Referendum results, resignations and reshuffles have been causing government intranets to adapt and move quickly to keep staff up to date with changes. Continue reading “Government intranets acting fast”
Like previous government departments that I’ve worked with, the in-house team at the Cayman Islands Government setup their own intranet server and followed online instructions for installing the GovIntranet WordPress theme.
The team started the build at the beginning of May, aiming to get a beta intranet launched by the end of May. And they did it. Bang on target.
It's the dream of all open source project owners: get shipped to a tropical island for paid consultancy. @luke_oatham living that dream.
— Steph Gray (@lesteph) May 24, 2016
After some late-night emails and conference calls, I flew over to the Cayman Islands last week to provide some last-minute advice and training for intranet administrators and publishers. But some background details around this adventure.
The story so far
Until April, internal communications and support functions within the government pretty much consisted of all-staff emails and phone calls, and emailing documents as a result of phone calls. The all-staff emails could contain anything from new exercise classes, to sponsored events or important corporate announcements.
I heard several tales of automated email filters for diverting all-staff emails to archive, in favour of relying on getting important news from the grape vine.
There was an intranet of sorts, but it was used very little, stats showing just 300 visits in the last month, from a staff of 3500 people. The intranet was in a coma.
Green light for beta intranet
I met the core team on my first day and it felt like an emergency skunkworks with people drawn from around the offices, charged with building a working intranet in four weeks. One guy had setup the server, someone who had used WordPress before had setup the environment and GovIntranet theme, another guy was handling the Active Directory integration. By the time I arrived there was already a functioning intranet and I just needed to run through the theme admin and configuration interface, filling in the gaps with the administrators.
The CIG Cabinet Office wanted the new intranet to provide a central hub for corporate news and blog posts, allowing staff to comment on the serious topics as well as post more informally in the forums.
The “How do I?” guidance section will contain core policies and help pages, aiming to reduce the amount of calls to HR and the IT helpdesk. And they’ll make use of the events module, kicking off with the Queen’s birthday celebrations.
Having coached the core team using the admin interface on Friday, I worked with the wider publishing team on a training intranet during the following week, as the new intranet launched.
Publisher training kicked off with a “writing for the intranet” session, including several paper-based writing exercises covering plain English, accessibility and search engine optimisation.
Days two and three were for hands-on GovIntranet CMS training. Usually for me, this is more of a cross-training session with publishers who are used to working with another content management system. For some of the civil servants at the Cayman Islands Government, this was their first view into the world of creating and managing intranet content using a CMS.
Always lovely to see people who have used WordPress before discover how we’ve extended the platform, and to see first-timers start publishing with ease. It’s become a habit now when I’m training, to kick off with a news story about a new bagel shop opening in the building. This give me the chance to cover editing text, uploading images, and the publishing cycle. Class usually responds with their own stories about the office, sometimes sunsets, sometimes kittens. Refreshingly different to see stories about the impending rain season, record fish catches and genetically modified mosquitoes.
Launch and beyond
The new intranet went live on staff desktops on Monday 30th May. It will hopefully make a big difference to internal communications while allowing staff to easily find help and guidance, and to interact via forums and comments. It’s a big leap from all-staff emails and phone calls.
As I left, the core build team were busy integrating the intranet with their desktop sign-on and when done, they’ll have an automated staff directory on the intranet.
Content strategy documents and comment moderation guidelines were flying around, making it clear from the start how intranet content will be managed and what is expected of staff. Publishers were charged up and ready to take on their new responsibilities of managing content on the intranet.
The intranet is very much in beta. There’s more core content to create and manage. But from the analytics reports, we’ve managed to get a heartbeat back.
Update Aug 2016
Just had a quick peek at Google Analytics. It’s been over two months since the new CIG intranet launched. Looks like it’s alive and well.
I’ve been wading in statistical waters recently with one of our new intranet clients, the Office for National Statistics, and by studying a MOOC on Machine Learning by the Department of Statistics at the University of Washington. Continue reading “Working with the statisticians”
Last week, we held a breakfast meeting for our intranet clients from government departments and agencies, councils and charities. The breakfast meeting was an ideal opportunity to compare and contrast how they use the GovIntranet theme and to share ideas and experiences.
The meeting took place at our office in the Clerkenwell Workshops where we have just enough room to comfortably accommodate around a dozen people. We displayed paper printouts of intranet homepages around the office and we have an Apple TV screen to airplay live demos.
