Beyond Helpful

It was just over five years ago, when I received a DM from lesteph asking how things were going at the Ministry of Justice, and if I fancied a coffee.


#IntranetNow, the first of many more.

The energy on the day was buzzing. The pace was fast. It didn’t go without a few bloopers, but it didn’t matter. The atmosphere was uplifting and positive and it’s clear that a lot of thought had gone into making this event happen.

The central London location was ideal. The layout and convenience of the rooms worked well. The food and refreshments were actually rather special. And for me it was really good to catch up with staff and members from the old Intranet Benchmarking Forum (and pre-social media) days, to meet long-standing intranet tweeps that I have only ever chatted with online, and to see new faces, some excitedly launching their first intranets. I met Luke Mepham way back at a J Boye event, so it was a real joy to meet the rest of the intranetizens for the first time. And my first time meet with Wedge, who was the trigger for me to start intranet diary, albeit unknowingly.

The 20 minute talks interspersed with 5 minute lightning talks kept the day alive and the unconference sessions in the afternoon a) happened, and b) sounded like they were really valuable to people for discussing specific issues. The whole format of the day worked well, although two unconference sessions in the same room was a little distracting, yet it wasn’t an issue in the larger area. And hands up for being guilty of concentrating so much on my own lightning talk that I didn’t come prepared with some unconference topics of my own.

The range of topics from the speakers was diverse and interesting. We heard about intranet engagement, viral chickens, automated testing, childrens intranet launch parties, super-heroes, what not to do, why content publishers don’t want their pages to be found, how to make them findable, how to say “no” and deal with the gimme, gimme, gimme effect, and loads more. I wish Igloo had shown us some real-life examples of problems that they have solved (instead of *logoporn*). That would have been more, like, helpful.

My lightning talk was on content and how we used the approach of breaking down information into tasks and guides.

Luke Oatham’s #intranetnow lightning talk “Content: back to basics” from lukeoatham


Massive thanks to Wedge and Brian for creating this event, to all the sponsors and speakers and people who paid for a ticket.

There’s an Eventify feed from the day.

And here are some of my favourite funnies of the day:



Intranet un/conference in London

The Intranet Now un/conference takes place on 2nd September in London with three flavours of talks including main speaker presentations, lightning talks and unconference-style sessions.

I’ll be doing a lightning talk about the intranet redevelopment work that we did for the DCMS intranet and how DCMS used the GOV.UK method of tasks and guides to organise content and make it available to staff.

For me, it’s the unconference aspect of this event that is exciting. My area of work is mainly with government, local council, charities and public-sector organisations. I work with teams who are tight on resources and limited on budget, where expensive conferences and seminars are not an option. This event is a bargain opportunity for these organisations to network and share intranet experiences.

Earlybird tickets for Intranet Now have sold out but there are still a handful of full-price tickets available at an exceedingly reasonable price.

I’m so excited to be going to this event. Very proud to be a sponsor. And I’m looking forward to catching up with some of my Twitter intranet buddies and to see some old acquaintances.

Not long to go now, and not many tickets left.

Full details at Intranet Now website



Five months outside the Civil Service

I’m 5 months into my new job and the projects that I started working on are coming to fruition, with several bubbling away in the background, including a very interesting government department intranet project.

I’ve been working on a diverse set of projects during my first months at Helpful Technology. Kicking off with what seemed like week after week of wireframes, user research and testing, I’ve designed the user experience for a number of WordPress website and intranet builds. The first of which launched at the end of January: The Audit Commission

The Social Simulator

I’ve been involved in snow travel chaos, global chemical manufacturer scams and uncovering paedophile rings in our PR and communications crisis exercises using The Social Simulator. It has been such a fun experience being on the “antagonistic” end of the exercises, watching press officers sweat as they battle with the social media platform of tweets, media articles, blog posts and Facebook rants. Simulated in a private setting, these exercises have been valuable for the press officers, media and PR teams involved, providing practical experience of life-like scenarios and situations, which have resulted in teams changing they way they work together during a crisis.

arts lectures

I’ve lectured students at the London College of Communications (College of Printing) studying for their MA in Public Relations as part of a pilot workshop, preparing for the digital workplace with skills such as writing for the web, accessibility, search engine optimisation and a practical day devoted to building a blog in WordPress. I’ve also covered the UX sections of the Government Communications Network training programme and provided tailored sessions on MailChimp and CitizenSpace across the wider public sector.

