UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

New Opportunities for the Institutional Web Management Community

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 July 2011

IWMW 2011: Responding to Change

Warm weather at IWMW11 so one parallel session took place outside

The IWMW 2011 event, the fifteenth in this annual series of event aimed at members of institutional Web teams, took place at the University of Reading on Tuesday and Wednesday, 26-27 July.  At the IWMW 2010 event the theme was “The Web in Turbulent Times” and we addressed the implications of the financial crisis and the expected changes in funding for higher education for those working in the sector and in institutional Web teams in particular.  This year’s theme was “Responding to Change“: we acknowledged that we were living in radically changed environment and needed to be able to respond to such changes rather than wishing for a return to the past.

One aspect of how the sector could respond to changes which was addressed at the event was to help gain a better shared understanding of the institutional Web management Community of Practice, which I described in a recent post.

According to Wikipedia a Community of Practice (CoP) is:

a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and / or a profession. The group can evolve naturally because of members’ common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally.

CoPs can exist online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or in real life, such as in a lunch room at work, in a field setting, on a factory floor, or elsewhere in the environment.

The institutional Web management CoP has both an online presence (through mailing lists such as the web-support and website-info-mgt JISCMail lists) as well as a real world presence through, for example, the annual IWMW event.  But at the event we sought answers to a number of questions:

  • Is there still a need for a institutional Web management CoP – after all there isn’t (although I could be proven wrong!) a whiteboard CoP? This question was touched on at last year’s event when Susan Farrell asked “Are web managers still needed when everyone is a web ‘expert’?“.
  • How will political and funding changes to the sector affect the  institutional Web management CoP? Might we find that a more competitive environment and the moves towards the provision of privatised higher education providers result in a community which is much less willing to share, help, advise and support one’s peers?
  • Is there a need to revisit the online tools which can help to support the community, especially in light of the significant decline in use of the JISCMail lists within the sector?
In her plenary talk in the opening session at IWMW 2011 Amber Thomas of the JISC spoke about  Marketing and Other Dirty Words.  Amber suggest that there is now a need for those involved in the development and support of online services to go beyond their comfort zone (which revolves around concepts such as “open access“, “academic autonomy“, “public good” and “language of values“) and engage with the dirty words of  “impact“, “brand“, “metrics“, “marketing” and “language of the market“.  Amber argued that the need to move beyond one’s comfort zone would also be the  case for other grouping within institutions, including researchers, teaching and and learning staff, marketing people, community outreach and engagement people, etc.  Many people within the institution will be looking to those with IT and online skills (including expertise beyond use of services hosted in the institution) for advice and support. There should also be opportunities for those working in institutional Web management teams to demonstrate their value to core institutional services.  After the doom and gloom  which we saw in the opening session of last year’s event it was good to see that this year’s event began with such optimism. But how might institutional Web teams engage with this new environment, especially when there are existing services will still need to be provided with, in some cases, downsizing of Web teams having already taken place or restructuring process being in place?

The Web Management Community: Beyond IWMW and JISCMail Lists

These issues were addressed in a session I facilitated entitled The Web Management Community: Beyond IWMW and JISCMail Lists.  It seems there was a strong feeling that the benefits of being a member of a community which existed in the early days of the Web (getting help and advice; sharing concerns; learning from others; etc.) were still feel to be beneficial – there clearly isn’t a feeling that the provision of institutional Web services is now a mature technology with little to be learnt from others.  There was a minority view that the greater competition across the sector would result in a reluctance to share success stories – however others felt that the competition would take places in other areas, with a feeling that we would continue to see sharing of best practices for providing the online infrastructure which is now so important across the sector.

LinkedIn

Although there may have been some disagreements on the extent of collaboration and sharing there was agreement that there is a need to explore online tools which can be used to support community activities which are aligned to personal (and institutional) needs.  In discussing various online tools which may have a role to play we discovered that most people in the session have a LinkedIn profile. But in addition to LinkedIn’s use for hosting CVs (and concerns over uncertainties regarding jobs seemed to be a reason for joining LinkedIn)  the services also hosted many online groups which can support professional activities.  I pointed out a number of existing Web-related groups such as the Web 2.0 for Higher Education group.  However such existing groups will tend to have a US focus and topics of particular interest to our community (such as UK cookie legislation, Web accessibility and BS 8879 and the requirement of UK HEIs to provide KIS data) would have little or no meaning to existing US members.  Should, therefore, we set up a UK-focusssed LinkedIn group?

