Thursday, 31 July 2014

Retake the Future: Crowdfunding Academic Research – an interview with Professor Deb Verhoeven

Hips 4 Hipsters, Research My World 2014. 'Led by seasoned campaigner Dr Mel Thomson, Hips 4 Hipsters aims to develop and test new treatments for superbug bacterial implant infections.'

This post is brought to you by Creative Communities, RMIT's Web Policy Awareness Campaign. The campaign promotes RMIT's Web Transformation Program via the lens of the University's new web policy suite. It also explores the game-changing developments taking place in the wider digital arena – from within and without higher education – and seeks to place these within the context of RMIT's web presence.

In 2013, Deakin University ventured into the world of crowdfunding. On Pozible, the Australian version of the highly popular Kickstarter platform, Deakin launched Research My World, an initiative to crowdfund eight research projects requiring small to medium amounts of funding.

The results were outstanding. In the initial campaign, six of the eight projects were not only fully funded but exceeded their targets. A second round in 2013 saw a further two out of three projects funded. In 2014, a third campaign was launched: five projects, all fully funded.

In an inherently conservative research environment, Research My World is commendable. It taps into the power of online networks to harness public interest and enhance the relevance of academic institutions. That's no small feat in a time when, as we were reminded at the recent RMIT Web Conference, universities are confronted with all sorts of predictions, gloomy or otherwise, about their future in the digital age.

Crowdfunding is the practice of raising funding for any type of project by asking for multiple smaller donations from the public (urban regeneration schemes and political campaigns have been successfully crowdfunded). Crowdfunding has demonstrated its value by raising awareness for projects that have not been championed by traditional avenues (for example, films rejected by studios have found support via crowdfunding).

The concept attracts good and bad press. Adherents say it taps directly into financial and emotional support from a public wearied by corporate spin, while detractors claim it's often a platform for scam or joke projects (like the campaign to make a batch of potato salad, which raised $8000), and that because of this, even genuine projects risk prejudice by association.

There was probably an element of risk with Deakin's initiative, the first in Australia. However, the results speak for themselves, and these are not only financial. Research My World led to what the project leaders call 'digital capability': the new-found confidence of researchers to use online and social networks to promote and improve academic work.

Professor Deb Verhoeven has led the project through its two-year development period. She is Professor and Chair of Media and Communication at Deakin University, and previously held the role of Director of the AFI Research Collection at RMIT.

I spoke to Professor Verhoeven about Research My World and its risks, benefits and possible future outcomes for all universities.

Interview by Simon Sellars, Senior Digital Analyst, Web Services and Information Policy, RMIT University.

Were you surprised at the overwhelming success Research My World has achieved? 

To be surprised would imply that we had expectations! We went into the first round of funding with the view that we were embarking on an experiment. Without really discussing it openly, I think we all believed that around a 60% success rate would indicate a successful experiment and we were thrilled that we exceeded this. The most recent round of Research My World achieved a 100% success rate, so I hope this indicates we've improved our techniques with experience.

At the institutional level, how supportive was Deakin of the campaign? 

Across the board at an institutional level, Deakin was fully supportive and Research My World could not have succeeded without this all-of-university effort. Some individuals were sceptical, which is to be expected. I hope we’ve been able to bring them round.

It's been suggested the concept of crowdfunding has a 'trust problem', and that many people see it as a platform for scammers, 'quackery' and half-baked ideas. Did you have to overcome such credibility issues when pitching the idea to stakeholders, researchers or backers?

I’d like to see the evidence base for those assertions. As I mentioned earlier, there were, and I suspect always will be, doubters. It's important to remember that this is a nascent field. It is very dynamic and as it changes, so, too, will public perception.

I don’t think ‘trust’ was a critical issue for us. We deliberately focussed campaigns on the researchers, each of whom was passionate and committed, often for an extended part of their career, to solving a particular problem. I believe they earned the public’s trust, and hence their success.

