Thinking out loud

This is more writing therapy for me than a considered blog entry – but your thoughts and  suggestions would be very welcome…

I am about to start working on  an internal comms programme for a public body which is both security conscious and has offices widely dispersed across the country.  One of the things I’ve been asked to look at is developing the intranet and making it into a more vibrant form of cross-departmental communication.  I am convinced that the words “vibrant” and “intranet” don’t generally belong in the same sentence – no organisation I’ve ever worked for has had such a thing,  and some have sunk large amounts of money into failing to develop one.  I’ve used systems where the intranet is the compulsory first screen on everyone’s pc so company messages can be shoved in front of people as they log in, but that’s always seemed to be easily ignorable – for most people the log-on process is as automatic (and memorable) as brushing their teeth.   So, examples, please of intranet systems which really work and which can be set up and maintained with a minimum of woman-power in the back office. I evidently shouldn’t have opted out of the internal comms module on the course!

I’d love to find a way to make it a properly participatory network, but the spectre of the Virgin Facebook debacle keeps floating in front of my eyes.   With this in mind, I was intrigued to see reports of a Demos pamphlet about the impact of social media in improving collaboration within organisations.  The public sector seems to come out as mistrusting the use of social media networking tools by staff.  Admittedly the stuff I’ve seen about this is from New Zealand rather than the UK, but I find it hard to believe that the UK is more adventurous! So, is anyone aware of any innovative use of this stuff in the public sector – which preferably won’t land me on the front page of every newspaper in the country as a threat to the nation’s security?


6 responses to “Thinking out loud

  1. The typical intranet seems to me to be a stagnant backwater lacking in compelling reasons to visit.

    There must be better tools for employee engagement and encouraging a participatory culture. But which social media forms could be described as ‘two-way symmetrical’ (ie a genuine forum for discussion amongst equals)? I can only think of one – and have too few good examples in practice to show you.

    I think wikis have the potential to be genuinely collaborative (think Wikipedia|), and they have potential to work within discrete internal groups, or to be based on particular projects.

    But it’s disappointing to note how few good examples there are: I think back to how we were using Lotus Notes as a corporate resource back in the early 1990s, and think we’ve not progressed far. That said, the cost of deployment is a BIG advantage now. Good luck!

  2. sarahgillingwater

    We’ve recently revamped our intranet after an internal comms audit and the staff survey showed it wasn’t easily navigated and was seen as a bit dull. Also from an internal comms point of view, stats showed it was really only being used for staff to find forms and policies, rather than as a comms / news channel.

    It’s early days yet, but the new design and structure have had good feedback, more departments have been in touch about creating new content – and we’re currently thinking about adding comment functionality at the bottom of each story.

    I’ll let you know how it goes!

  3. Intranets are a strange beast because so many people outside of the communications department don’t understand what it means and why it is different to a public website.

    I’ve always found that you need to make the intranet a place to visit – I agree that just using it as the first screen will never work. Allowing staff to use different applications through it (online forms from HR, IT etc) and introducing a social area (with guidance) have helped. And it needs to have synergy with other comms methods (we stopped all-user emails so staff posted on our intranet noitceboard instead). You also need to give staff ownership for their own areas otherwise they’ll never realise the benefit for themselves.

    Another sticking point I always come across is the physical access to a computer. I don’t know about yours, but in my organisation not everyone has regular access to a computer and so time to use email/intranet is non-existant/limited. I’ve always advocated having staff only computer areas (in the tea room, canteen etc), so they can always have the opportunity to access information (and no excuses!).

    If you want some further reading it might be worth trying Melcrum’s website ( – last year they released a report about using social media to engage employees.

  4. Thanks to everyone for these comments. Lee’s point about access to a computer is going to be particularly relevant to this problem (which makes me wonder why they’re so keen on the intranet at all…) I will keep wrestling with it and no doubt will come back for more advice!

  5. As a thought, you could add a ‘news feed’ to the front page of the Intranet with updated news about the organisation from whoever monitors the coverage. Keeps it up to date and also helps employees read about what the external audience is thinking or saying.

    Photos of all employees listed alongside their contact details can be fun too (staff directory).

  6. If an intranet as an opening screen is going to work then interesting and interactive articles need to appear. Our Principal is talking about havinga blog as we go into merger with two other colleges but would we all want to read this? Surely the local gossip would be far more interesting! Seriously though, easy access, relevance of information and ownership are key areas for consideration.

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