That question was answered not by making a recommendation that we set up a working group to evaluate the potential of LinkedIn to the sector. Instead Stephen Ashurst, Senior Multimedia Designer at Loughborough University, simply created the UK HE Web Professionals group. As can be seen there are now 26 members. There are also some additional benefits which this service provides which are not available in JISCMail lists such as the improved user interface, display of connections, etc. Whether this group becomes sustainable and provides a useful service for the community remains to be seen, but I personally do appreciate this grassroots initiative from someone who is using LinkedIn groups to support activities in other areas.

Twitter

Following on from discussions about LinkedIn the group went on to discuss the role of Twitter.  Some people in the session regard Twitter as part of the portfolio of  tools they use to support their community engagement whilst others admitted (in response to my leading question) to not ‘getting’ Twitter. There is an action on people to write a post on the relevance of Twitter to the sceptic which I will publish shortly.  In the meantime I have created a Twitter list for the institutional Web management community called iwmc. I will be happy to add anyone who regards themselves as part of the institutional Web management community (which will include those who have attended IWMW events, are members of relevant JISCMai lists or have general involvement in managing institutional Web services in a UK University or related service) to this list. The simplest way to be added will be to publish a tweet with the hashtag #iwmc. I’ll search for such tweets and add people to this list – and will include in my blog post details of the potential benefits of such Twitter lists.

Google+

Inevitably there was also interest in the potential of Google+ to support the Web management community of practice.

It seems that I am not alone in being both very interested in the potential of Google’s latest development in the social Web sphere whilst also being uncertain as to whether it will be a success (unlike Google Wave and Google Buzz) and, if so, how it can be used.

There was a feeling that Web managers could regard the release of Google+ and the undoubted interest it has generated as an opportunity for hands-on evaluation in order to be able to be seen as an authoritative source within the local institution for the various grouping who are likely to be interested in making use of Google+.

It seems many of us are grouping our Google+ contacts into friends/family and professional.  I, too, have Friends and Families Circles and have also created Circles for JISC and UKOLN contacts, Gurus (typically US experts who will have large numbers of followers), Overseas contacts (will this morph into a non-English language Circle, I wonder) and an initial subject-based circle for those who have a strong interest in accessibility interests.   I have also created a Circle for those who I regard as part of an institutional Web management community. Currently there are only non people in this Circle, but I will be looking to include more in order to see if it can provide ways of both managing this network in ways which can’t be done easily using Twitter as well as providing richer functionality.

This morning I came across a link to a post on Google+ Implications for University Recruitment which described how organisational profile in Google+ “should be back in the next few months (with analytics), and universities need to be ready this time (compared to most campus’ delayed foray into other popular social media)“. Let’s use this opportunity to gain expertise in Google+ so that we are prepared to advertise not only those involved in student recruitment but also in research and development activities, for example. We have an opportunity demonstrate that the advantages of centralisation which the government are proposing can be achieved by collaborative working across the sector.

New (and Renewed) Approaches to Collaborations

The concluding session at IWMW 2011 provided an opportunity to highlight some of UKOLN’s activities for the sector and also to hear examples of how the sector has been working collaboratively and plans for renewed areas of work.

Institutional Web Team Blog Aggregator

UKOLN’s Institutional Web Team Blog Aggregator was formally launched in this session. This Drupal-based service harvests blogs provided by institutional Web teams (or by individuals who working institutional Web teams) based on a list of such blogs originally gathered by Mike Nolan of Edge Hill University (unfortunately when we used this list we failed to include the Edge Hill Web Service blog itself, so apologies to Mike and his team for having failed to harvest his team’s posts). We have now added the Edge Hill Web Services blog to our list.

We will shortly be looking to set up a small group which can advise on future developments to this service (policies on blogs to be harvested; categories to be auto-classified; developments to the UI: etc.).  If you wish to submit your blog for inclusion in the blog aggregator,  a submission form is available from the blog’s home page, as illustrated.