It’s been a big change to the daily plod and office politics of working in the Civil Service. Switching from in-house mode to the faster-pace and multi-client agency model has taken some getting used to, but it’s so rewarding being able to build digital solutions and teach people how to do things for themselves, quickly, unhampered and mainly uninvolved in the familiar layers of red tape.


For the past month or so I’ve had my head buried in the nuts and bolts of WordPress. For me it’s been a wonderful return to my days of programming and it has brought the many years of working with CMS systems, databases and my IA and UX work together. After working on the front-end design and usability of sites for years, it’s rewarding to also be working on the other side of the fence again, designing content management systems that clients are going to use daily to update their websites and intranets. Getting feedback from clients like “It’s completely yummy!” and “A breath of fresh air!” calls for a high-five moment at HT Towers.

From all angles, WordPress is really rocking my boat. My experience over the past months has shown that it comes up trumps from the developer perspective, the CMS administrator perspective and the front-end, public or staff -facing perspective. It knocks some of the other systems that I’ve come across in the past out of the water.  It’s refreshing to see so many other government departments turning to WordPress and while I have moaned about the usability of the G-Cloud, the cloud store has reduced the red tape involved in procuring a supplier or service to build or host WordPress sites.

Soon to be launched is an updated website for Wilton Park, part of the FCO, which I’ve been designing and building in WordPress for several months. This has been a great project, kicking off with a period of research and testing wireframes and mood boards with site users, both internal and external, including interviews with an Ambassador and visits to interesting MOD buildings. The site showcases upcoming and past conferences around a number of diplomatic themes with reports and podcasts published after each conference is complete. More news on this towards the end of the month.

And more recently, I’ve kicked off a very exciting intranet project with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The digital comms team are aiming to produce a GOV.UK style intranet, completely user-focussed, with tasks and guides delivered in no-nonsense, plain English plus tagging and categorisation of content. More detail in my next blog post.

While I’m doing more than just intranet work now, I plan to continue blogging about what I get up to in more detail on intranet diary. For a birds-eye view of what we’re working on at Helpful Technology, please visit the Being Helpful tumblog.


"One Intranet" project

Fresh on the horizon for me is the “One Intranet” project that will merge intranets from many organisations into one with a vision of saving money and improving efficiency. This is a great opportunity to rethink the intranet within the workplace and to put in place some governance and strategy around content.

I’ve had my head in our public website for a while now and the intranet has been bubbling along in terms of content updates and section changes. But there has been no real development in terms of functionality or design. It’s been over two years since the last big bang release and things have changed in the workplace. Technology has moved on (at least outside the firewall). Culture, mental models and expectations have moved on. And, of course, we are now in a harsh climate where making savings is paramount and cutting back and consolidating resources is the way to go.

And so, after a period away from intranet and this blog being pretty quiet, my attention returns! It has been really interesting lurking on the sidelines for the past year or so, watching things progress on the intranet front, both in my workplace and outside.

swconf logo

To rejuvenate my own interest in intranets and the social workplace, I’m heading off in a few weeks to #SWCONF, the Social Workplace Conference to have a peek at what other companies are doing and to listen to some speakers from companies who are out there doing it. For me it promises to be a packed day with a broad range of topics that not only cover internal communications and social intranets but also look at social engagement outside of the organisation.

I’ve already got questions and ideas around what the new intranet could be like. Indeed I’ve been blogging about it for years. Curiously, Klout reckons that I am influential on the subject of Olympics, due to a blog post that I wrote back in March 2010 but which was actually about my vision for the workplace of August 2012. Don’t think we’ll make it in three months, but it starts here.

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