In recent posts, we’ve alluded to there being a University of Bath digital strategy. It’s the product of analysis and interviews conducted over the last 3 months, and we have begun taking that strategy around campus to introduce our colleagues to its contents and to get their feedback and support.
Our strategic goal
The University’s goal is to have a world-class digital domain developed around the needs of its users. This digital goal is framed by the actions set out in the University of Bath’s strategy for 2013 – 2016.
Users of our digital domain include students, academics, corporate staff, businesses and the public. While the majority of our digital users are here on campus, we receive high volumes of traffic from elsewhere in the UK and increasingly overseas. Our website serves in part as a marketing channel but our users are mostly task-driven and view our digital domain as a collection of services they use to get things done.
We want the people who use our site and associated digital channels to regard them as informative, trustworthy and useful. We believe that the manner in which we meet our users’ needs sets us apart from our peers and when we perform well it has a positive impact on the reputation and visibility of our research and teaching.
It is the end of my first week as Head of Digital here at the University of Bath. Naturally, I have had a busy week of meetings but it has been a joy getting around the beautiful campus and meeting the lovely people who work and study here.
I have been pleased to hear everyone I have met say that world-class digital communication is critical to the University’s ongoing success. They believe that the University can be proud of its digital work to date and that more should be done to build on that track record.
That is a fantastic mandate to have. I am looking forward to working with people from across campus to deliver the digital profile that the University deserves.
At the centre of those efforts will be my team of editors, developers and designers. In the short time I have worked with them their passion for this University has shone out and they are bristling with the skills and energy that this University needs to take full advantage of digital media.
Over the course of next few weeks and months, I will be trying to meet as many people as I can to understand how the University operates and what the folks here need from my team. I look forward to updating you on what I discover, and if you want to talk to me, please drop me a line or leave a comment here.
It’s a honour to post there, among some seriously smart and creative people. It’s one of my favourite blogs to read.
I’ve also been posting alongside Neil Williams on Inside Inside Government, which we use to explain new features and ideas for Inside Government. It’s been particularly enjoyable writing for that, I think we’ve got a good style going there and the feedback has been great.
Actually I’ve been a bit lax there too recently. But not to worry, I’m brewing up a couple of tasty announcements.
We’re not short of social media strategies in the government, neither are we short of social media guidelines for staff. But we are short of ICT access and on more than one occasion these social media projects have hit this same frustrating [fire]wall.
Organisations restrict access to social media for a number of reasons. The most common are concerns about creating security vulnerabilities, incurring spiralling technology costs, opening up reputational risks, losing sensitive data and suffering dips in staff performance (as they log on to watch the latest hilarious random video lulz).
It’s obvious that governments are particularly sensitive to these concerns and that this has caused them to be slower than other organisations to take advantage of social media. These days this lethargy is a problem for more than just digital teams; increasingly its policy and service delivery teams that are feeling frustrated by the blocks on their access.
Currently it is more common for access to be restricted than open. But there are a number of ways that the innovative people of the Civil Service have found ways to get the access they need – be they in media, marketing, research, policy making, consultation, engagement, service delivery or even ministerial roles. These workarounds include:
Allowing staff to use their own devices – they would have it on them anyway but it does mean that they have to pay for it out their own pocket
Whitelisting domains – sometimes it is the stripped back mobile versions rather than the ‘full fat’ versions that get the OK
Permitting access through gateways, portals or virtualisation – it’s overcomplicating but it’s something
Monitoring and throttling usage – to encourage respectful use and keep costs down but breeds resentment
Requiring a business case – perhaps a bit over the top just to get real time information
Providing standalone machines – not terribly green or cost effective
Installing secondary browsers – to enable use of social web channels that couldn’t be accessed on the old browsers used as standard in depts
On February 28th the hangar door of Aviation House opened and gov.UK/government took it’s maiden flight. It might not be up there with what happened at Kitty Hawk in 1903, but this will go down as a decisive event in the way government publishes and engages – digitally or otherwise.
Inside government is the second part of the GovUK beta to go live and although in the history books it will all rightly be discussed as one and same, for me at this stage in the development /government is the most radical and exciting part.
Your best guide to the project and the site is Neil Williams, the gov.uk/government product manager. But before I lose you to him, you might spare me just a couple of minutes to share an unofficial insider’s view (someone who has worked with, for and now in digital teams in the government; a hard-boiled sceptic, now convinced through first-hand experience of the gov.UK project)
So here are five reasons why I think the release of the Inside government beta is a watershed moment:
Whether it is to get fitter, better or just to have a go at hacking the human condition, people are beginning to turn ‘big data’ technologies on their sleep, diets and productivity. Athletes and sufferers of certain medical conditions have been at it for years, but evidently the ‘quantified self’ is going mainstream and it’s bound to be big business.
The FCO publishes in 50+ languages on our platform and in 20+ languages on the social web. We know a thing or two about multi-lingual publishing. But there is still an awful lot we can learn from the way the BBC Worldservice approaches publishing its non-English websites. What I find impressive is the way the Worldservice provides custom editorial in so many languages yet maintains consistency in user journeys and page layouts. This blog post is about how they do it.
This is the second survey of British attitudes towards the UK’s international priorities that Chatham House has developed with YouGov. The survey examined the attitudes of two groups – the first a representative sample of GB adults, and the second a group of ‘opinion-formers’. The differences between the two are fascinating but what is truly revealing are the discontinuities in the public’s thinking about foreign policy. The ultimate conclusion, for me, is that there is a lot of communication and engagement that needs to get a lot better.