It’s also been suggested that crowdfunding is unlikely to fund 100% of an academic research project. Is Research My World, then, a game changer?

Crowdfunding itself is a game changer but not because it will fully fund projects, which is possible, but won’t be typical of crowdfunded research. It's a gamechanger because it repositions the relationship between universities and their publics. This is about the emergence and development of collaborative economies and research practices, and not just about switching one source of funding for another.

Kenya Healthy Minds, Research My World 2014. 

'Led by Elijah Marangu, this project aims to identify gaps in mental health care in Kenya. The results will be used to inform capacity building strategies to improve mental health care in Kenya, in primary health care settings.'

How important was marketing strategy to the campaign? Did you work closely with Deakin's marketing and communications department to promote Research My World? 

We did work with Deakin marketing as well as Deakin’s PR staff and Deakin Research’s media unit. But the brunt of communication effort was left with the researcher’s themselves.

You've presented some interesting statistics around this, which suggests social media was crucial to the researchers' promotional efforts. For example, across 45 days, the campaign generated over 200 stories in print, TV and online media. This included more than 3000 tweets. 

While that indicates traditional media is not quite dead and an integrated approach to promotion is needed, it also points to the power of social networks. How receptive, initially, were the researchers to working with such tools?

Most had limited exposure to social media, but their responses during the campaign differed wildly. Some were in complete denial – a couple of projects didn't engage at all in social media and didn’t meet their targets. Others were completely immersed in a variety of social media that has continued beyond the life of the campaign.

There were interesting disciplinary preferences. Scientists, for example, were especially uncomfortable mixing their private and professional social media profiles.

The pilot project report for Research My World talks about building 'digital capacity', with researchers noting 'their newfound social media skills as an intangible benefit from their involvement'. I've been designing and implementing social media training for RMIT staff, and I've found the concept of 'digital capacity' to be a very useful way into that.

I like to think of it as 'social media training by stealth'. One of the key outcomes for researchers was their expanded online profile and the belief that this had opened professional opportunities for them. This is evident in their feedback to us:
'I’m now more skilled (but with more room to grow) in the use of social media. I’ve also become more outward looking – more aware of who’s doing what beyond the confines of Deakin and my world of research.'
'I was not a tweeter previously and now am. I have also set up a Facebook site and put more effort into engaging through Research Gate. I have set up a Twitter widget on my unit for Trimester 2. I think this has catalysed me to take the first – the biggest and the hardest – step in becoming digitally literate, specifically around my own profile. This is excellent.'
'I have made important professional relationships entirely on Twitter that will stand me in good stead to form partnerships for ‘proper’ research grants from the NHMRC/ARC, particularly from the Indigenous Health Care community.'

Quotes from researchers cited in the Research My World pilot project report.

What challenges should universities be aware of before exploring crowdfunding?

The key challenge is to ensure there is high-level ownership of the initiative. Without this birds-eye perspective, it's difficult to coordinate all the required aspects of university operations so they can work collaboratively towards a successful campaign.

It worked for Deakin that we also had an 'academic champion' who could represent the project to researchers, as well as across a range of administrative functions.

Retake Melbourne, Research My World 2013. 

Led by James McArdle, this project aims to crowdfund 'an innovative app which lets you travel through time using iconic photographs of Melbourne'.

This interview was brought to you by Creative Communities, RMIT's Web Policy Awareness Campaign. This week, the spotlight is on the University's Social Media Policy

Check out RMIT's Social media for research, teaching and collaboration instruction and Social media for campaigns instruction for more tips on using social networks to promote campaigns and academic research.


Research My World: 2013 campaign
Research My World: 2014 campaign
Research My World: Crowdfunding Research Pilot Project Evaluation (PDF; Deb Verhoeven, Stuart Palmer, Joyce Seitzinger, Melanie Randall)
Checklists for crowdfunding research (Slideshare; Deb Verhoeven):
'Short on grant money? Five tips for crowdfunding success' (Deb Verhoeven and Lee Astheimer; The Conversation, 19 September 2013)
'Social media activities to help crowdfunded research #deakin #pozible' (Joyce Seitzinger)

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Environmentalists have a right to protest – but not at all costs

By Sinclair Davidson, RMIT University

Peaceful Protest at Manly Beach, speaking out against the Shark culling recently started in Western Australia. iStock.

