Skip to content →


For a change a bit of a work-centred posting.

I feel as though I’ve been living in that Bill Murray (legend) movie Groundhog Day for the last six months.  I write a proposal, I submit it, I go to bed, and it all starts over again.  And again and again and again.  I think I’ve actually written a variation on the same proposal, exemption, business case at least six times now. And let’s not get in to the number of meetings, phone calls, and emails either.  I’ve had to explain, re-explain, re-re-explain, defend, fight and battle to convince senior managers.  Many of you who follow me on Twitter (@annkempster) will be more than familiar with my numerous ups, downs, highs and lows over the last few months.  Well, folks, this is what it’s all been about.  I’ve put my heart and soul into this, there has been sweat and definitely tears (thankfully no blood) and it’s finally coming to fruition.

A bit of background…

For the last two and a half years I have had the privilege, honour and sometimes curse to run the website for the Government Communication Network (GCN).  It’s the virtual home of the communication profession within the Civil Service. I link to it but I know many of you reading it will not be able to actually access it as you aren’t civil servants (my apologies for that).  It hosts a wealth of information, guidance, jobs, forums and other helpful stuff for all types of communicators across departments, agencies and NDPBs.  It has been in its current form for longer than I’ve been there.  I’ve long had grand plans for the site but budgets have been chip, chip, chipped away at for years now and I’m now reduced to just enough money to continue to host the site month to month. (Yes, yes, woe is me – I know we’re all there.) Not only has the budget been hacked at but so has the time available to me to devote to nurturing, tending, caring and loving it.

From about October last year I was gradually pulled more and more into dealing with propriety related matters in the inevitable and slow build up to the May 2010 election.  This ramped up more and more until it was all I did from January until mid-April when I had to take a month off to have a major foot operation. When I came back to work the whole civil service world had been turned upside down by the election.  Including that I was moved on loan to the Central Office of Information where I have been blessed to work with some totally amazing people who have been both inspirational and my rocks of support over the tortuous past six months.  The organisation itself has been to hell and back but staff continue to amaze me with their passion, dedication and capacity (especially to take in this particular stray). (okay enough mawkishness).

So what is the big deal here?

Dunno, maybe nothing but here goes…

Well, the site that has for the last (at least) 4 years been with a (great) digital agency – hosted, maintained and developed by said agency.  This was great in the ‘fat’ years when this was financially feasible and when we had quite a bit more staff than we do now (just me).  But sadly it is that way no longer.  And even more sadly I can’t do simple, basic upkeep on the site myself – the custom built CMS won’t bend to it and is an admin heavy beast.  Pretty much everything is manual – sending out jobs and events to the community; reactivating accounts, resetting passwords for over 4000 members.  And the system has more quirks, foibles and idiosyncracies than I can begin to detail here. How many times times have I moaned about how much I hate my CMS…

So in June when I moved to COI I started working with colleagues to try and identify a better system to use for the community-based site. Something that at it’s heart would have the community and user in mind and also be nicer on the admin side of things. I’d love to be able to claim the credit for the solution that we came up with – but I can’t – and don’t want to.  The solution was down to Seb Crump really – he’s converted me to a bit of a mad fan for BuddyPress. We did explore a lot, and I mean A LOT of other options. We looked at internal solutions (Civil Pages really wasn’t an option for us); other external solutions were suggested and rejected.  We could have tried to twist and cajole Drupal to our will but why when there is a ready made community tool out there?  But well done to Cabinet Office for the relaunch of their (Drupal) site this week – it is such a massive improvement on their old site as to fall off the 1-10 scale.

But time and time again we came back to this…

Go on, tell us what it is!

Okay then!

BuddyPress – in their words – social networking in a box. It’s basically the perfect solution for the GCN – with a little tweaking for our purposes of course. At its heart is WordPress – a piece of open source software we all know well know – and is well embraced by Government:

  • Number10
  • Defra
  • DFID Bloggers
  • and I know there are others that my addled brain can’t recall at the moment (please correct me and send additions – it’s late, I’m tired!)

With the added social networking functions on top that makes it perfect for our purposes.  We’ve pretty much decided on a theme already as well – this will require some tweaking and of course some branding thrown in to the mix as well.  It’s somewhat reminiscent of Facebook in it’s look and feel and how it works, which we feel will help users overcome that initial shock of a totally new site which will be a bit of a culture shock to some.

Besides, I think it will be the first BuddyPress site in government and that makes me more than a bit proud and excited.

What’s next?

I need input from the comms community within government – this is your community, not just what I and a small number of others at the centre think.  It’s about content, structure, functionality and future direction of the site. I’m not just looking for digital folk (although you know I love you all) – but internal peeps and marketeers and press people etc.  It has to be a site that works for EVERYONE in the community.  And I passionately want it to.  But I know I can’t do this by myself – it’s a massive task to be completed in less than three months time!  So if you want to get involved in anyway – either just offering me some advice and guidance or it you want to be a bit more hands on, please get in touch with me and we’ll chat.  If you are a Word/BuddyPress developer I’d also been keen to talk to you (quickly!) about the work we need to get done.

Longer term, my goal (and that of others too) is to open the network up to the wider public sector (local gov, NHS, whoever needs best practice comms guidance and support).  I’ve wanted this for a long time and I think we’re getting there slowly.  I’d also love to be able to open things up to partners in the voluntary sector and beyond.  Through the Big Society and public service reform agendas we all have to work much more closely together and the silos between these sectors must start to come down more.  Hope we can play our little part in this.

Also worth noting that we will be offering up our site ‘template’ once fully developed to the other professions in government, for free, in full open source spirit and intent….discussions will start in the new year on this.

And I shall continue to blog on this subject as we progress.  Formal announcement to community to come in the new year with fuller details….but wanted to start to get the word out now as I can’t keep it in any longer!

Published in work


Leave a Reply