When you think of the Eden Project you think of plants. So the book about ‘Eden‘ by it’s founder, Tim Smit, is going to be about plants.
In fact, there are hardly any plants in ‘Eden’. There’s no room for them because on every page there are portraits and portrayals of the people who worked to bring us the Eden Project. There really are loads of them and their story is fascinating.
Harnessing people to a dream
We think of the Eden Project as being built of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene but it is in fact made from people. The people in ‘Eden’ swarm like a bivouac of worker ants, linking up to nurture and protect something truly unique and valuable, and at the centre of it all – holding the concept – is Tim Smit.
The Eden Project is about plants but the reason is people. It was launched to be an educational and social enterprise that would demand public attention on a superb scale. But such ambition does not deliver itself easily. ‘Eden’ captures and emphasises the depth of enterprise, teamwork and leadership that went into the realisation of an attraction that over 10 million people have travelled to experience, and which to all intents and purposes had its genesis in a Cornish pub.
Tim Smit uses the opportunity of ‘Eden’ to reel off his thanks to as many of the characters as he can who mucked in along the way. He gives each the stage and tells us about what they did, how they did it in their own unique way and how none of the Eden Project would have been possible without them. But the book is not just an extended acknowledgements page; it is a great story with as many vivid twists and turns and suspenses and feel-good endings as any classic of fiction.
Here’s what’s been keeping me enthralled on the commute this week…
1. With China projected to overtake the United States in terms of economic output within the next ten years, many commentators are again speaking of a new ‘Asian century’ and the ‘decline of the West’. At Chatham House recently, Niall Ferguson drew on the last 600 years of world history to offer an insight into the changing global balance in terms not only of economics but also of geopolitics and ‘soft power’. Transcripts, video and audio are on http://chathamhouse.org.uk/events/view/-/id/1945/.
3. Consultation is a ‘set piece’ of government. Doing it better online is a coalition commitment. But how? As well as tackling search, usability and agile development on a centralised government website, an Alphagov sub-team also turned their attentions to consultation and policy engagement. What they came up with was a succint and persuasive proposal that deserves attention and further development, particularly what it has to say about ‘layering’. There’s an introduction from Neil Williams and a copy of the deck on the Alphagov project blog– http://blog.alpha.gov.uk/blog/a-vision-for-online-consultation-and-policy-engagement.
First came the Government Digital Service (GDS) which gave ‘Codename Martha‘ formal status, an official title, a boss, a timeline, and put money where before there were only words. Government will have its single domain and from this point onwards will be looking to deliver of all its services and communications through a digital lens. To prove as much, a crack (or SWAT for MLF Review afficiandos) team was introduced headed up by Tom Loosemore and a man close to my appraisal, Jimmy Leach, who are soon to unveil a proof-of-concept for the single domain, going by the nom de guerre, AlphaGov.
Next up was the ‘Review of Government Direct Communication and COI‘. This set of recommendations, pulled together in which the Matt Tee, the outgoing Permanent Secretary Government Communication, called for the exiting of the COI and the creation of the Government Communication Centre (GCC) in its place. The GCC’s task will be to spend significantly less people and money delivering fewer but better marketing communications by amplifying cross-government themes over departmental campaigns. Propositions are to be sharper, ROI will be taken much more seriously and digital will underpin it all.
And last but not least we got sight of the Government ICT Strategy. And a very enlightened and on-trend ICT strategy it is too. In it are contained committments to open source, interoperability, green credentials, cloud, web, use of Agile and even democratic power shift (which is a boon for the likes of an old worthy like me). Another departure from the norm is that this document is mercifully brief, very clear on the actions required and very exact on when they should be done by.
Each release demanded attention in its own right. But the commonalities also ring out.
People… There will be fewer people and the staff remaining will work to new skill sets and efficiency and effectiveness goals.
Digital… is an standout common theme but not one that is inevitable. Yes, you would expect the GDS to have lots of digital, but for the future of government marketing communications to be so acutely spearheaded by digital and then for the ICT strategy to talk in such ‘webby’ terms is a real watershed.
Centralisation… At a time when even the US Military is restructuring itself as a network, each of these HMG developments seek to put more strategic and delivery capacity in the centre. That’s intriguing, and like the point on digital above, is a real step-change.
Each release appeared independently and has been picked up by different practitioner communities. Colleagues in digital may have read one release and not the others, and the same goes for communications and IT colleagues. But they must be conversant in all three.
The trick is to understand them not as three separate entities but as a trinity. None can achieve its ambitions in isolation of others.
Regardless of the new budgets, new team sizes or new technology, it is this blurring of lines between three previously separate disciplines that is the point and the most exciting challenge of the next 4 – 5 years.
In the spirit of openness and transparency, there is a section of some government websites that deserves more of the searchlight. It’s the digital team pages, and one in particular has come under my scrutiny lately – Digital @ BIS.
bis.gov.uk/bisdigital has just recently launched. It’s primarily for webbies in the department and in its agencies, but it also serves to inform the wider public about what BIS does digitally should that public be minded to know more.
Not many departments have such sites even though more or less all have digital teams. Those that do are practicing what they preach.
The BIS example should be considered ‘best of breed’. It knows exactly who its audiences are and in what order. It’s design balances form and function. And it provides the passing novice or the hardcore practitionner with a wealth of content that taken as a taster or as a full course represents a hearty insight into a core function within a key government department.