Here is a tough question – what are the limits of legitimate protest? As Lord Keynes is famously reputed to have said, everything depends on everything else. What is protest? What is legitimate?

I’m going to take as my starting point that protest is legitimised by the rule of law. The kind of acceptable behaviour that one might observe in a liberal democracy is very different from that in a dictatorship.

Another way of stating the case is to argue that the social licence to protest varies in time and place.

Many protesters, however, are of the view that they have unlimited licence to protest. That once their intentions are self-declared to be noble that there can be no limit on their behaviour.

Licence to lie?

Take, for example, the Whitehaven Coal hoaxer Jonathan Moylan, who faked an ANZ press release stating that the bank had withdrawn a A$1.2 billion loan facility due to environmental concerns. He is currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to disseminating false or misleading information affecting market participation. His actions were clearly illegal, yet there is a website that describes his actions as being civil disobedience and an act of good conscience. Elected members of the federal parliament congratulated him on his actions.

Consider another example. Clive Hamilton recently complained that Australian security agencies were monitoring anti-coal activists. Small-l liberal minded people might be horrified at that prospect – until we also read Elizabeth Farrelly in the Sydney Morning Herald telling us democracy has failed, and calling for a “people’s revolution”.

To be fair, Farrelly might be engaging in some hyperbole, but our security agencies are paid to be paranoid.

The rule of law

The thing is this: however noble “saving the planet” might be, in a liberal democracy, under the rule of law, protest must be conducted through both non-violent and non-coercive means.
Restricting violence and coercion is a legitimate function of government. As the great liberal economist Ludwig von Mises indicated:
One must be in a position to compel the person who will not respect the lives, health, personal freedom, or private property of others to acquiesce in the rules of life in society. This is the function that the liberal doctrine assigns to the state: the protection of property, liberty, and peace.
We might want to believe that environmental activists should be able to issue false media releases, or even conspire to overthrow the democratically elected government without interference from the authorities. But the proper way to do so is to campaign for those changes at the ballot box.

As it turns out, the environmental movement is failing to convince voters or politicians of their cause. Last year the International Energy Agency reported “15% of global CO2 emissions receive an incentive of $110 per tonne in the form of fossil-fuel subsidies while only 8% are subject to a carbon price.” With Australia about to abolish the carbon tax that 8% figure will be falling.

It’s not just Australia; the Climate Change Performance Index shows that “no single country is yet on track to prevent dangerous climate change”.

Small wonder the broader environmental movement is turning to non-liberal and non-democratic means to pursue their aims.

Making environmentalists accountable for their actions

The fossil fuel divestment campaign is a prime example. This is an internationally orchestrated, well-funded, and apparently sophisticated campaign against fossil fuel investment. Once you strip away the apparent sophistication of their argument you end up more or less with a call for a series of secondary boycotts of fossil fuel producers and their sources of capital.

At the moment environmental groups are exempt from the prohibition on secondary boycotts. This is an astonishing exemption for a country that trumpets equality before the law.

The Abbott government has flagged that this exemption will be removed. There are some, like my good friend Chris Berg, who argue that the whole notion of secondary boycotts are inconsistent with the right to free speech.

The fossil fuel divestment campaign, with its explicit aim of stigmatising Australia’s coal industry, might well fall foul of s1041E of the Corporations Act 2001. The same section of the same law used to convict Jonathan Moylan.

The campaign to convince investors to divest from fossil fuels on the basis of an undefined “carbon bubble” that can only exist if and when environmental activists convince government to change the rules of the game – having failed up until now – is something the corporate and market regulators should be closely examining.