This was a very informal meeting. No speeches or presentations. Open between 8.30 and 10.30 for clients to drop in. I was prepared with a list of topics to cover should there be any awkward silent moments, but by 9.00 the majority of our invitees were present and the chatter and general hubbub was in full-flow. In fact, it’s very hard to stop intranet managers from voicing their opinions and showing off their intranets.
“The Search Box” was a common topic of discussion. Some staff just don’t use the search function, and there were various opinions as to why, ranging from general distrust of search due to years of poor experiences, to simple banner blindness. I’d definitely like to explore this further, perhaps with some A/B split testing.
On most development projects, be they website or intranet, I generally have to negotiate to make the search box more prominent, or in some cases just for a search box. During development of the GovIntranet theme I made sure that there is a visible search box, position top-right where people expect to find it. When content is written well with good titles and appropriate keywords, the search engine works really well. The overwhelming positive feedback from our latest intranet launch has been on the subject of the search function. It’s disappointing to hear that staff are missing out on this helpful feature.
There’s a firm divide between use of the jargon buster module. Some organisations are making extensive use of this to explain acronyms and commonly used jargon in the workplace. Others feel that this only encourages the use of acronyms and jargon on the intranet and would rather concentrate on stamping it out.
Client homepage layouts begin with a default configuration showing news and blogs in the left hand column, most active and most recent content in column two, with forums, events and twitter feeds in column three. Most intranets have stuck with the simple choice of main menu options including About, How do I? and News. Some also have a Home option. I’ve kept screenshots from client intranet homepages at launch and at subsequent points throughout their development. There are some patterns to their evolution.
The “Most active” widget is a feature of GovIntranet that pulls in live data from Google Analytics in order to show what is trending on the intranet. There are options to set how many items to display, how far back to look, and which types of content to show.
Some intranets stay pretty much fixed to the default configuration showing the seven most popular tasks in terms of unique page views, trailing the last three days. This is the combination that we found to be most effective when testing the DCMS intranet. Seven options allows the consistently popular tasks, such as booking a meeting room, to take root in the top three or four spaces in the list. Seasonal or topical content can then bubble up throughout the year, such as performance management. Trailing three days ensures that the information is “realtime” for the current working week.
Some client intranets don’t use the widget at all. I *think* this is through fear of what might appear. I always tell the scenario to new clients of how open and transparent the DCMS intranet was on launch, when the resignation guide was the most popular task on the intranet.
On other client intranets I notice that the “top tasks” area is gradually taking a demoted position further down the homepage, generally in favour of ongoing HR and IT promotions.
And I’ve spotted one intranet where there’s only three items on the most active list. It’s my prediction that this will only serve to create a self-promoting list of links that will never change.
I was interested to learn that intranet managers have used this widget as a method to dissuade fervent requests for links on the homepage. The message to departments wanting to promote themselves is clear; if staff really are interested in your content then it will appear in the most active list.
More areas of the homepage are becoming devoted to news. What started as a simple news listing has evolved into a larger set of content types and taxonomies to support the different flavours of news required for central and local government organisations. I’m now seeing mini-listings of alerts, updates, IT announcements, HR announcements and building announcements. While, in addition to the regular news listing, that sounds like a lot of news, the widgets are designed to appear and disappear as specific types of news are available. So, if there’s no building-related news, the area on the homepage is freed up. In theory you shouldn’t see masses of listings at one time. However, this relies on managing these types of alerts well and ensuring that they are only published for as long as necessary.
Our group of supported clients have all participated in the development of the GovIntranet theme and I look forward to working with them as we develop the ongoing roadmap for the theme. Until now, I’ve been the only person with a birds-eye view of how the theme is being used across the different organisations. The breakfast meeting has given them all the opportunity to have that viewpoint and will hopefully encourage further ideas and developments.
I’d been waiting with anticipation for our latest client intranet launch. It’s the nearest I’ll ever get to fatherhood, but these past weeks I’ve been acting like I’m looking after a newborn.
After a little intensive care, the CCS intranet is up and running. A real staff-centred intranet, it has a staff directory, forums, blogs, commenting and feedback forms. Looking from the outside, the launch seemed like it was first day at the sales. Okay so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but what I’m trying to say is that staff haven’t been backward about coming forward.
The trusty feedback form, at the bottom of every page, is producing a steady flow of comments from staff. Broken links, missing documents, factual corrections. And the comms team have been straight on the case, correcting problems, adding new content, keeping in touch with staff.
