Content Social

Kewnet revisited

Since releasing the new intranet for the Royal Botanic Gardens,  the team has been working to iterate functionality and implement features based on staff feedback and new requirements.

GovIntranet Social

What’s a Wonderwall, anyway?

It started, as many new GovIntranet features do, with an idea from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The internal communications team wanted a way for staff to post recognition and praise for other members of staff on the intranet. 

GovIntranet Search Social

The intranet staff directory

It’s interesting to hear that the digital team at the Ministry of Justice have developed a new staff directory. I know a few departments are already opting to use this service and it will be interesting to follow progress.

The staff directory was a big problem at the Ministry when I worked there. People used a combination of looking someone up in Outlook, or resorting to the internal staff directory, originally developed by the IT department.

The problem with looking someone up in Outlook is that you had to know the name of the person. The Outlook directory was notorious for being out of date as there was no integration between IT and Human Resources systems.

The internal staff directory at MoJ was similarly useless. Staff who left years ago were still present. And although people moaned that they could never find anyone in the directory, they didn’t bother updating their own details either.

At one point we had a big push on getting the directory up to date, with adverts on the intranet, and a serious clearout of data as control of the directory moved to Communications and sat with the Public Enquiry Line team, who made most use of the directory while taking incoming calls and connecting the public to people within the Ministry.

Although it was possible to update your own record in the staff directory, it required a separate login, which involved the inevitable arduous forgotten password routine and setting a new password with stupidly harsh naming restrictions leaving no chance of remembering it again. The staff directory wasn’t integrated with your login to the network or with your HR Shared Services account or with the intranet. It’s good to hear that the new people finder won’t require a login. From what I’ve heard, MoJ are planning to allow open access to all profiles, which raises different kinds of data quality issues.

I remember thinking, when I worked at MoJ, that the key to keeping the staff directory up to date would be to allow staff to have their own rich profiles on the intranet which they can update with more than just a phone number and job title. Make the people real, with personal interests, hobbies, skills and job history. All searchable. I wrote a business case to integrate our Google Search Appliance (used on the intranet) with plans for an extended staff directory, which would have allowed people to search the staff database, with Google intelligence, direct from the intranet. ITC and external suppliers wanted around £60K to do this (presumably write a few lines of code to allow the internal Google box to talk to the internal staff directory database). So it didn’t happen. I’m glad those days are over and that developers can create their own systems unrestricted.

I took a lot of this experience to the table when I developed the staff directory with DCMS.

Here’s how we’ve done it in the GovIntranet theme:

Integrate the staff directory into the intranet and give staff control over their profiles

We’ve integrated the staff directory so that everyone has a WordPress account on the intranet and their own staff profile. They can post in forums, write blog posts, vote in polls, comment on stories, collaborate in wikis and update their own profiles (but not each others’). Incidentally, none of my clients call it a social intranet. In fact, they don’t call it anything but “the intranet,” even after staff naming competitions. Staff profile avatars and links appear around the intranet in comments, forum posts, page footers, blog posts, search results and in the actual staff directory.

Integrate people search with the intranet

You can search for people from the main intranet search box (without having to tick a special box), or from the staff directory pages on the intranet (not an external system). You can search for names of people, teams, skills and telephone numbers. Handy if you’re looking for someone who speaks Spanish, or maybe someone who can create a video, but you don’t know their name or department.

Staff search

Nudge staff to update their details

We also have a “Profile nudge” widget which reminds staff to update elements of their profile if anything is missing. Intranet administrators can configure which elements to nag about and whereabouts on the intranet the widget should appear. Staff can update their details straight away without disrupting what they were doing.

Profile nudge

This integration increases the chances of keeping the information up to date and makes the intranet alive with real people woven around the content. See a blog post from a senior staff member, with an associated avatar and staff profile. Read a forum post from the organiser of the staff choir, with an associated avatar and staff profile. Check out the new joiner in the comms team.

Data, beautiful data

A network of connected user profiles and intranet content means that we can create a social graph. While we are nowhere near this with GovIntranet, the potential is there. When we have data about our staff, their browsing habits, their likes and dislikes, we can produce targeted content. We can anticipate their moves, offering information when they need it, where they need it. My first stab at tapping into this is the new “Intraverts” widget, released as part of version 4 of the GovIntranet WordPress theme.


The plugin integrates with the staff directory giving a targeted messaging system across the intranet.

So instead of the blanket campaign messages from internal comms that appear on the homepage regardless of who you are, the widget allows you to target groups of staff, on specific sections of the intranet over specific time periods. If you want to get a message out about flu jabs or giving blood, you could place an advert on all pages in the health and wellbeing section of the intranet, where staff are likely to be browsing related content. How about targeting just Band A managers on the homepage with updates about forthcoming performance reviews? Or if Band C staff are logged on we could remind them about a forthcoming series of Freedom of Information training seminars that they’ll be required to attend.

