Provider Engagement Network – a buddypress win

Just before christmas a colleague within our social care commissioning team approached me and asked about how we could help provide an online network to enable providers of health and social care services to raise issues for discussion between one another and with County Council and NHS Devon.

Initially I suggested he explore some free to use tools on the web to help him refine his requirements and better understand the types of features he feels would be of value.  I think most people assume I’ll simply throw a tool at them…but I’m keen to ensure that people focus on the problems they are trying to solve and how these can be solved.

About 3-4 weeks ago we had a catch up call on the phone where we went through the features and how he would like the network to operate. Now as a stroke of luck perhaps, the requirements he listed exactly matched the forum i happened to be using that day which was the UKGovCamp buddypress site.

So I suggested we create a buddy press test site on my teams hosting and we explore it further with some of his other colleagues the following week.

So that is what we did,  we sat down and went through the out of the box features and they loved it…we refined some of the features and created some additional privacy which took about 2-3 hours  – we didn’t even create any visual design aspects, as we said we could apply these at any time once they had them created. We then handed over a fully functioning online network platform last week and they launched it last Friday!

This rapid launch surprised me a bit but it wasn’t a problem…although on Monday this week we made some additional changes based on some very early feedback from users on Friday evening and Monday morning, but that didn’t take very long at all.

So far this week it has had a flurry of people signing up which has been great and we have had lots of great feedback from people.

We still need to work through some of the community management challenges and processes and help them facilitate the community and allow it to grow in a sustainable way…but we’d rather do that live then wait until we felt we were capable of doing this before launching.

Thanks go to Matt Down in the team who pulled all of this together in pretty much no time.

 

News Centre – the content strategy in action (sort of)

The work we are doing on the content strategy is very much about actually doing a bunch of work whilst I write the strategy down.

One area where is has been the case is with the councils news and press stories – this week we launched a new News Centre (see below) which was built using wordpress but actually the technology isn’t the important development here.

It really represents the start of a process which will see the county councils website and web domain change over the coming months as the content strategy starts to have an impact. The next main change will see the homepage and only the homepage updated…This has been based on statistical data and also good practice set by other councils such as Liverpool and will evolve as we start to gather more intelligence and data about how people use and want to use our web.

The News Centre starts to introduce some common components (a global header menu, a global footer menu and a federated search facility) which will be applied to a number of our sites (new and old) over the coming months to help bring together our domain from a visual and design perspective…the challenge over time of course will then be to consolidate where appropriate technology but only where it demonstrates value for money and efficiency.

The federated search has been an interesting areas to think about as we could have and actually can easily demonstrate the idea of this through the use of google custom search and this may well be one of the solutions we consider for our public web presence…it is after all very effective, cheap and most of all it delivers results in ways that people are familiar with.

Another area which has been interesting is how we actually bring what are essentially external microsites into the domain without migrating content from one system to another…we have explored reverse proxy but this isn’t sustainable and pushed too much effort into ICT and this is obviously not a good use of there time…so we will continue to explore the options within our technical limitations.

We will be seeing this as an iterative process so the new homepage is essentially the start of a rolling process of changes which will be based on reviewing content, understanding user needs and improving the overall user journey, starting from google – the end result should see our content reaching our beyond our website and into social spaces where people are and that is where we believe the content should also be available where appropriate and practical.

We don’t have the resources and support of the Government Digital Service but we do share the same passion to create a better overall user experience for those accessing the councils content and services.

I did mention back in the summer of last year that my team would have a blog and that is still our intention but as is the case with most things our own priorities have gone to the back whilst we focus on making significant progress across the council…in the meantime progress and updates are likely to be made via my blog.

One of the benefits of the news centre, aside from simply managing council news in one place is that it is now the single platform for the whole of communications. We have an editorial team who manage it like a “publication” and ensure that stories, features, images and video are all available to ensure we get the messages out. So it has been more than just a website, it has been a huge culture change and continues to be – for the better of course.  We will be continually developing the site in an agile type way and we will be looking closely and opening up comments and discussion on the site very shortly. This is where the content strategy provides some influence – one of the objectives is to increase the engagement on content – one easy way of doing that, is opening up comments and discussion.  We just need to work through some internal processes in terms of how we respond, moderation etc.  It is after all a learning curve for a lot of people.

The Head of Communications (my boss) Tony Parker has been instrumental in driving this through, obviously supported from a technical point of view by my team and in particular Russell Taylor (Project Lead) and Tim Barrett (wordpress wizard), but in fact the whole team have played a huge part in making this happen (Sam Freeman, Matt Down and Patrick Jones)…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ve got a great team and they are really pushing things forward.