CfGS is getting a new website…

Posted on 23/03/2016 by Nicolay Sorensen.

Our current site dates back to 2011. It’s been a pretty good shop window for us, but it has its shortcomings – not least, the fact that it is groaning under the accumulated weight of thirteen years of pages, publications and other data, which were all transferred over wholesale from previous websites. The site’s design no longer meets modern accessibility standards (for example, it displays pretty poorly on mobile devices).

Moving to WordPress

We’ve decided to work with a developer to build a new site, from scratch, in WordPress. WP provides a simple, cost-effective, low maintenance solution to producing sites which can be both functional and beautiful. It started as a blogging platform a few years back, but is now a fully-fledged and versatile content management system (CMS) for a complex website – presenting options and possibilities to web designers which, at the time we launched our current website in 2011, might not have been as apparent.

This opportunity, and a different strategic direction for the organisation, suggested to us that the time was right to move to WordPress – both to update our site’s look and to provide some much-needed additional functionality (which will be welcome to you if you have, like a surprising number of people, tried to access our site on a mobile device).

It will, in short, look and feel very different.

Practical changes

There are three big changes about which you need to know if you use the site regularly.

Change 1: end of the discussion forum

The discussion forum will, sadly, be going. The forum is as old as CfGS itself but isn’t particularly well-used any more. We know that ADSO’s private, members-only forum is a more attractive place for conversations which may be difficult to have in public; many discussions about local democracy also happen on social media.

As a partial replacement we are setting up some groups on the Knowledge Hub to provide a continuing space for conversations about scrutiny and governance. We will also be blogging more on our website, and seeking people to write guest blogs – naturally, blogs are as much about getting a conversation started as broadcasting our views, so we will be welcoming comment and debate through that mechanism too.

Change 2: end of the reviews library

Also going will be the scrutiny reviews library. We made a valiant attempt to reorganise the reviews library about three years ago, recategorising its content to make it more easily searchable. This helped quite a bit, but the number of users is falling and, importantly, fewer people upload their work as a matter of course. This makes searching it problematic, because it still has a huge volume of reports and papers that date back to 2003, many of which will be obsolete. The increasing accuracy of its algorithms means that a reasonably carefully-worded Google search will now throw up better, more recent and more accurate scrutiny review reports than our own library.

Moreover, the nature of scrutiny and the way we think of it has changed in the last decade. Final scrutiny reports will only give you part of the story – more context is often needed through Cabinet responses, annual reports and six-monthly or annual updates.

We’re therefore seeking to put in place three mechanisms for people to share their work. Firstly, we will at least fortnightly share information about a good piece of scrutiny work through our blog. This will provide a pithy summary of methodology, outcome and issues likely to be of interest to practitioners, and over time will build into a useful and focused resource. Secondly, we will encourage practitioners to upload reports and associated papers on to the Knowledge Hub, which has its own search function. Thirdly, we will start to record, much more systematically, information about scrutiny reviews and their outcomes on our CRM system, which means that we will be able to direct users of our “helpdesk” function to relevant scrutiny reviews much more effectively.

Change 3: streamlined publication index

All CfGS publications going back to 2003 can be found on our website. This provides a valuable archive of our content but it isn’t helpful if you are looking for advice on a given subject and find a publication we wrote in 2007. How accurate is the information in there? How far can it be relied on to give you an accurate picture of how things are now? Has a more recent edition of the same publication been published since?

There are currently over 300 CfGS publications online, and this number will be reduced down to around 90. Almost everything will produced before 2011 will be coming down; most material published since 2013 will stay up. By doing this, we are making sure that you have the confidence that publications you download from our website will still be relevant and useful to you. The exercise of streamlining the database has highlighted to us some gaps – areas on which we have written or advised before, but where that advice is now badly out of date – and we hope to fill some of those gaps in 2016.

While we don’t have a precise launch date for the new site yet, we expect it will be coming in early April. If there are particular discussion threads, comments or publications which you need to access, please do so now, as none of that information will be accessible after that time.

We hope you like the new site once it’s launched.

About the Author: Nicolay Sorensen

As Head of Communications, Nicolay oversees CfGS’s communications strategy, events, branding and media relations.