Environmentalists have the right to campaign for their policies, but they don’t have the right to provide misleading stock market advice.

The argument that fossil fuels have social costs does not undermine my position at all. Yes, the social costs of fossil fuels exceed zero – but it isn’t clear that these costs exceed the social benefits of fossil fuel usage.

Access to cheap and reliable energy will do more to alleviate global poverty and foster economic development everywhere than the environmental movement ever will. By agitating for a divestment from fossil fuels, the environmental movement are condemning millions of people to a lower lifestyle and standard of living than they would otherwise enjoy.

The Conversation
Sinclair Davidson is Professor of Institutional Economics at RMIT University and an honorary senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs. His opinion pieces have been published in The Age, The Australian, Australian Financial Review, The Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, and Wall Street Journal Asia. His report "A critique of the coal divestment campaign" was published by the Minerals Council of Australia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Video: The future of wearable technologies

By Danielle Wilde, RMIT University

Wearable technologies currently exist in two spaces – as conceptual pieces by artists and designers, and as engineering-driven wearable products that are taken to market. But, as Danielle Wilde explains, the future for wearable technologies lies in creating products with expressive aesthetic qualities.
This video is a co-production between SBS World News and The Conversation.

See also:
VIDEO: Smartphones and metadata – a question of privacy
VIDEO: Why some people just don’t like music
VIDEO: Why older adults love online dating VIDEO: Are raw foods good for you?
VIDEO: Coworking – the benefits of collaborative workspaces
VIDEO: How the weather affects our mood
VIDEO: What are stars?
VIDEO: How laser tattoo removal works
VIDEO: Solving the world’s toilet shortage
VIDEO: Were the first artists women?
VIDEO: The benefits of high-intensity workouts

The Conversation
Danielle Wilde is currently a 2013-2014 Sidney Myer Creative Fellow. This fellowship, combined with support from Arts Victoria, The Besen Family Foundation, RMIT School of Fashion and Textiles and Deakin University Motion.Lab enabled her to develop the PKI project, as well as her thinking in relation to this video and the associated article.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

'The medium is immaterial': 2014 RMIT Web Conference, part 2

Crowd shot, RMIT Web Conference 2014, Storey Hall. Photo: Simon Sellars.

On Monday, we mapped the first half of RMIT's 2014 Web Conference. We discussed John Riccio's talk on what he believes web policy should do: advise and empower. We related that to the aims of RMIT's web policy awareness campaign.

We looked at the presentations given by John Barnes, Brett Maishman and Cameron Owens. Their shared imperative was for content providers to understand their audience and its needs (a natural fit with RMIT's Web User Experience Policy). Also, to exploit the connectivity of social media to build relationships (see our Social Media Policy).

We reviewed Shefik Bey's talk, which, among other things, looked at optimising content for mobile (see RMIT's Web Content Policy and Mobile Channel Policy). We explored Jeremy's Hodgson's advice to make sure content is at least as powerful as the platform it's distributed on (see the Web Content Policy).

Now, the final batch of speakers.

Jodie Moule, Director of Symplicit, regaled us with an intriguing case study: the research and development that went into Cook, her highly successful recipe-sharing app. Cook had half a million downloads in its first three months, and currently sits on over a million. But as she said, 'you don't just set out one day and decide: "I'm going to make a disruptive innovation"; it's an evolution'.

For her, research is the key. Lots of it. 'There is an art to good research,' she said: plenty of collaboration and user testing. Everyone on her multidisciplinary team sketched an ideal version of the app, no matter what their drawing proficiency or area of expertise. Ideas were then pooled and discussed.

Jodie Moule and her team. Photo: Simon Sellars.

Then at the beta stage, they began user testing, making good use of social media, like closed groups on Yammer and Facebook, to collect and discuss audience feedback. For Moule this was essential, not only to explore the viability of the idea with actual end users before going live, but also, once the initial bugs were ironed out, to increase the team's belief in the product.

