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University Web Developers

So, I had a random thought tonight I'm going to try to execute on - assuming I can mitigate The Authority's panic response to the potential "risks." I want to try having a town hall type meeting on campus with faculty, staff, students, and community to have an open talk about our website. No restrictions: website, student portal, other tools, needs, failures, successes, etc. 


Has anyone else done something like this? I feel like it'd be a great way especially to get faculty to realize just how much more important the web is outside of their bubbles when they hear folks talking about all the other stuff they want to be able to do. Analytics and surveys only go so far, and I've always been one to say that the best way to find things out is to get up out of the office and go ask them.

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Brilliant idea. I'm imagining this in my head, and to have administration and faculty there while students speak their mind could be really eye opening and put a spotlight on what it takes to meet their expectations. Could start some big conversations.

I can't think of a valid argument against it. Of course some may not want to open a can of worms because it would create more work for them, but I think that's the equivalent of sticking fingers in your ears and saying "la la la".

Getting real feedback is crucial. I didn't know what I was missing until I started using things like 4Q and Kampyle.

How do you imagine setting up the event? Big auditorium with a projector/screen and mics for the audience? A large computer lab would be great, or somehow allowing people to have the site in front of them while talking about it...

I'm thinking like an auditorium or big room in the student union. Screen with the site to go through things. A moderator (either myself or my boss), and a panel of ~6 people to represent some of the various parts of our web presence: IT (student portal), athletics, alumni, library, Mar/Comm, ed support (LMS). Then, just basically open mic it, with the moderator leading through some general categories (maybe grouping comments by components of the site, or by concepts).

Generally, I find any time you open yourself up to criticism, administration gets very nervous. Personally, I'm fine with it, because I pretty much know the problems to begin with, so it won't be a surprise for me (and really, should reinforce a lot of what I'm already saying we should focus on). I think going the panel route, it would be important to prep the other members, as they either might not be as knowledgeable about the underpinnings, or be ready for some of the possible critiques they'll get.

I think one of the interesting values here is getting discrete audiences together. We always talk about all the audiences we serve, and we tend to approach that by grouping/surveying them separately, but the reality is there are no defined lines when it comes to the site itself. These folks all go all over. Could yield really interesting usability solutions to different parts of the site.

The idea is great, and I agree w/ you critizism is fine as long as it's kept constructive.   I can see two points of failure, each of which is manageable.   


1) If you want administration to 'have an awaking" about the significance of the website, you need to make sure they (Admin) is properly represented at the meeting, or you have a way of disseminating the information from the meeting in a way that they will review the findings.


2) What are the action items from the meeting?  Who is going to decide which ideas deserve some further investigation. There will be some tangential comments, and I find people have a tendency to get nervous because they think there has to be taken on all suggestions from a open discussion.  Once you've defined which ones to move forward w/, define the sponsor and make it happen.    


I'm quite interested in hearing about your results.  We're in the middle of a site redesign and depending on how that goes for you I may look at something similar for our version two.   



Honestly, I see this as being much more for my benefit, than administration's. Folks pretty much understand the importance of the web here at this point. I just feel that we run too often on assumptions about user needs, so I want to make sure I'm aligning my efforts with what audiences are actually feeling.

As for action items, I think you go in with a list of talking points prepared. High level stuff mostly. Then just have the moderator lead discussion as it makes sense. A good moderator should be able to do this anyway, and if you don't discourage particular threads and tangents, you could uncover very interesting things.

Instead of a town hall (they tend not to be well attended at our school), we held a series of informal chats about the website.  We broke the first series of them down by students, faculty, and staff.  We got a lot of valuable insight on many elements of our website.  As expected, some groups had the completely opposite opinion from the other.  The plan is to turn this into kind of a website user's group, with quarterly discussions about the website.

Dee, this is a good idea.  We are also in the middle of a re-design and we have formed a web advisory group from the different units within the School. Each unit is represented and they will "test" the designs in the development environment. We are carefully planning and prototyping interactions as well as implementing a whole new content strategy so the content does not become stagnant (big issue for us).  Our approach is agile as we use the dev environment for the iterations. 


The web advisory board is not a decision committee, so it won’t slow down the redesign process when in disagreement of what works and what doesn’t.  I am not taking leaps of faith when it comes to user needs; I need concrete user research and testing to demystify the assumptions that administration has about the users.    The first interviews gave us a good “base” for the new design, and now it is onto the real testing and see if what we came up with would be effective with our audience groups.  In part, I think that this approach allows us to better collaborate and come together with the vision we have for the new site, but we would also have the user test data to justify our design decisions.



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