What others are doing

The staff directory across our GovIntranet clients is being used, although are all system security staff trained to add a photo of HAL as their avatar???


The DCMS comms team page is a bit different, as all staff in the team have posed for photos in Brady Bunch fashion, so their staff directory entries show them looking up and down and across at each other!

The British Business Bank are racing ahead though in the league of GovIntranet clients, with the largest proportion of staff profiles voluntarily completed with avatars.


I wonder if the new MoJ directory will ever achieve this, and if there are plans to integrate with some form of social profile on the new MoJ intranet? While it will be a great resource if everyone in the Civil Service used it, would it be maintained and kept up to date? If anyone can edit profiles, will it get abused? Will it get used? Or will it be another Civil Pages?


Proving the case for a task-based intranet

The Enterprise Strategies post uses statistics from the Worldwide Intranet Challenge to analyse the aspects of an intranet that most impact a user’s perception of the intranet.  The main 2 conclusions state:

With 99+% confidence, we can conclude that:


  • Complete online forms
  • Upload or download documents
  • Find instructions for completing work tasks


With 94% confidence, we can conclude that:


To me, this says that a task-based intranet that allows staff to find instructions and complete tasks online, is very valuable. And if staff can provide feedback or comment on the intranet content then this adds to the value.

It doesn’t prove a case for a “social intranet”. It doesn’t show that staff want to post and like and comment on others’ posts. In fact, the post goes on to note that other features such as being able to discuss work topics online in a forum or collaborating in shared spaces didn’t score as high, and then claims that these features were not available in 2009 and makes the assumption that the WIC results would have shown higher scores if staff could have accessed these features. This assumption is then taken as additional evidence to support proof of a requirement for a social intranet.

I’d argue that forums and shared spaces were not strangers to the intranet scene in 2009. The report doesn’t state the actual years that have been analysed but the WIC is still current and so I find this could’ve/would’ve, distorted interpretation to be somewhat misleading and biased.

Despite the wonkiness of the post title and the biased analysis, the report hammers home the facts that using the intranet for finding instructions, completing tasks and being able to feedback on intranet content are the most important aspects of a user’s perception of the intranet.



GovIntranet Social

GovIntranet gets a People Profile and Staff Directory

As part of the latest release of the intranet theme, we’ve integrated a set of customised Staff Directory templates.

On the intranet

You can search the staff directory from the main intranet search box or the staff directory pages. You can find people based on their name or job title. If you don’t know a name you can search on a particular skill or area of expertise. You can search for a team or a department. And you can search for the number on a missed call to see who it was.

Typeahead staff search
Type-ahead search for people

In their personal profiles, staff can upload their photo, specify their line manager and the team that they work in. This information helps to build the organisation tree which is shown on each individual profile page as a clickable tree of line managers and direct reports. To navigate sideways through the organisation tree, staff can jump to anywhere within the team structures to view staff at the same grades.

The staff directory is displayed initially as an A to Z lookup showing index cards of staff members. You can browse the directory by letter and there are switches to view by first name or last name. You can also browse by grade or team.

NIO staff directory
Staff directory lookup pages

Individual staff profiles show a photo, bio and contact information including links to teams, and a mini organisation tree with links to the staff member’s line-manager and direct reports. For staff who are active in the forums or blogging areas, we include links to their posts. Links to the staff profile are integrated into search results, forums and blogs.

My favourite enhancement is to the main intranet search box allowing type-ahead lookup of people based on their name, job title or skills.

Turkish speaker
Type-ahead search on people skills

Like any search-based functionality, all this will only work well if staff fill out their profiles and keep them updated. The directory is in use at NIO and will soon be launched at DCMS.

There is a mini-demo of the staff directory templates on the GovIntranet showcase site.

The technical stuff

The templates work in conjunction with bbPress or BuddyPress and allow us to integrate the staff profile with existing forums and activity streams. We’ve also configured the Relevanssi search plugin to index the staff profiles. This means that we now have tighter integration between the staff forums, individual staff profiles and search. Using the Pods framework, we’ve extended the core WordPress user profiles to add extra fields for:

  • Job title/role
  • Telephone and mobile numbers
  • Working pattern
  • Skills and experience
  • Team
  • Line manager
  • Grade

In the user profile, this gives us a nice user interface.

User profile edit screen
User profile edit screen

We configured Relevanssi to index user accounts and the extra custom user meta fields. And we tweaked the autocomplete search plugin to integrate with Relevanssi, giving us a type-ahead staff lookup via the search box.

We have also introduced teams as part of the staff directory allowing you to create a hierarchy of directorates, groups and teams. The team listing displays staff organised by grade. And you can specify a team leader for each team, regardless of grade.

Teams are implemented as a taxonomy so it’s possible to categorise any content on the intranet with a team. The current templates work with pages, projects, tasks and guides and include links in the “Related” sidebar area along with other related links.

Setting up the staff directory in an existing GovIntranet theme will take a bit of manual tweaking. Instructions are on the GovIntranetters site. Bon courage!