Her central advice echoed previous presenters: learn to be flexible. 'Be obsessed about your product,' she said, 'but be brave enough to change it. There are no short cuts to innovation.' Bonus points to Moule, too, for quoting Steve Jobs, realising that was too corny, even for a conference on digital strategy, then switching allegiance to the sage advice of Louis Pasteur: 'Chance favours the prepared mind.'

Greg Muller, CEO of Global Review, the respected digital analytics firm, covered many topics, including the merger of traditional and digital channels to create integrated campaigns and 'omni-channel experiences'. To do this, though, means smashing down the silos. Bring key stakeholders together regularly, even if they carry conflicting viewpoints, philosophies, workloads. Perhaps easier said than done...

He quoted marketing guru Doug Kessler's maxim: 'Traditional marketing talks at people. Content marketing talks with them.' Collaboration is the key. Strategic alignment. Make use of 'big data' – 'the ability to target and predict' – and know your audience inside out. Understand their online behaviour; given the ease and accessibility of analytics packages these days, there's simply no excuse not to.

But don’t get overloaded with stats. Develop a few important metrics and 'persist, test and measure. Don't forget to try new things.' Remember, too: trust is crucial. 'You're not entitled to an audience,' Hallam reminded us. 'If people trust you enough, you'll be given an audience.' It's a good point and speaks to an age where people can simply tune you out of your feed if they're not interested. And getting back from there is often a painful process, so 'be honest, be real, be genuine'. Have fun, too – don’t forget that.

John Ryan, founder of Sitegeist, the content strategy consultancy, spoke at the inaugural 2013 conference. He returned in 2014 and his insights were as welcome as they were last year. Ryan's specialty is writing great online content and he, too, corroborated the insights of other speakers: use analytics, often. Get to know your audience by studying its online behaviour. Create, test, publish, measure. Find out where your content is failing, then change it. Help your content succeed. Help your users succeed.

It's hard to summarise his talk. He covered a lot of ground and it was packed with insight, all relevant to anyone trying to professionalise their web content. Actually, make that 'online content'. Actually, make that simply content. He exhorted the audience to embrace a 'digital first' philosophy. That doesn't just mean online content. For Ryan, '"Digital first" simply means breaking the relationship between content and form. Content doesn't live on pages anymore – even web pages.'

I especially liked his final piece of advice, not least for its inversion of Marshall McLuhan's classic bon mot – 'the medium is the message'. Ryan said: 'You can't predict where your content will end up. Never mind McLuhan: the medium is immaterial.'

Ending the conference, Steve Hallam, partner at Deloitte Digital, took a provocative approach: trying to predict digital trends in five years' time. That's not easy. Think of the progression of the mobile phone. Five years ago, the iPhone was in its infancy. Android was barely a player. It would have taken extreme foresight to predict the sheer computing power embodied in today's smartphones.

It's not for nothing that the novelist J.G. Ballard, once renowned for his science fiction, announced he was giving up writing about the future in favour of the present day. Modern technology's extreme, rapid rate of change has rendered science fiction redundant. Never mind the next 500 years, Ballard wanted to write about 'the next five minutes'.

Appropriately, Hallam asserted, 'it's hard to predict the future, but easy to predict trends'. His talk was rapid fire, not dwelling on anything for too long. It was appropriate to a blipvert culture: blink and you'll miss the next fad, the next meme, the next ripple through the Twitterverse. Digital tattoos. Augmented reality. Cyborgs. He touched on it all.

He even invoked controversial futurist Ray Kurzweil, champion of the Singularity, the hypothetical moment when artificial machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence, rendering the human race essentially redundant. Humans, according to Kurzweil, will then augment their bodies with nanotech, artificial intelligence, genetic modifications. For Hallam, Kurzweil is 'one person I'd trust' to map the future. Of course the jury is out on Kurzweil, who's been branded a con artist elsewhere. And that's putting it mildly.

