessibility, a popular topic at Confab 2021 was the need to not only create accessible spaces, but to also make sure the content we’re creating is inclusive. 

Content accessibility vs. inclusivity

What’s the difference? Well, as Natalie Dunbar explained so well in her presentation Yoga, UX, and content strategy: What accessibility can teach us about creating inclusive spaces, an accessible platform physically allows everyone to participate. An inclusive platform actively creates a space that encourages everyone to participate and makes them feel like they belong.  

Inclusive content pushes us to think beyond the standard accessibility checklists and ask, “How are our identities, beliefs, and experiences influencing how we design our content and products?” It forces us to acknowledge our biases and knowledge gaps and seek out diverse perspectives. Finally, we are challenged to find a way to engage the people we want to reach in a fair and equitable way. 

We should ask more questions, and be prepared to listen. 

Why does so much bad design exist? During her presentation, Erika Hall talked about our tendency to let bad ideas pass unchallenged and – spoiler alert – we do this to avoid difficult conversations.

What kind of difficult conversations? The kind that begin with difficult questions. The kind of questions we don’t ask because we’re worried they’ll get us in trouble, delay a project, or make us look bad (or dumb). 

Guess what? The only way to reach shared goals is through conversations; by asking questions and listening. Sometimes that means asking difficult questions, and waiting for difficult answers. But it’s worth it. 

What we need to understand is that we can ask questions and challenge beliefs without undermining our colleagues. Asking questions is a path to new perspectives and creative problem solving. Sometimes – maybe often – this will result in conflict. That’s okay. Conflict isn’t the enemy, it’s a necessary step towards collaboration.

The web isn’t wasteless.

During this year’s Confab, Gerry McGovern made an urgent and convincing case for rethinking our digital habits. 

For context, about 90% of data is not used three months after it’s created. Because every piece of content requires energy and resources to create, when those resources are used for poorly-conceived content, we’re using energy that could go to something more useful. In order to create a sustainable digital future, we need to be reconsidering what digital content we create, and what we do with it.

To improve things, McGovern suggests reintroducing the concept of rigorous, diligent editing. Instead of focusing on the quantity of content created, we should refocus our efforts on increasing findability, accessibility, utility, and meaning. This also means leadership has to begin rewarding the creation of quality over quantity. 

Create content that can outlast change.

Jeff Eaton also made a strong case for creating sustainable content through the lens of flexible content structures. According to Eaton, content breaks as a result of our failure to anticipate change or create content that can withstand change. 

How do we build this type of content? The rule of thumb is that multi-purpose will always beat perfect fit. When we create content with the expectation that needs, pressures, or priorities will change, we create structures that are better prepared to adapt and take on new meaning or vision. 

We can always learn from one another.

What’s the best and worst part about working in content strategy? It’s always changing. New roles are being defined, new tools and resources are being created, and we’re constantly finding new ways to do our work better, smarter, and more equitably.

With so many developments, it can be overwhelming and a little terrifying feeling like you’ll never be able to keep up with everything that’s going on. But lucky for us, content strategists happen to be an incredibly generous, passionate, and friendly group of people. One thing I’ve taken away from this conference is that there is a whole lot more I can learn about content strategy, and there are a whole lot of people willing to teach me. 

After three days attending Confab, and many more trying to pick apart and piece together what I’ve learned, I’m ready to jump back into my writing and content strategy roles. I’m sure I’m not the only attendee who, batteries recharged, is eager to get back in the ring and do some good – content strategy style. 

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