For many of us who work in internal communications, the intranet has long been an integral tool in reaching our colleagues and sharing key information and news.
However, over time intranets also have a nasty habit of becoming a bit of an unmanageable beast and more of a communication problem than a solution.
Information had become out-of-date and no longer ‘owned’ by service areas
This was certainly the case at Devon County Council. We’ve been aware for quite some time that our existing intranet was no longer fit for purpose, that behind the landing page it largely consisted of out-of-date, often hard to find information historically posted by a host of authors. Crucially much of this information was no longer ‘owned’ by service areas.
We were also working closer than ever before with partners, communities, and external agencies that could not easily access information we pointed to on the intranet or wanted to share with them.
It was clear that a major overhaul was needed to breathe new life into our intranet. And that this also presented us with an opportunity to be more open and transparent with our information – why couldn’t the information our staff have access to also be in the public domain?
This is still a relatively new idea in local government so we began by looking at other organisations who have taken the plunge such as Royal Mail and Asda Walmart to understand how they do it.
Feeling inspired, our Digital Communications Team began to develop a plan that we could present to our Leadership Group and Digital Delivery Board. We knew that taking traditionally internal information into the public domain could cause some concern, especially when taking into consideration the amount of sensitive and confidential information that we look after as a County Council.
Internal staff were encouraged to discover the reasons behind the new approach
We took a great deal of time exploring platforms that would protect this information, and created a clear flow chart to help illustrate how we would decide what information to share. We also developed a clear set of messages for use with our internal audiences to explain why we were taking this new approach.
This pre-planning really helped us and discussions with our Leadership Group and Digital Delivery Board were hugely positive. They basically said – just get on with it!
Working closely with colleagues in our service areas, we began a thorough audit of the current content to identify which information was to be kept, removed, kept behind a password protected Microsoft SharePoint site, or published in the public domain– a massive task but worth taking the time over.
We also used analytics from our existing intranet which are great as they help confirm to a service that the content they think is important to keep was only looked at once last year. Analytics also helped us to design the front page of the new website – Inside Devon – so we could easily guide colleagues to the information they wanted to know.
Our Digital Team worked up a test site with WordPress, using the GovIntranet theme developed by Helpful Technology. With around 10,000 FTE colleagues working across a wide geographical area – 2,500 square miles of Devon – it was important that they all get up-to-the-minute information about what’s happening wherever they are, so we have made sure Inside Devon displays on any device.
We soft launched Inside Devon a couple of months ago, and while it’s early days, so far, we’ve received excellent feedback on the test site. We will be analysing traffic to the site over the coming months and continue to ask colleagues from across the Council and beyond for feedback. We want to make sure we can fully respond to feedback following a full launch, which we hope will be soon.
It’s a very exciting time and in many respects, I wish we had started to look at this earlier. Careful pre-planning and buy-in at the top have been key to our success, but be prepared for some challenging conversations – early engagement is vital.
We are all very keen to see how the site develops, how people use it to find the information they need, and most importantly, how we can all make the most of this refreshed communication tool.
Article by Paula Miles, the Internal Communications and Stakeholder Relations Manager (Strategic Lead) at Devon County Council