So what exactly is Hallam's point? Perhaps this: we're in the age of convergence. We're merging with our tech, and everything is on demand, including lifestyles, emotions, professions. This, he believes, has massive ramifications for higher education. No longer will students flock to the institution; the institution must go to them. How can universities survive?

Steve Hallam's near future. Photo: Simon Sellars.

'Unbundling of content' is one trend to watch out for, he warned. Here, we're back to digital disruption. 'Unbundling' describes how, in the age of connectivity and immediate information access, new technologies and new devices are breaking apart institutions. Monolithic industries are being cannibalised, their traditional offerings scaled down in size and costs and offered to all takers. Newer, mobile, intelligent business units are supplying the future on demand. The result in the university context, according to Hallam: 'Peer-to-peer education'. 'Education on demand'. Adapt or perish.

Things aren't quite that dire, though. Any threshold moment, any hinge between eras, especially those marked by technological advance, provides great opportunity. Undoubtedly, we're living through a threshold moment now – a blip between technological eras – and that's why Hallam's final words were refreshing. 'Disruption has a negative connotation,' he said, 'but it can be quite positive. As a university, here's your chance to enhance the learning experience, rather than let it be supplanted.'

Good advice. Let's merge.

Crowd shot, RMIT Web Conference 2014, Storey Hall. Photo: Peter T. Clarke.

More information:
> Part one of this review
Collection of 112 tweets from the conference, curated by @me3722
> Web Policy Awareness video
Web policy awareness campaign
> Web Policy Suite
> Web User Experience Policy (relevant to Moule and Muller's talks)
> Web Accessibility Policy (relevant to Ryan's talk)
> Mobile Channel Policy (relevant to Bey's talk)
Social Media Policy (relevant to Muller's talk)
> Web Content Policy (relevant to Ryan's talk)

Monday, 7 July 2014

'The art of the pivot': 2014 RMIT Web Conference, part 1

Storey Hall. Photo: courtesy RMIT University.

This year RMIT hosted its second annual web conference at Storey Hall, the University's iconic lecture theatre/conference centre. It was the perfect venue, with its harmonious blend of 19th-century structural strength and radical postmodern restoration. Remember, that new facade and interior was controversial with the media and public when completed in 1995. Storey Hall, then, reminds us that change can be integrated with tradition, and that, over time, what was once disruptive can become fully accepted.

What better metaphor for RMIT’s Web Transformation Program, which the conference promotes? The Program introduces radical change to RMIT’s web presence, delivering a new content management system (CMS) and distributed content model (DCM). Naturally, this might seem disruptive to people used to a particular way of working, but ultimately it's a positive addition to the online RMIT universe. RMIT's web transformation blends the 'structural strength’ of the main RMIT website – content showcasing the University's global reputation in technology and design – with a ‘radical restoration’: the CMS and DCM. The result: design and content that reaches the widest possible audience.

In 2013, the conference introduced the new CMS and the changes it would bring – to workflow, content management, cross-channel curation. This year, it was all about digital trends in the wider world and how RMIT might prepare for a projected tsunami of change in the near future.

Jeremy Hodgson, RMIT's Director of Web Services and Information Policy, opened the event. He spoke about the primacy of platforms, focusing on the YouTube phenomenon and how the aura of the platform frequently surpasses content posted on it. His message: content must be more adaptable than ever before if it is to ride this new power dynamic.

It's a timely point, especially in light of a recent article by David Hepworth on digital distribution. Hepworth used BeyoncĂ©'s new album as a case study to show how new advances in digital distribution have become far more significant to consumers than the actual content being distributed – even if that content is produced by a megastar like BeyoncĂ©, let alone a higher education providers. The speakers following elaborated various ways of delivering 'radical' content that could overcome this type of scenario.

Keynote speaker John Barnes, RMIT's Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Engagement and Vocational Education, focused on digital marketing strategy and the need for businesses to be in sync with user preferences. Metrics are the key for Barnes. It's all very well having a superb, fully operational CMS, but where's the value if the effectiveness of content isn't measured accurately? Other presenters would return to this theme, which, along with the notion of 'digital disruption', seemed to sum up the tenor of the event.

