Whilst discovering and confirming institutional needs are necessary when approaching a feasibility project for any technical solution, it is good practice to exercise due diligence and to cast the net more broadly. Such efforts can insure that lessons learned from experiences elsewhere can be incorporated into the project and not discovered once a solution has been purchased and commissioned.
As part of the requirements stage of our web publishing model project, we have undertaken market research to ascertain what our competitors use to maintain their web presence.
Focusing on our competitors; other universities in The Guardian’s top 20 list as well as websites that have been newly revised, we have been working hard to gather the feedback of our colleagues across the UK via on-line questionnaires and interviews over the telephone. We have also been invited on a few road trips along the way (which we are considering taking up!).
Prior to our engagement with other universities, we conducted investigative research around what technologies they used to update their sites. Recording these findings we then identified members or teams around each University to make our initial approach and to discover more about . Armed with this useful information, we were able to contact Universities prepared with a reasonable picture on how they were interacting with their own website.
Through questionnaires, we were able to identify common trends; from confederated, decentralised publisher models (with schools that publish themselves) through to technical systems (WordPress, Drupal and Terminal Four are very popular), right through to some of the common issues that all universities face when trying to communicate with students and how to approach them (such as having multiple types of publishers with the need to varying levels of administrative privileges).
Out of conversations with development and marketing teams we learned (or moreover confirmed our own predictions) that no one solution would ever be perfect from the viewpoint of the delicate balance between usability and functional prowess. That said, like here at Kent, a strong support structure was identified as key to allow for adoption of a new solution, teaching how to best utilise the solution and foster best practise, intervene to provide support when things go awry but also to identify scope for developing solutions around a University’s needs.
Our findings have been enlightening and have helped us gain significant ground on the types of solutions that we will recommend in the reporting stage of our project. Coupled with the investigative work that we have conducted with publishers at Kent, we have been able to evaluate available solutions, compare those experiences of other universities to those of our own, and visualise pitfalls that have affected other institutions undertaking similar projects to our own.