Elements or Lower

Wed, 18 Jan 2006

Window on Woking

Towards the end of 2004, Woking Borough Council won a Round One e-Innovations bid, securing funding from the ODPM to develop three initiatives in Trusted Partner Access to Information.

Part of the resulting project involved the creation of a new community site for Woking, whereby local voluntary and community organisations would be able to develop their own pages within an overall framework, for free.

This relates heavily to the ODPM’s Priority Outcomes for local government, specifically outcome G2:

Empowering and supporting local organisations, community groups and clubs to create and maintain their own information online, including the promotion of job vacancies and events

The key innovation in Woking’s community site would be that each organisation would be able to restrict some of their pages on the site to members of their own organisation, or to members of other organisations which they could specify, creating a network of trusted partners between organisations on the site.

Article Seven — which is to say, me — was charged with the development of the infrastructure for this, which would be based largely on the CMS put together for the main woking.gov.uk site. The key deadline for this was 1 April 2005, by which time we had to be able to demonstrate that the basis of the site was functional and sound, even if the site was far from being a complete, marketable commodity.

That meant that the first three months of last year required me to focus practically 100% on this one project. Oddly, I found that experience rather liberating: all my other clients knew that development work for them would have to wait until April, and I determinedly didn’t accept any additional work for that period. For three months, I lived and breathed the Community Site.

I want to write in detail about the development process later, but for now it’s enough to say that:

  1. We got the basic infrastructure in place on schedule

  2. We spent the rest of the year getting the site fit for launch

We’re now, finally, ready to launch Window on Woking.

The Window on Woking homepage

The Council began approaching local organisations over the summer, taking many through the sign-on process and running training sessions in the CMS. At the time of writing, we have 234 organisations signed up and developing pages on the site — including each of the local councillors, for whom we’ve developed a basic blogging system.

Our launch involves promoting the site to the public, with enough content now in place to justify a visit, and many of the initial problems resolved. That’s not to say, however, that work on the site is over — far from it: there are still some things that don’t quite work as well as we’d like them to, and plans for future development on most aspects of the site.

It’s been a pleasure working on this over the past year, and I’m really happy to be continuing to work on it (albeit with less exclusivity) for the foreseeable future. The project also gave me my first taste of collaborative development, with much of the graphic design and CSS work on the site having been expertly created by Adam Pink at Sardine Media. Not only that, but the shaping and specification for the site was built with Basecamp between me and Sean Rendall, the manager for this strand of the e-Innovations project at Woking Borough Council, and with whom I’ve always had an enjoyable working relationship. Sean has a keen eye for the way things ought to be done, even if they’re technically harder to achieve. If the site turns out to be a success, it’s likely to be because Sean’s stopped me being lazy.