UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Reflections on #IWMW14

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 July 2014

IWMW 2.014: Rebooting the Web

IWMW 2014, the 18th annual Institutional Web Management Workshop, took place last week, from 16-20 July, at Northumbria University. The theme of this year’s event was “rebooting the web“: an idea which came from a participant at last year’s event who felt that, although he felt there was a continued need for an event focussed on the needs of those involved in providing institutional Web services, the event would benefit from ‘rebooting’.

The cessation of Jisc funding for UKOLN meant that the event would change its focus in any case. When the event benefitted rom Jisc funding we tried to ensure that we provided a forum for Jisc-funded work, including Jisc services and Jisc-funded projects, which were involved in web-related activities.

This year the content was very focussed on sharing of institutional case studies. In addition this year future-gazing was informed by observing work of early adopters, with advocacy on the benefits of new ways of working being based on organisational issues rather than technological developments.

The Key Themes

Perspectives from Outside

The event began with three talks which provided Perspectives from Outside.

tweet-about Tracy Playle's talkTracy Playle, Picklejar Communications, opened the event with a talk on “Why you don’t need a social media plan and how to create one anyway“. Tracy argued that you shouldn’t create a social media plan in isolation from other activities, including real world engagement activities. A second point which Tracy made was picked up by David Aldred:  “good social content has to be able to have balls – use humour and cross lines. Difficult if committees involved!” This is also true of talks at events – and it was pleasing that many of the speakers were willing to make controversial points or make their pointes in controversial ways which, I suspect, would not go down well with the institution’s marketing team! Perhaps the lack of live video streaming at the event for the first time in several years resulted in more honest and open talks.

christinamcg's tweet about Paul BoagThe need to challenge mainstream orthodoxies in providing institutional Web service was continued by Paul Boag in his talk on “Digital Adaptation: Time to Untie Your Hands “. Paul argued that there was a clear need for changes in the approaches to the provision of Web services which have been taken in the past and of the need to circumvent institutional bureaucracies. He recommended the establishment of a ‘digital transformation team’ to replace the existing Web team as a recognition of the importance of transforming current business processes in light of the impact of today’s digital environment. Christina McGuire (@christinamcg) provided a value service during the event in her comprehensive tweets about the plenary talks. She tweeted a summary of one of Paul’s key recommendationscreate a Digital Transformation Team – name = crucial. Digital = more than a website…transformation = communicates not service“.

The final talk in the session from speakers who were invited to give their perspectives from outside the institutional Web management perspective was given by Martin Hawksey. His talk had an intriguing title “Hyper-connectEd: Filling the vacuum by switching from blow to suck”  Martin’s talk sought to provide a big picture, going beyond institutional Web management issues and addressing the nature of education in higher education in a networked environment. Martin drew parallels with centralised, decentralised and distributed networks and the changing nature of education, and provided some examples of moves towards distributed approaches to leaning. Martin also helpfully published a blog post shortly before he gave his talk in which he explained that “The main idea I want to convey is that in a world which is benefiting from being digitally distributed, networked and increasing crowd driven the IWMW audience is in the prime position to support their institutions creating opportunities for learning aligned to this“.

Institutional Case Studies

Kevin Mears sketch note for Ross Ferguson's talk.The opening day provided inspirational and provocative talks which argued the need for significant changes to the ways we go about providing Web services in higher education. The second and third days provided an opportunity to hear case studies about how institutions have been delivering a variety of services, ranging from use of the Google Cloud Platform for providing the infrastructure for delivering services; ensuring that the importance of the user  experience (UX) is being addressed; rebooting an institutional portal; developing web applications to support work allocation and adopting startup approaches to support the rapid delivery of institutional services.

The talk which seems to generate the most interest and discussion was given by Ross Ferguson, Head of Digital at the University of Bath. His talk on “Using the start-up playbook to reboot a big university website” echoed the point made by Tracy Playle on the opening day on what she referred to as “benign violation“: as can be seen from Kevin Mears’ sketch note of the talk, Ross’s slides had not been approved by the marketing team, with his passion for use of startup methodologies in a university context being presented in a forthright fashion which violated conference norms!

