Before the launch of the Online Community, ISEAL used a number of standalone tools for online consultations.
These included a wiki, a WordPress.com blog and the isealalliance.org website, used to advertise the consultation.
However, there are a number of issues with using standalone tools:
1. They can only be customised to a limited degree. The Online Community was built from scratch for ISEAL, with a technical specification sent to our developers Rechord.
2. Users often end up only visiting one of the tools. Even though we clearly linked all of the tools from each website we used, some people only visited the blog or the wiki.
3. It took time to customise the tools to the way we wanted them.
4. It cost money to purchase upgrades enabling us to obtain the required functionality
5. Instead of having to explain one tool to our members, we had to explain several tools.
Using the Online Community:
The new Online Community makes things much simpler.
We are able to create a group for each online consultation, ensuring that all the information is contained in one area.
This group allows us to upload posts,resources, documents in progress and events.
Members are then able to view these items and leave comments.
Tips for holding a consultation on an Online Community:
1. The consultation should be as accessible as possible. Try and have links to important documents on the front page of the group as well as in the resources section. Some people may only have time to glance at the front page.
People should not have to login to read documents, although they will need to login to comment on documents and edit documents in progress.
2. Those that you want to take part in the consultation need to be aware of the existance of the Online Community. They also need to know how it is accessed (for example, the login procedure) and how they can take part in it.
Therefore, it is important that the help section of the Online Community is clearly visible on the front page, and if possible linked on the front page of the group as well. We actually decided to make our help section a group so people could ask questions.
3. It is important to have regular updates, just as with a blog. Posting on the comments recieved so for makes those who have left comments feel valued and those that have not yet left comments are spurred to do so.