Internal Blogging

Last October my team worked with our Internal Communications colleagues to develop an internal blogging platform (WordPress) to allow our new 14 Heads of Service to share thinking and updates about the council’s direction as well as updates from within their services areas.

We have had experience of internal blogging before – the chief executive used to blog, but that essentially faded away and was replaced with an internal email newsletter from the chief executive.

I remember having conversation with people back then and many said that they did like and value the chief executives blog but many thought that a more localised view from their head of service would make more sense….so here we are a few years down the road and we are now in that position.

So in the 3 months that they been going, my personal view is that they are successful – ok, not all heads of service are actively blogging yet, but we didn’t create or set any expectations for any of them. BUT and this is the good bit a good number of them are actively blogging and in my view are doing a great job.

So I thought I’d share some interesting high level stats in the short time they have been going – The stats are from 13th October 2011 to 12th January 2012.

  • 4,482 – visits
  • 1,850 – unique visitors
  • 18,733 – page views
  • 4.18 – pages a visit
  • 3 mins 09 secs – average time on site
  • 61% – returning visitors
  • 26 – comments

In my view – this is fantastic, really good. The kind of stats we couldn’t have actually hoped for initially. My only concern is the number of comments, but this is a cultural thing really as well as the content in the blog posts…not all are written to encourage comments, some are purely information only…so we will be looking to add a “like this post” option so we can get a sense as to whether or not people are finding the posts valuable.

What we will be doing with our internal comms colleagues is providing some individual reports for those heads of service who blog to help them understand the details of their blogging pattern and style, for example which posts received most visits.

The most successful writing style is one which brings in elements of humour as well as the personality of the individual themselves…i guess a natural style…so our challenge is to encourage and support them to write more consistently like this when appropriate.

It is great to see and be part of a team (the wider communications team) who are making such great progress.

Your help in trying something a little different

I am in the process of putting together a supporting statement for a Digital Communications Post here in Devon.  The scope of the role takes in all digital communications activity, corporate web management, intranet management and also includes aspects of Digital Engagement as well as Open and Linked Data but these two are more on an advisory nature.

What I’d like to do is try something a little different with regard to a supporting statement.  I obviously have to link my skills and experience with the persona specification but also wanted to share some views from people who have inspired me and helped me along the way.

I really wouldn’t be in the position to apply for this post if it wasn’t for the many great conversations, friendships and challenges I have made via social media platforms.

I tweeted a the same thing just a moment ago

http://twitter.com/#!/carlhaggerty/status/90386702484516865

I’m really after the easily digestible 140 character twitter replies as this means I could include more in the statement. I’d love your help on this and really need the replies before Friday 15th say lunchtime as this gives me time to include the replies in my statement.

Thank you in advance to anyone who can lend their support.

The question about WordPress as a Corporate CMS

It has been a couple of weeks since I attended #localgovcamp and it has taken that long for my brain to process all of the ideas and challenges that inevitably come up after spending such intensive time with so many passionate people.

One of the sessions I went to was on WordPress and whether or not it is capable of replacing existing content management systems (CMS) with regard to the council websites.

It is interesting to note that a few central government sites are using WordPress, for example Defra, Dept for Transport (DfT) and Number 10.

Whilst looking at these sites I noticed on the DfT site that it stated the following:

The website was redeveloped to address user feedback and stakeholder research, reduce costs and to move to an open source CMS solution (WordPress) in a more flexible hosting environment. We want to ensure that people can find the information they are looking for quickly and easily; and that publications, reports and policy documents can be browsed and searched more easily without having to know the subject area in detail or know what part of the Department or Agency is responsible. We also need to direct people to the correct source for more detailed information, such as Directgov and BusinessLink.

Via http://www.dft.gov.uk/site/

Whilst reading this it occurred to me why there is such an issue about talking about WordPress as a corporate website and it is obvious really…In fact I have even had the conversation with colleagues in ICT, but I don’t think I really connected the dots properly for my brain to make sense of it all.