Brett Maishman, National Sales Manager for Fuji Zerox Australia, warned of the dangers of 'channel proliferation'. With a multitude of channel options available and 1-billion-plus connected devices pinging one another worldwide, how can organisations maintain consistent messaging? His answer: personalisation. Customers today demand a new relationship based on their specific needs. In Maishman's words, 'If you don't know them, you'll lose them'.

Yet unspoken in his talk was the downside of such a relationship. Get the balance wrong and you run the risk of stalking your audience. Many businesses trip themselves up in an effort to stay relevant on social media. A recent high-profile case involved McDonald's and its attempts to ingratiate itself into its customers' lives with a 'heart-warming', tell-all hashtag, only to watch in horror as it turned into a 'bashtag'. Let's add to Maishman's message, then. It's important to be nimble in a time of change, but also to retain a strategic approach: plan, create, listen, measure.

Cameron Owens, CEO of Symplicit, among Australia's largest customer experience consultancies, introduced the concept of 'digital disruption'. This is the threat businesses face when their market share is eroded by newer digital competitors. Banking, publishing and education are facing this, he warned, but the solution is relatively simple: 'Be curious and strong when responding to change.'

He presented a few core tactics. 'Whatever connection people have with your business,' he said, 'they also have with 300 other people.' Given this, social media must naturally be at the heart of any marketing strategy, but in a way that embodies differentiation: focusing on customer experience and service to set a business apart from the pack. Owens reiterated how RMIT has invested materially in different channels – web, mobile, video, social – but that in itself is not enough. The challenge is to 'sweat the assets', extracting full value from optimised digital channels. That can only be done through regular and rigorous review of analytics and metrics, analysing and assessing user journeys and behaviours.

John Riccio lays down the law. Photo: Simon Sellars. 

John Riccio, National Digital Change Leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia, spoke about 'digital maturity': the point at which an organisation moves from being a novice in the digital space to becoming a trusted expert. Digital maturity is a journey with peaks and troughs; a business doesn't reach it overnight, and it involves much testing, re-testing and re-planning.

For Riccio, web policies are an enabler in that, but only if designed a certain way. In a digital environment, no one wants freedom of speech curtailed, so policies should be a 'bumper on either side of the journey so that people don’t go off the rails'. Then, if the policy framework is adaptable enough, you reach a point where use of a particular technology has become mature enough that you don't need the policies front and centre.

Policy then drops away to become a guide, implicit as a kind of background hum, but in order for that happen, it must be designed so it's responsive to new devices and new ways of working. That's not to say that governance isn't important. In fact, Riccio believes it's necessary to avoid what he terms the 'minestrone effect': silos doing their own thing on their own terms, without a centralised strategy or oversight in place, creating a soup of conflicting strategies that dilutes a brand. It's how governance is implemented, packaged and delivered that is important. That's a message RMIT's own web policy awareness campaign also endorses, with its central theme of empowering people to build an online presence and use it with confidence, resulting in that desired end state: robust digital maturity.

Shefik Bey, Managing Director of the U1 Group, explored the challenge RMIT faces in its plans to develop a responsive design for its mobile site. He highlighted the 'deep structures' within the RMIT desktop site and the difficulties in boiling this down to a responsive mobile template. He made the salient point that there are currently no best-practice principles for responsive design. By the time there are, he suggests, with the rate technology is progressing, a different technique – even a different delivery system – will have replaced it. 'If mobile is today,' he speculated, 'wearables are the future'. Google Glass, anyone?

Still, he offered a few handy tips for managing today's challenges. Reiterating points from earlier speakers, what's needed in any digital transformation, he reckons, is flexibility; in his words, learning 'the art of the pivot'. As did the other speakers, he emphasised the importance of 'success metrics' and 'success reporting'. Make sure your metrics are robust enough to ride the ever-shifting waves of the digital sea. Go back to core principles. Encourage experimentation through innovation. Bring silos together.

