Opening the (Flood)Gates

‘Mister’ Roy Bayfield reflects on empowerment of users

Part of the next stage of evolution of the Edge Hill site will be greater distribution of direct content creation across academic departments. This won’t be some clunky CMS that costs a fortune, takes ages to implement, adds layers of semi-automated bureaucracy and then doesn’t work anyway. Instead, we intend to give selected people (whoever their department decides to nominate) access to tools that are as simple as blogging, ie they will be able to write, embed images and video and click publish – job done.

Isn’t this all a bit scary? Will dozens or hundreds of staff suddenly be bestowed with the combined powers of King Midas, Dr Frankenstein and the Sorceror’s Apprentice? Well…maybe. But the alternative – failing to do justice to the rich diversity of research, scholarship, student work and experience across the University – is even scarier. It has become easier to publish to the web (on, say, Facebook) than it is to put a PowerPoint presentation together, so why would people want to have to send stuff to other people to place online?

Well one reason is that an organisation such as ours has to manage its reputation carefully. Another consideration is the quasi-contractual status of published information, particularly relating to courses. An incorrect or outdated claim about, say, professional accreditation could get us sued. All very well for the Cluetrain Manifesto to quote Herman Melville saying “”Let us speak, though we show all our faults and weaknesses — for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it…” – how many QAA audits or Ofsted inspections did he have to go through?

There are some serious issues to consider. But for me these aren’t reasons not to enable a broader group to publish directly online – just reminders that we have to do it properly.

There are a number of things we have to get right. Off the top of my head, these include
– The people-management within departments
– Tone of voice – when to be informal and when to be corporate
– Training and standards so that we don’t trip ourselves up with, say, copyright violations
– Links between centrally-produced, corporate content (such as quality-assured prospectus entries, PR features) and locally-produced material
– Non-duplication
– Developing the right system that is easy to use
– Navigation so that routes through the site, for various key user groups, actually lead to the cool new content that will be popping up all over the site.

It will be an exciting New Year.