July 2, 2013

Researching and Planning for a Global Nonprofit’s New Intranet: A Lesson in Understanding Your Audience

The concept of “understanding your audience” is frequently thrown around in nonprofit technology discussions. But what does that really mean? It’s more than just identifying who your audience is —it’s digging deep to understand their intricate motivations and behaviors. Once you truly understand who your target audiences are and what they are looking for, you can create an easy-to-use digital experience that meets their needs and keeps them coming back.

Although many organizations believe that their target audience is everyone— “But I’m trying to reach everyone!”— this is almost never the case. Many nonprofit websites aren’t user-friendly because the developers didn’t have a good idea of who the audience would really be. To have a better return on investment, it makes more sense to identify audience groups who have the most stake and interest in your organization’s cause and spend more of your efforts targeting them.

Goal-oriented design

When I first started at Saforian, I was introduced to all of their processes and methodologies including their goal-oriented design methodology. Goal-oriented design methodology is rooted in the deep understanding of key audience behaviors and creating digital experiences that fulfill the audience’s goals. On every project, strategists look at goals, tasks, common behaviors, demographic information, and key characteristics in order to have insight into who the project is trying to reach. Once you define who your audience is, what they are looking for, and how to reach them, you can start building and designing based off your findings.

Research and planning for a global intranet

I had the opportunity to see this goal-oriented design methodology in action when I worked on Saforian’s research and planning intranet project for FHI 360, a global human development organization committed to delivering integrated locally-based solutions in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions. FHI 360 had recently formed as a result of an acquisition, a move which brought together two of everything, including procedures, systems, and intranet systems. The new organization recognized that they now needed a new intranet for the unified organization that reflected their new culture and provided invaluable information and tools deemed most important by the new organization’s team members. Having partnered with the organization to develop their fhi360.org public facing site, Saforian was selected once again to deliver a specification plan for design and implementation of the intranet, along with a recommended project plan and potential phasing approaches.

The project goals were to introduce and sustain the new internal identity while allowing employees to internalize and make the new identity a part of their daily lives. I had only used an intranet once before at a telecommunications company, so it was an insightful learning experience to be able to play a role behind-the-scenes to help build an intranet for a mission-driven organization that I admired.

Due to the dynamic nature of intranets and the evolving nature of FHI 360, it was critical to get the strategy and framework built right out of the gate and ensure that it was built to grow. The new intranet needed to bridge the gap between the two cultures of two different organizations and prove to be a trusted resource for a global and diverse pool of employees.

Understanding your audience

So what does it take to get a comprehensive understanding of an organization’s internal audience? A major part of understanding FHI 360’s intranet needs was the departmental interviews we conducted. For any digital project, you have to ask yourself “Who are the key groups? What do they care about? How will they be interacting with the site? What devices will they be accessing the site from?” For FHI 360, our information architects identified key departments to interview to gain greater insight into FHI 360’s departmental structure and the specific needs of each.

For FHI 360, Saforian’s analysts gained insight into the full architecture of their systems by conducting a thorough asset audit of the existing systems and evaluating infrastructure plans and existing complexities. Through focused discussions with various departments at FHI 360, we worked to identify the requirements, desires, needs, and overall objectives required for the project to be a success. One of the main goals for this intranet is to serve as a central resource for team members that is relevant to their day-to-day experience at FHI 360. When interviewing the various departments, we asked them a diverse mixture of questions including:

  • Describe your department’s purpose or mission
  • What are the department’s day-to-day activities?
  • What is the “product” of your department’s work?
  • How does your department contribute to FHI 360 as a whole?

We also asked questions about their workflows and processes:

  • Discuss tools and practices in current use
  • Which departments and other parties does your department interact with regularly?
  • Discuss processes / workflows used by the department

Findings

These interviews were significant in forming departmental content requirements, getting buy-in for the intranet from employees, and gaining overall valuable insight into the organization. The departmental interviews informed the overall design, navigation, and user experience for the intranet. Based on our findings in the research process, we decided to build the intranet in the flexible Drupal framework that is accepting of new tools and functionalities as organizational needs grow and change and that is adaptable for the immediate needs of departments and employees.

Creating a great user experience is all about connecting with your audience, when they want to be reached, on the platforms that matter most. To keep your supporters coming back, use the goal-oriented design methodology of developing digital experiences that fulfill the audience’s goals.

Beth is a recent graduate of James Madison University and has a B.A. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication. She is currently a content strategist at Saforian, a web design company that builds websites, mobile apps, and other digital tools for the nonprofit, association, government, healthcare, commercial, and education industries. She develops content and social media strategies for clients, manages the company’s social media presence, and heads up marketing initiatives. Contact Beth by email or follow her on Twitter

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Beth Burghardt
Beth is a recent graduate of James Madison University and has a B.A. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication. She is currently a content strategist at Saforian, a web design company that builds websites, mobile apps, and other digital tools for the nonprofit, association, government, healthcare, commercial, and education industries. She develops content and social media strategies for clients, manages the company’s social media presence, and heads up marketing initiatives. Contact Beth by email or follow her on Twitter.
Interest Categories: Operations
Tags: website design