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How communications and data can live happily ever after.

Once upon a time…

Once upon a time, in a land probably not so far away from where you are, lived a girl. Let’s call her, Charlene.

When Charlene was in school, she really enjoyed math and science. She would happily show her work on any statistics test. Charlene found comfort in the certainty of numbers — you either had the answer, or you had to dig deeper to find it. But it was there. Dreamy sigh.

Alas, at a young age Charlene was cursed with a terrible affliction: her heart was drawn to words and writing. Stories helped her work through complex thoughts and ideas. It was an exploration of the uncertain. It was her true love.

But following her heart came with perils: to try and make decisions in a craft so subjective was challenging, and often led to self-doubt that discouraged her from taking risks.

Surely, there had to be a way for Charlene to marry her love of words with the certainty she felt all those years ago in statistics class.

What’s the happily ever after, here?

Surprise. Charlene is me.

And it’s true. When it comes to communications, particularly in government, I find it very hard to make decisions. I love that writing is subjective and that people can apply their own interpretations to it, but that works against me when I’m trying to communicate something specific.

The newsletter

I started running up against this problem as I was creating content for our monthly newsletter.

When CDS first launched in 2017, the newsletter helped increase awareness about the organization. Since we weren’t quite sure what communities we’d need to work with in the future, we cast a wide net.

In the spring of 2019, we thought we saw a lot of federal public servants reading the newsletter. If that were true, the newsletter could be a great tool to help build capacity across government.

With the help of Colin and Mel, some design research friends, I learned that we could use data to help us test that hypothesis and, if it was true, strengthen our communications goals.

Setting goals

To make sure that we were reaching our intended audience, we first had to define who we wanted to reach: Federal public servants - check!

Then, we needed to verify if we were actually reaching them. For privacy reasons, the only piece of information we collect when people subscribe to our newsletter is an email address. Therefore, that would be our main identifier. We filtered emails that ended with “” or “” to give us the minimum number of federal public servants we were reaching.

These were our numbers:

(Note: We started with our English mailing list as a test case because we have more data to look at there. We’re currently working on testing with our French mailing list.)

2,210 subscribers

786 (36%) of those are federal public servants

Mailchimp automatically rates subscribers based on how much they engage with your content, on a 1-5 star scale. The more they click or open emails, the higher their engagement rating, and the closer to 5 stars they get.

We looked at anyone with a rating of 3 stars or higher, and considered them engaged. 352 (44%) of the public servants made the grade, and were actively engaging with the newsletter.

Given that CDS’ aim is to make it easier for the federal public service to deliver services, we reaffirmed that the newsletter was indeed a good tool to help scale our work across government. It was a direct line to about 800 public servants, 350 of whom are actively engaging with the information we were sharing each month.

Strengthening goals:

Then we needed to focus on strengthening our goal to increase engagement and create content that would resonate with our audience.

First, we analyzed the content we were sharing.

Mailchimp provides reports on every email you send out. It tells you how many people opened the email, and how many clicks that email got. We care about the former because it tells us whether or not the theme of the newsletter is resonating with our readers. We care about the latter because it tells us what specifically within the newsletter (buttons, content type, tone) is working best.

Then, we tested with people.

We decided to test the process of subscribing to the newsletter as a starting point. We put together a research plan, recruited public servants who weren’t subscribed, and watched them go through the process of subscribing to our newsletter, from start to finish. We focused in on specific tasks and words that confused them.


Through testing, we learned some things we would have otherwise not picked up on. Those insights were turned into action-items, which helped us make the subscription process easier to understand. Here are some of those changes:

Subscribe form:

This is the form people first see when they are subscribing.

We learned that sometimes we use the word “subscribe”, and other times “sign up”. This was flagged as inconsistent and made people wonder if they were two different actions.

Some people also didn’t realize that our black “subscribe” button was a clickable, because they didn’t associate black boxes with buttons.


A before and after of the two web pages.

We used Google Trends to discover that more people in Canada use the word “subscribe” than “sign up”, so we made a decision to only ever use the word “subscribe”.

We also changed our button to be a more recognizable green.

Confirmation page:

This is the page that tells people they’ve successfully subscribed to the newsletter.

In testing, we learned that “(woo hoo!)” came across as too informal for a government product. We were told that the title, “Thanks for subscribing, eh!” was enough to strike a friendly, but still official, tone.

The entire bottom section was also confusing to our subscribers. No one we observed did anything with our mailing address, and some even questioned why we would have that on a confirmation page.

If they clicked “manage your preferences”, they’d be taken to a page where there were no preferences to manage. So they’d click this, get confused, and then close the window. Similarly, if people clicked “continue to our website”, there was nothing on the website they needed, so they’d immediately close that window and go to their inbox to look for a confirmation email.


A before and after of the two web pages.

Ultimately, we learned that we should prompt people to go where they instinctively were going anyway: their inbox.

We simplified this page to only include the information that subscribers cared about:

  • You’re subscribed. You don’t need to do anything else.
  • A welcome email will be in your inbox now.

The end?

Charlene’s tale — and the stories of so many of us who are trying to make better decisions in communications — can leave us with a happy ending. Analytics can inform content that delivers on goals for your intended audience.

It would seem that, afterall, communications and data can live happily ever after.


  • You can go through the new subscription flow yourself by subscribing to our newsletter.
  • Have questions or feedback? Please reach out.
  • Want to learn more about why we picked Mailchimp as our newsletter provider, and the privacy considerations that went along with using a third-party provider? Read the CDS story behind Mailchimp.