Semantic Web Demonstrator

Two of the blogs included in the blog aggregator are written by IWMW stalwarts who joined in the final session.  Chris Gutteridge made a compelling case for embracing open semantic data not by talking about the underling technologies but in providing a live demonstration of a couple of services has has deployed at the University of Southampton. Chris showed how the catering manager is now a content provider on the Semantic Web by simply updating details of food available at various outlets on campus using a simple Google spreadsheet. Whereas the backend processing of this data (XLST transformations, RDF triples, etc.) may be of interest to developers, the main stakeholders (the content providers in the Catering Service and the student who wishes to see a campus map of the cheapest place to buy a bar of Kit Kat on campus) simply see a compelling user service.  I think Chris providing a great way of promoting the benefits of the Semantic Web – by showing tangible benefits to the end user (why didn’t we thing of that approach before!)

Incidentally Chris mentioned that he had been inspired to set up a Web team blog after attending an IWMW event a few years ago and hearing, from Mike Nolan, I think, of the benefits to be gained from blogging. The University of Southampton ECS Web Team blog is currently the main  provider of posts related to Semantic Web and Linked Data developments. I’m really pleased that the ECS Web team is willing to share its expertise in this areas. I suspect that Chris and his colleagues will be looking forward to reading posts form other institutions who may be deployed Linked Data services – and with the blog aggegrator’s auto-categorisation feature and RSS export capability people with a n interest in this area will be able to subscribe to the Linked Data and Semantic Web channel.

Community Activities

Just before the IWMW 2011 took place Claire Gibbons, manager of the Web Team and Marketing Team published her first blog post of the year. As she described in the post she left IWMW 2010 “all refreshed and guns ablazing for blogging“. However she shortly afterwards acquired responsibility for managing the Marketing Team in addition to the Web Team and pressure of work meant she was unable to find the time to blog. And yet in her post Claire managed to summarise recent activities of the Web team and outline new areas of work her teams will be addressing in the near future.  This is valuable content – and if all 168 participants at IWMW 2011 had written a page each since last year we would have a valuable community resource which services such as the blog aggegrator could provide access to.  A page a year is clearly achievable.  Might it be possible for all attendees to write a page a month, I wonder?  That would provide over 2,000 items which could cover what Web teams have achieved and developments which are being planned.  As with many social networking services, the blog aggregator will improve as the numbers of contributor grow.  Let’s hope Claire’s post inspires others to  blog, even if infrequently.

In her post Claire described how:

There must be many activities that we are all doing, usually the boring stuff, whereby sharing ideas and resources would benefit us all. Two things spring to mind – the social media policy and the recent review to Privacy Policies that the cookies law brought about.

Claire repeated this in the closing session and invited others who have interests in these two areas to get in touch with her.  I’m looking forward to seeing how such grass-roots plans for collaboration develop.

Scottish Web Folk Regional Group

Duncan Ireland, University of Strathclyde, described how he, too, had been inspired to do something differently after attending his first IWMW event. In his case there was a realisation that there need to be more than an annual event which led to the establishment of the Scottish Web Folk Group, which has a JISCMail list and a regular meeting.  This could provide a framework for use by other regional activities – and Duncan argued that distance shouldn’t be a barrier since Web team members from the University of Aberdeen, for example, are will to spend four hours travelling since they feel there are tangible benefits to be gained from meeting with one’s peers.

IWMW 2012

The IWMW concluded by discussing next year’s event.  We can no longer automatically assume that activities which are highly regarded will necessarily continue. However we were able to report that an IWMW 2012 event has been included in our work proposals for next year and we feel that we have gathered evidence of the value and impact of the event and its importance in supporting JISC’s activities and interests.

We will shortly be starting discussions for a venue for next year’s event.  In addition we are aware that many people felt that two days were too short to ensure effective networking takes place. A show of hands in the final session made it clear that a majority would prefer a return to the three day format we have used for every year apart from the first event.  We will shortly be analysing the evaluation forms in order to gather a more complete picture which will help us to inform our planning for next year.

To conclude, I feel we can say that there is an institutional Web management community which is willing to engage and collaborate. As I said in the title of this post, there are “New Opportunities for the Institutional Web Management Community” :-)

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3 Responses to “New Opportunities for the Institutional Web Management Community”

  1. lizgross said

    Thanks for linking to my blog post!

  2. In amongst the other 3,000 words, it would be nice if http://iwtb.ukoln.info/feeds was the homepage of the aggregator :)

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