Putting people at the centre of our research comms

6,000 members of staff and almost 28,000 students, six faculties, 28 schools and departments, 12 institutes, over 250 research groups, groups clusters and networks, and 14 divisions…  The University of Bristol is, if nothing else, a complex institution.

The impact of our work reaches far beyond the boundaries of the campus. It addresses some of the most challenging issues facing the world. Personally, this is what makes working here so exciting. At times it can all seem a million miles from the day-to-day job.

But for those of us not on the front line of academic pursuits there is pride in being part of this community and finding new and innovative ways to help tell the story of the University of Bristol.

As a former PG student of the university, it was – and always will be – the people that work here and the work that they are doing that bring the place to life. It was the chance to work with a certain few academics at Bristol that swayed my decision to come and study here.

At that time, there were some academics that I thought of as rock stars in their field. I guess that makes me a part of the backstage team these days.

University Web Profiles (UWP)

As the lead for the Research digital workstream in External Relations I’ve spent a fair amount of my time meeting academics one-to-one to discuss their work. Whether it’s an afternoon spent talking about anti-microbial resistance, paleontology or international migration, there’s little more inspiring than listening to somebody talk about a subject they’re passionate about.

So when we were given the greenlight to launch a project to replace People Profiler – our system of displaying staff profiles online – with a new system, it felt like the perfect opportunity to start a process of putting staff at the centre of our communications about research. A chance to amplify the brilliance that we are able to see day in day out.

To further my rockstar analogy, it was a chance to turn that intimate music festival set on the local village green into a globally reaching, all-singing, all-dancing festival with all the trimmings.

Discovering user needs

Throughout the project the team met hundreds of staff and key external users in a wide-ranging discovery and testing phase. We conducted interview after interview to understand exactly what people needed and wanted from a staff profile.

This gave us a huge selection of potential features to develop. Our research told us that the priorities for the initial launch of a new profile system would be that they would:

  • Be easy to edit and avoid the duplication of effort
  • Be easily searchable
  • Display academic publications
  • Have contact details
  • Show research interests and expertise
  • Have space to publicise teaching

As a team we believe in taking a user-centred, agile approach to developing new products. We were able to apply this to UWP. As a result, we’ll soon deliver the first iteration of the new platform that’s properly built around the needs of our staff and also our external users.

It’s a system that we think really improves the capacity of the university to communicate and promote the world-class work of staff.

The new profile is clearer to read and easy to edit using our in-house profile editing tool. Information is drawn from PURE and MyERP to reduce the need to duplicate effort to update the details.

What next

We’re excited about the new profiles. But the work doesn’t stop here. This needs to be a living and breathing digital service that we seek to constantly improve upon.

Launching the new system may represent the end of the ‘project’, but it also marks the beginning of the product itself. Understanding a platform’s strengths and weaknesses is far clearer when it’s released into the wild.

By constantly seeking to improve products we can develop tools that address real user needs

Whilst carrying out testing on the profiles we always asked colleagues what we needed to focus on next. They told us to develop a feature to allow staff to affiliate to groups, centres, institutes or however they choose to organise. Something that allows the outside world to see how we approach our research in a collaborative and multi-disciplinary way.

With this in mind, we’ve already begun the discovery work on this feature, and coupled with the research we conducted throughout the project, we’re keen to get working on this as soon as possible.

We’ll keep you updated here…

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