Perhaps more unexpected, are the positive comments coming in. The intranet launched with a blog post by the Head of Comms, and the comments make me smile with glee. “Brilliant!”, “I love it!”, “So easy to use!”
Apart from the general positivity, staff are pointing out specific areas that they like; the staff directory, the search function, the simple content and IA.
Google Apps integration
Being part of the Cabinet Office, CCS uses Google Apps. The majority of forms, policy documents and templates are stored on Google Drive. In hindsight, this was probably a blessing when it came to content migration as all those documents still live on Google Drive, leaving the intranet free for some good ol’ plain English content.
The CCS intranet is behind a firewall, but staff still have to login to view the intranet. The good news is that it’s just a button click to login via their Google accounts. A combination of plugins handle the security authentication, and automatically create staff profiles on the intranet, pulling information from Google accounts, including avatars. It’s been amazing to sit on the sidelines and watch the staff directory grow from the dozen or so editors who first attended training, to the full workforce of around 500 staff. All with a click of a button.
The plugins also allow editors to insert links to documents, or even embed documents in intranet pages using a simple search and click interface, integrated with Google Drive. A great way to maintain one source of truth, documents are kept up to date in Google so the intranet doesn’t become blocked with numerous versions of documents.
Content training and migration
I spent two days training the comms team on the GovIntranet theme. Intranet training consisted of:
- Content training: half a day of writing for the web, plain English, accessibility and SEO
- WordPress administrator training: half a day covering GovIntranet admin and configuration
- WordPress publisher training: a full day of CMS training on the GovIntranet theme
The team have had the usual challenges when departments are faced with rewriting content. The usual objections from HR staff who are used to writing in official language and stock-piling documents into some electronic receptacle. But the comms team have triumphed. The intranet is not filled with endless left-hand menus representing the HR policy structure. Staff are finding information. Bite-size pieces, helping them to do their jobs.
With the number of government intranets that I have a window into, it’s a little hobby of mine to compare content, to see how teams do things. This exercise can be useful when trying to demonstrate that content doesn’t have to be written like a policy document. Take whistle-blowing for example. On one of my client intranets, the guidance for this is a few short paragraphs; this is what it is, this is what you need to do, this is how you do it. On another client intranet the guidance is a mile long, starting with an introductory letter by the Perm Sec, followed by all the clauses of the policy, nicely numbered of course, ending with what you actually need to do. Which version helps staff and which helps the HR department, with their commitment to excellence, to tick their boxes?
After initial ideas of creating an intranet launch video (and me getting excited about the chance to appear on Ellen’s wall) the team decided to go with an intranet treasure hunt instead. Being the geek that I am, I spent a weekend afternoon planning and plotting a complex operation involving time-locked pages and a secret safe, within a vault, within a building. And having been reminded that staff are actually awfully busy and that maybe I should have been a games designer, they’ve opted for a simple mission of finding four keys, hidden around pages on the intranet. The mission takes staff through four sections of the intranet as they collect keys containing the combination to unlock the vault (or the password to unlock the WordPress page, to those in the know).
We didn’t want to plaster the intranet with treasure hunt posters, should there be any staff not game enough to take part. So we did it with intraverts, a feature of GovIntranet that allows targeted messaging. We created a new team called “Intranet Explorers”, to last for the duration of the treasure hunt. We encouraged staff to add this team to their staff profile if they wanted to take part. Then we crafted some intraverts to appear on selected pages around the intranet, only visible to members of the explorer team.
For me, it’s been a mission of my own to come up with the concept and orchestrate the pages and intraverts. For the comms team, it’s been a way to introduce staff to sections of the new intranet and to familiarise them with searching and navigating the intranet structure. Hopefully, it’s been a bit of fun for all of us.
The end of the hunt contains a very quick satisfaction survey where staff are asked to choose from a list of positive and negative statements regarding the intranet. As I write, the survey hasn’t closed but, the initial results are overwhelming at 95.3% positive sentiment.
I have a dozen clients now all using the same WordPress theme for their intranets. The intranets are all different. They have their own tones, from cosy and friendly to vibrant and alive to formal and reserved. Sure, they all have their own style, typeface and colour scheme too. But it’s the content and what staff do with the theme that makes them different. Once you delve beyond the “look and feel”, what’s really important is the content. Both corporate content and staff-generated content. It’s the difference between a lonely news story and a blog post filled with comments, between a letter from the Perm sec and a phone number to call.