The Woodland Trust: How to forge a website strategy amongst many competing priorities using the Top Tasks approach

By Brian Lamb


Woodland Trust logoThe Woodland Trust is the UK’s largest woodland conservation organization with 500,000 members and supporters and more than 1,000 woodland sites, covering over 26,000 hectares, all over the UK.

A well functioning modern website was already in place but the organisation wanted to go further and make the website a fundamental part of realising its strategic goals of increasing membership and donations.

Protecting, restoring and planting woodland is a complex business and many parts of the organisation had expectations around the future of the website. Demands on the content editors were significant, with lots of different content asks from across the organisation.

“We needed a way to cut through the myriad of demands and get a coherent set of priorities for the next stage of our content strategy – that’s why using the Top Tasks method really appealed to us.” Cameron Edwards, Content Strategist, Woodland Trust.

A traditional needs analysis, where opinions are gathered from stakeholders and synthesised by a design team into a set of requirements, forces teams to put forward a fixed idea of what the website should do. The reaction is often to promote parochial concerns to make sure “we are represented”.

Top Tasks actively works to avoid this silo trap through a process where everyone contributes to building a testable hypothesis of what customers (or supporters in the Woodland Trust case) come to the website to achieve.

The whole idea is to move away from predicting requirements from a competing set of demands, to a process where content design decisions are based on feedback from customers.

In the first part of the project, every department in the organization was invited to put forward suggestions on what supporter “tasks” might be.

The resulting mammoth list of tasks (called a Longlist in the Top Tasks method) had to be reduced to fewer than one hundred tasks to form the basis for an online poll.


Sample of tasks from the Woodland Trust Longlist

The content and digital teams then started to develop the longlist into a shortlist, focussing on:

  • eliminating duplicate tasks
  • merging smaller tasks into bigger tasks
  • clarifying language
  • highlighting questions for specific stakeholders.

Next, the core content strategy group reviewed the list multiple times to reduce and refine it to its final form for the poll. Each review of the list at this stage was chaired and guided by the Customer Carewords team.

Throughout each review, the list was grouped and sorted in different ways, allowing the group to analyse the task list from different angles as they worked. When conversations over the task list stalled issues were parked and returned to at a later date.

This fast paced, focussed, iterative way of working is fundamental to this part of the Top Tasks process – and helped avoid the silo trap, where members of the group only focus on their departmental items on the list.

“From the beginning, it was important to understand that the list of tasks for the poll was an idea – we were not testing a list of requirements. The task list is not the website; it’s something we can use to test supporter priorities.” Cameron Edwards, Content Strategist, Woodland Trust.

The final list was signed off the content strategy group – who represent all the key groups in the organisation – no small feat in a multi-disciplinary organization like The Woodland Trust.

In the online poll visitors to The Woodland Trust website were presented with the final task list and asked to “select the 5 tasks / resources that are most important to you in connection with the Woodland Trust”.

The results give a ranked list of supporter Top Tasks.

Further, the audience was segmented to allow the team to look at contrasting and complimentary top tasks of various key audience groups. This meant content strategy group were able to see if Top Tasks of groups aligned or were varied.

Segmented poll results allowing comparison of top tasks between different supporter groups

This kind of analysis was crucial to various stakeholders, who felt quite sure that their own audience would have very different tasks. The poll data provided an evidence led foundation for discussions about different audience priorities.

The results are fuelling the continuous work of the Trust and its content strategy.

Work is already underway to revise the information architecture of the site using the top tasks as classification and navigation guides. Further, content areas are already being revamped and integrated into the site on the back of the Top Tasks insight.

“Having facts about what various supporter groups wanted from the Trust means we can build our content from a place of evidence, from actual reader priorities. It means we can avoid endless opinion based discussions about the websites future.” Cameron Edwards, Content Strategist, Woodland Trust

The Top Tasks approach was invented by Gerry McGovern and is now used worldwide by over 400 organisations to continuously improve their websites based on customer priorities.

Brian Lamb has worked with Gerry McGovern for 15 years, leading Top Task projects with CISCO, European Union, Boots PLC, Atlas Copco, Rolls Royce, BBC, HSBC, Department Food & Rural Affairs (UK) and Woodland Trust.