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Mike McConnell Iain A. Middleton

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1 Mike McConnell Iain A. Middleton
Rationalism vs. Incrementalism: two opposing or complementary strategies for effecting change in HEI web development Mike McConnell Iain A. Middleton Online Information, 4th December 2001, London

2 Overview Definitions Background: HEI web sites Change
Rational and incremental approaches compared: The Robert Gordon University (RGU) University of Aberdeen (UoA) Conclusions

3 Definitions Rationalism - the project approach
Define the desired future state Identify the activities and allocate the resources required to achieve it Incrementalism- the process approach Can’t necessarily define ideal future state Recognise limited resources Acknowledge need for compromise

4 Why do HEIs need web sites?
Sell Services Courses, research, consultancy, etc. Facilitate relationships and communication Academic, student, research partners, peers, clients, communities local and national and thus Represent the whole institution

5 Characteristics of HEI web sites
heterogeneous audience not just one goal but many multi-purpose site many & diverse independent contributors, each with own agenda How do we build a coherent institutional web site from such diversity?

6 Required elements

7 Reality Historical reasons for having a web site Because we can:
The technology is there I suppose we ought to: Everybody else has one Amateurs/enthusiasts I can do HTML! I want to advertise my research I have a hobby…

8 Resultant problem

9 Consequences no overall editorial goal
is it any more than the sum of its parts? competing priorities that become conflicts patchwork of technologies and tools uncoordinated/inconsistent/patchy outdated/irrelevant/duplicated/incorrect information Result: poor reflection of the institution

10 Evolution and realisation

11 Conflict - green field vs continuity
Centralised control Desire at senior level for “a better web site” If we spend £x we could get one like theirs We want consistency Branding! Exists to sell the institution The university web site Departmental freedom What about all the work we’ve already done? We’re used to doing it this way We’re unique No thanks Exists for our own many individual purposes Our web site

12 Revolution – or evolution?
Change from collection of pages to institutional communications asset essential Continuity of existing information ecology is also vital Need a path which satisfies both the need for change and continuity Examples of 2 different paths

13 Rationalist Case Study - RGU
Where we were: c 20,000 pages 1 central & 5 independent servers pockets of proactivity and enthusiasm: Patchwork by outsourcers, individuals, enthusiasts no supported authoring tool, minimal training non-representation, non-participation of key areas ownership and responsibility grey areas

14 Rationalist Case Study - RGU
Decision to act consensus on need for change common ground with “web enablement” vision representations to SMT from Web Editor & departments insufficient resource, skills, tools and support under existing setup Result: significant resources were made available

15 Rationalist Case Study - RGU
Project approach - objectives: support and enhance student recruitment site-wide consistency of appearance implement non-technical publishing web-enable specific business processes be ‘recognised as leader’

16 Rationalist Case Study - RGU
Implementation: management driven project board and team established key players identified discussion/development groups established deliverables defined timescales and deadlines set

17 Rationalist Case Study - RGU
Positive Outcomes delivered on time, within budget attractive, accessible web site all content areas represented easy, browser based publication technological infrastructure

18 Rationalist Case Study - RGU
Possible negative outcomes did tight timescale give long-term answer? focus on product – but procedure? other work frozen for duration of project content quality control legacy site confusion will new publication tools suit future needs?

19 Incrementalist Case Study - UoA
Where we were: c 100,000 pages 1 central and 8 major independent servers large, active devolved body of authors most parts represented - but variable quality

20 Incrementalist Case Study - UoA
Decision to act: process approach/guided evolution - a framework for future development non prescriptive broad/flexible remit: “ensure an effective and professional presence… through design, maintenance & consultation” focus on facilitating organic growth/participation

21 Incrementalist Case Study - UoA
Implementation: web strategy group web team manager (information skills) webmaster (technical skills) developers web co-ordinators ‘community’ standard authoring tool + training two way process

22 Incrementalist Case Study - UoA
Positive Outcomes depts and SMT involved policies and procedures established tools, training and support free editorial and advisory service cost effective in-house resource for authoring depts are willing to pay for professional service environment created for ongoing definition and delivery of solutions:

23 Incrementalist Case Study - UoA
Possible Negative outcomes development is open ended – potentially endless development has low visibility compromise may dilute site impact Conclusions 

24 Pros of rationalist approach at RGU
mandated change - stasis not an option allowed radical thinking broadened participation forced issues to be addressed co-operatively broke down barriers, forged new partnerships high impact, high visibility feelgood factor

25 Cons of rationalist approach at RGU
The right objectives? how many fingers in the pie? is success defined appropriately? does the imperative compromise the long-term? does the ‘obvious’ compromise the underlying? (e.g. graphics, technology) whatever can be produced in time available committees – democracy vs progress action does not follow agreement perceived as imposition quality of input & restricted timescale

26 Pros of incrementalist approach at UoA
inclusive - truly representative of institution cognoscenti involved in objective setting focuses on sustaining ecology, not on deliverable process is transparent enhances communication conserves resource acknowledges objectives are not necessarily expressed in terms of “a set of web pages”

27 Cons of incrementalist approach at UoA
change can be slow charged resource favours wealthier departments peaks and troughs in demand popular opinion is not necessarily the best dependent on key individuals dependent on departmental ethos - participation not mandatory no launch party

28 Remember: departments already provide content:
which satisfies their immediate needs within the limits of their resources, skills and ambition if you want more from them they will need : tools, support, guidance & possibly additional resource some point/objective/goal which benefits them projects are finite; websites (must) keep growing

29 Recommendations web strategy– informed by information/ communication strategy and institutional objectives information skills – for mapping objectives onto website structures, actions buy-in – explain the benefits to key players provide support - editorial, training, technologies and tools set boundaries - structures, guidelines, policy corporate information – keep a tight rein on it

30 Further Information Iain Middleton
Mike McConnell The Robert Gordon University University of Aberdeen

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