This is why I believe it is easy for central government and some areas of local government to use WordPress for either core websites or even microsites but no one yet in my opinion has yet to provide a fully functioning corporate website using WordPress – By fully functioning I mean that it delivers a fully transactional platform with ePayments, GIS, business application integration, single sign on etc…

Now I’m not sure if WordPress that can do all of this, but I wonder whether this is actually the type of website we require. I’ve been involved in the website strategy here and one of the key aspects of moving toward a new web infrastructure is to decouple the existing layers so that we can make sensible decisions about which technologies are appropriate at each stage…This should in theory avoid the negative move (in my personal opinion) to get a big supplier and essentially supplier lock in…I don’t believe that in this climate we should consider big systems anymore, we are a shrinking sector and therefore we should consider more agile technologies where appropriate….this is based on the assumption that any new technology delivers on performance and business requirements.

When you consider the list of existing WordPress sites (not comprehensive)  in use across the local government arena, they are focusing on sites without any service transaction integration (no epayments, no library catalogue, no benefits system). In fact they are all focusing on information provision (most project based), which is of course a key function of a website as well.  The same also goes for the central government examples, as the transactional part of central government is provided by DirectGov.

Whilst there is a clear strategy and direction for central government transactional services to be provided through a single domain, there is not the same drive or strategy for this within local government. This is where the problem starts really – if there was a clear strategy which stated that all local government online services will be available through a single domain then we could clearly separate out the transactional service requirements from the information service requirements. This in my opinion would provide a clear opportunity for CMS platforms such as WordPress to gain a greater presence within the local government web arena as they are perfectly placed to support this at very low-cost as is proved by central government examples.

BUT – I don’t see this kind of strategy appearing to be honest, in the spirit of localism this kind of central control and mandate would not be welcomed, although it would drive a huge amount of cost saving….and it would in my opinion save a large number of councils the trouble of developing and duplicating, what is essentially the same online services across the country, thus wasting public money over and over again through the duplication of processes and transactions…But there is something about this approach which also makes my back shiver as it sort of assumes that this would reply on some “big” single site which would need a large number of people maintaining it and we would have to develop a suite of integration points into the vast number of different systems performing the same function across councils…isn’t this just asking for a huge supplier to manage the lot…I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that really but that could get into a political argument for which this blog was not intended..

If this kind of strategy was presented it would clearly represent an opportunity to local government to deliver the kind of consistent user experience across all local government services and because the high volumes of transactions we would be delivering huge cost savings locally…something about this seems very right but see point above about single supplier!

This is basically suggesting a shared service platform for local government online transactions….I naively thought years ago that this was what local direct gov would do….but i was obviously wrong.

Now I don’t know what the answer is here, it certainly isn’t wordpress…but it does have a role to play, but then again other open source platforms do as well.

The problem is we aren’t all having the conversations with our IT colleagues about what the issues are around corporate websites from their perspectives (we will be starting those conversations here very soon) to fully understand how all this stuff fits together in order to help everyone work out how we create a web architecture which is fit for purpose, flexible, agile and scalable….regardless of whether WordPress is used or not – for me the key is in understanding the requirements from all angles first before jumping to a conclusion.

What I do think WordPress can provide for councils now though is a perfect platform which business folk can use to deliver microsites within a consistent framework and in a very usable platform. Whilst this doesn’t replace a corporate website it does giver greater flexibility to webteam for example who often struggle to make changes or create microsites in “enterprise” class CMS systems…it simply isn’t sustainable to wait over 3-4 weeks for a small-scale microsite when you can create a site in less than an hour in WordPress.

We should all be focusing on what we want to achieve FIRST and not what products we want to see.

However in saying that I think it is certainly worth someones time creating a replica corporate website in WordPress even as a proof of concept and finding out either way whether or not it can work….that is certainly something I think we can do here as a team over the coming months in our own time…it would save others time so you have to say it is worthwhile.

So I think that this whole conversation is a misunderstanding really…the question shouldn’t be “can WordPress provide the technology for a corporate CMS?” the question should be “what do we really want the corporate website to do?”