Importantly, keep your written content succinct. Make sure it translates from desktop to mobile. For Bey, the channel is not important; good content will endure, no matter the platform.

Shefik Bey faces the future. Photo: Simon Sellars. 

On that note, we'll end this wrap-up of the first half of the conference. Follow us to PART TWO, where we review the second half of the event. We discuss the importance of user research, the art of writing great online content the art of writing great online content ... and nothing less than the web's apocalyptic future.

More information:
> RMIT's Web Policy Awareness video
> RMIT's Web Policy Suite and New Websites Policy (relevant to the Riccio talk)
> RMIT's Web User Experience Policy (relevant to the Barnes, Maishman and Owens talks)
> RMIT's Mobile Channel Policy (relevant to the Bey talk)
> RMIT's Social Media Policy (relevant to the Maishman and Owens talks)
> RMIT's Web Content Policy (relevant to the Hodgson and Bey talks)

Thursday, 3 July 2014

‘Creative Communities’: Web Policy Awareness

RMIT's Web Policy Awareness video.

Last week, RMIT launched the 'Creative Communities' policy awareness campaign. This is an initiative to promote the University's new web policy suite: Web Content, New Websites, UX, Accessibility, Mobile Channels and Social Media. It's often said you can't make policy interesting, but that's just a challenge to be overcome. In the process, we might even make it fun. What's the bet?

Over the coming weeks, the 'Creative Communities' team will post articles and interviews here on Blog Central. We'll discuss web strategy, digital innovation, best practice, theory, case studies, analytics and research. We'll speak to leading practitioners from RMIT and beyond.

The campaign takes the metaphor of urban planning. Great urban planning shapes sustainable, creative communities by consulting with stakeholders and the public before, during and after implementation. The best urban planning encourages people to take an interest in their community, to self-regulate rather than wield the Big Stick of compliance. Crucially, it allows experimentation to flourish; it's a philosophy far from Big Brother. Similarly, our web policies embed these qualities through a collaborative, well-organised and dynamic online presence.

Our campaign explains how the policy suite gives RMIT the edge in a competitive online environment: by delivering a creative digital presence that staff and students will love. We'll focus on the set of instructions each web policy contains. Think of these as a policy's 'user manual', separate from the purely procedural and compliance elements.

Instructions contain tips, tricks and guidance for planning dynamic digital strategies. They guide people working on multi-channel collaboration and they encourage innovation. They explain how to incorporate user research and testing into design and content creation, so work reaches  the widest possible audience. They're drawn from extensive research and written only after community consultation. They're designed to be responsive to the rapidly changing digital world, with regular review cycles accounting for volatile digital ground shifting suddenly beneath our feet.

We'll look at practical examples of how these instructions work, and we'll unpack the best-practice research that birthed them. That's where the policies come alive: empowering people to confidently create, manage and maintain an online presence.

We want to do two things: expose the good work RMIT is doing in the online world, via the lens of the web policy suite. Then, we want to expose RMIT to the game-changing developments taking place in the wider digital arena  from within and without higher education. When it comes to making the most of the online climate, it's an exciting, and slightly scary, time for the university sector. There are many challenges to be overcome, but also numerous prospects for creating, engaging, recruiting, connecting, conversing and collaborating in ways once thought impossible.

Join us, as we explore how RMIT is rising to meet these challenges. Happy digital travels.

Welcome to RMIT's new-look Blog Central

RMIT's Blog Central is a space for RMIT's thought leaders to showcase ideas, viewpoints, essays and research. We welcome contributions from academics and staff at RMIT, and we're committed to showcasing a diversity of opinions.

If you'd like to contribute to Blog Central, we welcome your input. We'll work with you to polish your copy and ensure it reaches the widest possible audience. There are many exciting stories within the RMIT community, and we're committed to giving them wider exposure.

So, join us as we embark on a new stage of the Blog Central journey: onwards

and upwards!