D Michael Coy
A year on from taking on responsibility for guiding the ongoing development of ISSTD’s website, and at ISSTD News editor Kate McMaugh’s invitation, I’d like to share with you where the website has been, where it is now, and where it’s going.
When I volunteered to become ‘Website Committee Chair’, I already had in my back pocket some hard-earned experience with websites—both my own, in different iterations over the years, and others’. I was tasked by the Board to collaborate with then-Executive Director Therese Clemens on a long-discussed plan to shift from the current ‘content management system (CMS)’ to WordPress.
ISSTD’s website has continued to evolve over a period of years. The original website was developed and maintained, as a labor of love, by our very own Rich Chefetz. When ISSTD transitioned to the current web platform, which was about ten years ago and coinciding with the beginning of Therese Clemons’s tenure, it built on and expanded Rich’s original vision, and offered exactly what was needed at the time: An opportunity to shift the website from a ‘digital bulletin board’ to something more akin to a ‘public face’ for the organization, that could serve as a repository of information included on the previous incarnation of the site. In many respects, even then, we were very much—and necessarily—following trends.
Over the past five to seven years, tastes, platforms, and browsing media have changed dramatically, and has been an invitation for us to reconsider not only what ISSTD’s website is, but how it fits into the bigger picture of ISSTD’s evolution as an organization.
As we began to examine at the task at hand, all manner of questions arose:
- Who is our audience: Is it practitioners and researchers who are already members? Is it prospective members? Is it an uninformed public looking for answers?
- What kinds of devices does our audience use to browse the web?
- How and where does our audience find us on the web?
- What is our audience seeking when they find us?
- How long (or brief) a time does our audience spend with us before flitting off to another website?
- Where does our audience spend the most time while on the website?
- What works for our audience, and what doesn’t work, as far as navigating content on the website?
- How do our audience’s desires coincide with the information we, as an organization, want to present—and how we want to present it?
There was a time when gathering the answers to most of these questions could lead a Website Committee Chair straight on to ISSTD’s Therapist Finder. Thankfully, he was able instead to turn to the oracle called Google Analytics.
Because of the increasing sophistication with which people seek out and consume information on the web, website redevelopment has proved to be a fascinating and challenging process, both conceptually and practically speaking. Some realities we’ve faced, based on a review of ISSTD’s website traffic over the past year and a comparison of our site to similar organizations’ sites, include:
- Less content—especially on a homepage—is more. The days of treating websites as electronic bulletin boards has passed—especially in an era of impatient mobile web surfing.
- The information we offer must be both easily digestible and readily accessible, without redundancy and unnecessarily circuitous routes to find what’s needed. Navigation needs to be easy and intuitive rather than confusing or frustrating. (I wonder if Dr. Siegel imagined that the ‘window of tolerance’ model would be so applicable to anticipating web surfing habits?)
- More broadly, a healthy website means healthy, ongoing website content contributions from a variety of sources within an organization.
Curiously, or perhaps not, this redevelopment process has been one of moving from dissociation to integration, and mirrors the movement toward greater integration and collaboration taking placing within ISSTD as a whole. The support we’ve received for this project from (then) Immediate Past President Warwick Middleton and (then) President Martin Dorahy has been amazing. Feedback from ISSTD’s Board has been open and encouraging. And, the direction that Mary Pat Hanlin and Kate McMaugh have taken with ISSTD News over the past months has served as a practical template for how we are proceeding with the overall redevelopment of the website. Fostering active, ongoing committee involvement in the creation of dynamic, ‘living’ content for ISSTD’s website that responsively meets the needs of site visitors has become a major focus of the process.
With all this in mind, Mary Pat, Kate, and I are looking at the following priorities for redesigning the site:
- Clearing out redundant, confusing, and/or ‘dead’ content, of which there is quite a lot (over 600 discrete pages, to date, much of which is not accessed by the public).
- Streamlining remaining site content and developing a rolling calendar that engages relevant committees and groups in creating content updates.
- Making particular resources, which have previously been difficult to find directly (or simply non-existent), more easily accessible to members.
- Making the site ‘responsive’ so that it is viewable on phones, tablets, and desktop computers with user-friendly formatting and navigability native to each kind of device.
We are currently wrapping up mapping the website’s pages and finalizing a process by which committees will evaluate and revise website content relevant to their committee’s charge. We will collect the feedback and use this, combined with member feedback and available web traffic data, to sculpt the new site.
As far as the website committee itself is concerned, it has evolved, as well. Although it had traditionally been named as a committee, there was rarely if ever an actual grouping of people comprising it. Because of the challenges of updating a website, it seemed more logical to have a ‘webmaster’ who worked with paid staff to evaluate web traffic, identified the need for new website content, and coordinated content updates with the relevant committees. In some instances, perhaps even allowing for committees to update their own content. This sort of arrangement is pretty typical for not-for-profit organizations that rely upon volunteers to produce website content, but, owing to the architecture of the current content management system, it has not been practical. With a shift to WordPress, which is much more modular and allows for tiered access, it will be much easier for the website updating to be a collaborative effort coordinated by a webmaster and paid staff.
We made the decision to engage experts in website development in the process, rather than attempt to do this ourselves. That kind of engagement, of course, costs money—an estimated 25,000 USD. We are currently exploring bids for the work of creating the website architecture, and we have received input from a consultant who is well-versed in facilitating the kind of integrative approach we’re taking. In this 35th year of ISSTD, we want to ensure that we are looking at both the present and potential future needs of ISSTD, its members, prospective members, and the lay public.
As such, please consider donating to the “35 in 35” fundraising campaign, to support ISSTD’s investment in your professional enrichment, via the development of a website that can be your web home, and ours. Our intention is to have the new site rolled out by early 2019. Donate here!