Once we start asking the right questions, I’m sure WordPress and other open source products will start to enter into the conversation as possible solutions.

 

What motivates you, I mean really motivates you.

There are often times in your life, when you start to think about the future in a more proactive way than normal, this is something I am very much doing at the moment, as I’m sure many thousands of other local government colleagues are doing. The team I am in are subject to a 50% reduction and that means that I need to do what is right for me and my family and consider all available options.

However in doing this I have started to think about what really motivates me, I mean really motivates me. The deep underlying reasons why I do what I do, I guess the inner strategy I follow to make the world I live and work in a better place.

When I started I naturally came to the obvious stuff like – “I want to make a difference”, Ok that is valid, but a bit lame to be honest, I’m sure most people want to make a difference in some way, then things like “Contribute to a positive future”, “Help improve the quality of life for people locally and nationally” . Then it dawned on me, I was almost reusing strategy lines from council documents, either I’ve worked in Local Government too long or I really believe all of that <I do believe all of that on some level, but I’ve translated these into more meaningful things.

So I started thinking a bit more, I wanted to get to some of the roots and then things started to make more sense and are really obvious really – “To inspire my children”, “to make my wife and family proud of me”, “to be happy and at peace, from the soul outwards”, “to know I’ve challenged myself to be a better person”.

I kind of knew these things but it is very reassuring to validate them in situations when you are considering your next move.

I then started to think about what actually interests me, I mean really interests me.  This I found quite hard initially as so many things interest me, to be honest pretty much everything interests me at some level. But i refined those to what is really important to me.

But I am now at the point where I have some clarity and I know what interests me and how those things link to the things that really motivate me……..this may sound strange but I’m not going to share those things here just yet as they are very much informing my future direction and choices.

But what I will say is I hope you know what really motivates you.

 

How big is your web presence

I’ve been doing a bit of research linked to my previous role as corporate web manager, on how many websites and separate domains the council uses to present and display information.

However this got me thinking to what a good number should really be for local government. I know Martha Lane Fox has suggested that central government should have one site, whilst I agree in principle I’m not convinced that this is actually practical for local government. I’m not referring to one for the whole sector I’m specifically referring to a single council’s web presence and this is not including social media domains.

So far I have found just over 65 separate websites which are either directly presenting council information or are presenting information in partnership with one of more partners.

It is this last scenario, more than one partner of course which is gradually increasing across the council as we move forward with a commissioning agenda, so how do others councils approach this aspect of web provision…do your partnership sites sit on your platform but have their own branding, do they sit within your branding?  I’m keen to find out what others are doing in this area.

I have actually looked at all of the sites and apart from a few sites they all pretty much offer a good level of interaction which can not be found in our current website.  The majority again pretty much contain the appropriate branding for the site and where applicable include the councils branding.

The big problem though is that they are all disconnected from the main council site. You can not currently search this sites and for some you can’t access via the AtoZ either.  This is a major fail and as previous web manager, well I won’t say how I feel about it.

So why do I think this is not practical. Well firstly we are not very good when it comes to partnerships to specify that all content be presented via the councils site. Most if not all partners wish to have their branding used equally and therefore the councils website often presents a barrier. To review this will take time and of course development resource to bring this sites internally.

But why would we, what is the value in creating a single site. Surely a framework of web delivery is more appropriate, a site which displays core council information and either embeds content and functionality from other sites or use a federated search solution across all domains to allow users to find and access all of the content and services.

There is a cost saving to reviewing the sites, but there is also a cost in moving and migrating the sites, so this would need to be considered on the basis of delivering value and not just for the sake of a “pure” website.

Now I’m not suggesting that this is the right or the wrong approach, I merely believe it isn’t practical for all councils.

I think local government web managers have a tricky job to balance the customer journey and pure single website vision with the increasing move toward commissioned services with a mixed economy of service delivery and service providers.

So how many sites does your council have and how are you managing the wider web presence.