28 August 2019 - Creating content in HE - lessons learnt from a ucisa bursary

Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) 2018


The theme of IWMW 2018, which I was able to attend courtesy of a ucisa bursary, focused on revisiting what it means to create content within an HE institution. As someone who assists institutional web managers through their use of our team’s technical solution – the Oxford Mosaic Web Platform - this provided me an opportunity to understand our users’ requirements when engaging with the website planning, building, and managing process.


Assessing our service offering in response to users’ requirements

The talk about ‘invisible labour’ and the unseen tasks that fall to devolved web teams, by Gareth Edwards from the University of Greenwich, provided me with insights into how these teams work with content management systems, which was valuable in identifying possible areas where our service offering may need to focus. It also prompted me to think about the invisible labour within my team’s work and how we might begin to address this unseen work as a starting point to improving the efficiency of our service provision.

In response to this and some of the other talks, I outlined how our team might engage in improving our service offering:

• Review all components of the service and map how they link together
• Draw up some user stories for our service users: find out who they are and what they want to achieve
• Come up with user journeys for these personas: identify paths within the service they currently need to follow to achieve their aims
• Find out where the friction points are and what users currently find difficult to do
• Solutionise: what can we change to improve our users’ experience of the service?
• Put together a list of proposed changes
• Get the proposed changes into our current workflow and make doing them part of our normal line of work.

This method represents a large amount of investigative work, which is difficult for our team to dedicate time to. Nonetheless, we have started by making changes to our service information so some of the complex tasks users need to perform are easier to understand: such as creating a dynamic custom domain request process to reduce confusion on the user’s side and the support load on the service team. To make further changes, I will be balancing tactical wins and strategic aims, which is an approach that our team is used to employing.


Continue to develop a digital pattern book for web publishing

The Oxford Mosaic Pattern Book was implemented to help our users understand the layout options offered within our toolkit. It was created following lessons learned by my line manager when she attended IWMW 2017 and heard about the University of St Andrew’s work to produce a Pattern Library guidance document for its web teams.

I left IWMW 2018 with the impression that content creation teams value the ability to create engaging content more than navigating the technical peculiarities of a content management system. That’s another way to say that teams who want to make content want to do it easily with the tools provided. This led me to modify the information provided on the Pattern Book so that it more clearly communicates to content creation teams how the CMS’s options can be used to construct a visual identity for their website, and get the most out of the tools offered.


Meeting other early-career professionals at the conference

I instigated a ‘birds of a feather’ (BoF) event for early career professionals in the UK HE Digital industry during the conference. This was promoted twice during the plenary sessions, and by me on the IWMW Slack channel. It was attended by a (very) small group of young professionals working in HE digital – there were three of us in total.

It was interesting to speak to the other BoF attendees and hear their experiences working in content-focused teams at their respective institutions. Both talked about how their roles provided them a broad remit (which was seen as a positive) but did also note that resourcing within their teams was limited, which often resulted in increased workloads.

On speaking to a member of the IWWM organizing committee towards the end of the event, we talked about BoF meetup and I mentioned the relatively small turnout. We speculated that it may have been partly due to the tightly-knit nature of the event, resulting in people who were already well-connected to others spending time catching up and exchanging notes; it is also worth noting that the majority of attendees were not IWMW first-timers, and they were often experienced members of their respective teams.

If I was to approach the meetup idea again, I would consider ways to appeal to a wider constituency of conference attendees. I would possibly look at opening a conversation about the ways attendees’ teams engage with their institutions’ requirements, with the aim of understanding the breadth of day-to-day experiences present at the conference and, eventually, finding commonalities and differences, and the lessons these shared experiences can provide.


Availability to attendees as a UCISA sponsoree

I made myself known to the IWMW attendees as a ucisa sponsoree (promoted in two of the announcement slots during plenary sessions). I was available during breakout sessions, to help promote the bursary scheme, however, I did not receive any questions about this.


Social media updates during the conference

I posted updates from the conference on LinkedIn and on the HE Digital Slack channel. However, these communication channels weren’t popular for real-time engagement during the conference; they were mainly used for announcements, rather than conversations. Instead, Twitter was the preferred channel for mid-conference conversations, and I followed attendees’ exchanges on it during the plenary sessions. I don’t have a Twitter account, but considered getting one to be able to better participate in these conversations.


Personal professional development since the conference

Since attending IWMW, my personal development focus has moved towards user experience design. This interest was partly developed out of the lessons taken from IWMW. Attending the conference allowed me to step outside the immediate surroundings of the Mosaic platform’s development team and meet a range of institutional web professionals. By doing this, I developed a greater understanding of the content creation and management needs of many digital teams in HE, and in doing so, this caused me to reflect on how I and my team can better serve this type of user through our technical and service offering. By thinking about the interaction of web, or content, managers with the technical tools they use, I began to consider how improvements to the usability of tools and services benefit these users. In turn, this led to an interest in user experience design methods with a view to applying them to specific parts of our service offering. I am now training myself via online user experienced design courses, and I have taken on more design responsibilities (as and when they arise) within my team.