Ross’s description of the approaches which are being taken by the Digital team at the University of Bath also reflect Paul Boag’s suggestions, including the name of the team: “Digital Marketing and Communications” and Ross’s job title of “head of digital”.

Looking To The Future

In addition to the first part of the institutional case studies the second day also provided two talks which provided data-driven insights into the web environment which may help to shape future developments.

Ranjit Sidhu opened the session on Looking To The Future in a talk on “You are ALL so weird!” University sector analysis and trends“. One comment Ranjit made which I found of particular interest was the apparent lack of interest in gathering data related to research. As Luca Macis commented:

Business values every single bit of publicity and data. Universities don’t do this. Especially with Research. We undervalue research

Christina McGuire's tweetPerhaps gathering usage data related to research activities tends to be of concern to library staff and research support units rather than institutional web teams. But Ranjit’s comment that we are seeing a decline in traffic to university home pages will be very relevant. This is a trend I first observed in 2011 and described in a post which asked Are University Web Sites in Decline? At the time I concluded:

the evidence is suggesting that we are seeing a slight decrease in the amount of traffic to institutional Web sites for Russell Group Universities

It will be interesting to see the trend over the past three years and invite discussions on the implications.

The final plenary talk I will comment on also described approaches in gathering data not only for use in national services, such as equipment.data.ac.uk, but also in providing answers to the question “What Does The Data Tell Us About UK University Web Sites?“. In his presentation Chris Gutteridge provided background details of the data.ac.uk service  and encouraged participants to create an institutional Organisational Profile Document (OPD).

Finding Out More

Lanyrd page for iwmw 2014A year ago, after the end of the IWMW 2013 event, I described how The Job’s Not Over Till The Paperwork’s Complete. This year is no different. Links are being added to the IWMW 2014 web site. But the most useful resource is the IWMW 2014 Lanyrd entry since this allows others to add links to relevant resources.

The Lanyrd page will provide links to resources which are directly associated with individual talks as well as to generic resources. For example the Lanyrd page for Martin Hawksey’s talk contains links to his slides, the accompanying blog post,  Kevin Mears’ sketch notes of his talk and a Storify summary of tweets made during the talk (and other talks held on the same day).

Generic resources which are linked to from the Lanyrd coverage page include Flickr photographs taken by the Netskills team, other Flickr photos with the IWMW14 tag, Storify Twitter archives for day 1, day 2 and day 3, the Eventifier Twitter archive, a location map of those who tweeted with the event hashtag and Martin Hawksey’s TAGS Twitter archive and the TAGSExplorer visualisation of Twitter conversations.

Additional resources, including blog posts about the event, will be added when I become aware of them.

IWMW 2015: Digital Transformation

I will shortly be reviewing the comments provided by IWMW 2014 delegates on the event evaluation form. However the feedback I received during the event was very positive and there seemed to be broad agreement that the event should continue.

The major challenge in planning for a similar event next year will be managing the financial outlay in, for example, paying deposits on room bookings and accommodation – and the associated risks if things go wrong. This year’s event was organised by myself, Netskills and Cetis, with Cetis providing support for outreach and marketing but the financial outgoings were made by myself and Netskills. I will be looking at new models for organising the event next year – to avoid the worries I had this year when the numbers of bookings were low a month before the event took place.

There will also be a need to reflect on the talks given at this year’s event and the discussions which they generated. In the final panel session at the event Stephen Emmott, Michael Nolan, Mike McConnell and Tracey Milnes led an open discussion on “What is our vision for the institutional web and can we implement that vision?” There seemed to be broad agreement on the need to recognise the diversity of approaches which are being taken across the sector. There also seemed to be agreement that the words ‘institutional’ and ‘web’  are now longer as relevant as they were in the past for the Institutional Web Management event.

In light of this feedback I wonder whether IWMW should not longer be regarded as an abbreviation, but is simple used as a term to describe the event. And perhaps for next year them theme should be “digital transformation”. What do you think?

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