Inside story of first open Council intranet

Devon County Council is the first council to put its staff pages (intranet) in the public domain.

This site is public and accessible to everyone. This means that employees who are managed by partner organisations, such as the NHS, can view the same information.

What’s the one piece of advice to enable you to do something similar? Paula Miles, Internal Communications and Stakeholder Relations Manager (Strategic Lead) at the council says: “Get buy-in from the top and from the word go. Then get on with it.”

Love that!

Paula Tweeted me the news a few days ago to tell me about Inside Devon. But why did the council do it? What was the process? How did they get permission?

All these questions sprang to mind when she got in touch and I’m thrilled she is here to share the inside story with readers of the All Things IC blog.

Paula (pictured) has answered questions including my ones above and many more, which you can find below.

I’ve written numerous times about the blurred lines between internal and external comms. This is another example of that in action and I welcome it. You’ll see from her answers the journey the council has been on to make it happen and the fact it’s an ongoing process.

(If you want to discuss the topic of internal/external comms blurring, see CIPR Inside’s event on 25 May from 6-8pm here in London).

Paula is happy to receive feedback from fellow communicators – you can Tweet her @PaulaMiles37.

Here’s what the site looks like:

Paula told me: “To the best of our knowledge, Devon County Council @DevonCC is the first council to begin the transfer of the intranet wholesale into the public domain, with the exception of sensitive or confidential information. All very exciting!

“Inside Devon is currently a beta test site so is still under development and subject to change but once the transition is complete we will have all our news, ‘How do I?’ functions and policies in one place.”

1. What led to that decision? How long had you been planning it for?

We’ve been aware for quite some time that our existing intranet was no longer fit for purpose – familiar to colleagues and Members but made up of out-of date, often hard to find information historically posted by a host of authors.

While the communications team curated the front end of the intranet which included key staff news, information and engagement channels, it was clear that an overhaul of the whole site was long overdue.

It was also apparent that as Devon County Council began to change the way it operates and delivers service, we were working closer than ever before with partners, communities and external agencies that couldn’t easily access information on the intranet that we pointed to or wished to share with them.

And we want to be more open and transparent – apart from confidential and sensitive information, why shouldn’t all the information staff have access to also be in the public domain?

Definitely time for a radical change! About two years ago, our digital comms team suggested a public domain website as a solution that would deliver a useful resource for staff, Members and partners.

2. Who were the internal influencers and stakeholders who had to agree it could happen? How long did that take and how did it happen?

We’ve had buy-in from our Leadership Group and Digital Delivery Board from day one – they basically said to crack on with it!

We all knew that there would be challenging conversations with service areas about stripping back their information and moving much of it into the public domain, but we had the mandate to make it happen.

3. Like many councils, you have hard-to-reach workers, what difference will this site make for them?

With around 10,000 FTE colleagues working across a wide geographical area – 2,500 square miles of Devon – it’s important that they can all get up-to-the minute information about what’s happening at the Council.

Inside Devon displays on any device so colleagues can access it anywhere and we will also be defaulting all browser start screens to the site in a couple of weeks to ensure higher visibility.

4. What barriers did you face when creating the site and idea for it?

No one likes changes and there was some concern expressed about the public nature of the site.

But we developed key contacts in our service areas who helped us with an extensive audit of the intranet content, and had some great conversations about openness and partnership working which helped us get to where we are today.

5. What went well?

Implementation of the site went very well and we’ve had some fantastic, positive feedback since we launched the beta test version.

We are still open to feedback though, so this could change!

6. What platform are you using?

WordPress, using the GovIntranet theme developed by Helpful Technology, who have worked with a number of central Government departments.

7. What about sensitive data? E.g. information relating to childrens’ services?

As much content as possible will be accessible to all – including our partners and the public.

However we do hold confidential information and anyone wishing to access this will be directed to a secure, password protected service (SharePoint).

8. Is there anything that has surprised you about the process?

The transition process takes time. Inside Devon is still in its draft stage so some of the links appear as the old links on our former LiveLink pages.

But soon, all the links will work without any issues.

9. What can other communicators learn? Any top tips?

Get buy-in from the top from the word go; then get on with it.

Be prepared to challenge those in service areas; the difficult conversations are worth it. Analytics are great as they help confirm to a service that the content they think is important was only actually looked at once last year.

It can be a challenge to meet so many different needs and expectations so early engagement and perseverance are vital. Have a plan about what qualifies to be in the public domain, and what needs to be private, and stick to it.

10.What is your measure of success?

That staff and partners can find what they need quickly and efficiently.

We will monitor this with metrics, user testing, and surveys, and we have live chat and feedback on the site to field immediate requests. Feedback from comms colleagues reading this also very welcome!

Thank you very much Paula.

Blurred lines
I’ve written about external/internal websites on my blog for years, including Asda’s Green Room (back in 2009!), Heineken’s Green Room, Royal Mail, National Grid, Co-op and Tesco to name a few.

But this is certainly the first council I’m aware of to take this approach.

Here’s what those sites look like:

Best of luck Paula, do keep us posted with how you get on and thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

What do you think? As ever you’re welcome to comment below or Tweet me @AllthingsIC.


First published on the All Things IC blog 19 May 2017.


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