Collaboration With Constituents Using Office 365 [Part II] – Centralization

Post Date: 07/18/2017
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As a government or public entity, you have a few set goals when it comes to communicating effectively with those in your community. It likely doesn’t matter if you represent an internal organization in a federal agency, state-level IT service, small town government, or city dogcatcher’s office. Your goals to increase constituent involvement and understanding should be:

  1. organizing your information for constituent benefit (centralizing)
  2. communicating to your constituents (push)
  3. taking input from your constituents (pull)

In my previous post, I highlighted some key considerations when it comes to IT strategy for your government or public sector organization. In this posted, we’ll focus on the first goal listed above: centralization. Let’s look at centralization efforts using a common scenario as our lens.

Board of directors meeting extranet using SharePoint Online (centralize information)

One solution most governmental organizations need is a way for their board of directors—which includes city councils, county supervisors, school boards, advisory groups, etc.—to collaborate on and share documents before and after their meetings.

People are busy and working on the go – that means they need easy access to the information to be productive and to make decisions. They’re also used to a service level from their own employers, and some of those employers will be using really good systems that meet these needs already (like Office 365).

If you use SharePoint Online, you can host these documents, organize them by topic, keyword, meeting date, and more. You can also include a SharePoint calendar so your audience knows when all their meetings are. A discussion board can be used for comments, questions, or other conversation ahead of time. That’s for the board.

For the public, you can share the content using external sharing and provide access via a link on your public website.

We followed this procedure when I served on my local school board, but we paid for an expensive niche tool. If Office 365 had been around then, we could have built this workspace for free. But the ideas remain the same. Here’s how we did it:

  1. Publish all meeting content ahead of meetings, organized by agenda item. Board members gained access first. Board members were encouraged to review all documents and submit questions ahead of time.
  2. Content that was meant for public access was made public two days before the meeting. This gives the public time to review documents so they can ask informed questions at the meeting or after.
  3. The agenda and supporting documents were displayed on a screen during the meeting at all times so the order of the meeting was always present and the backup documents could be read in real time. Meeting attendees were also encouraged to access the documents on their mobile devices if they wanted further detail.
  4. For executive session, we simply used a Board Members permission group so only the board could see those sensitive items.
  5. Files are kept for as long as is required by records and FOIL (New York’s Freedom of Information Law), complete with public access to those dates.
    1. Because board members may leave before the document’s death date, the permissions are based on a group, not individuals. Once the board member left the board, they leave the permission group and the new board member receives their old permissions. This keeps sensitive documents more secure because board members won’t be keeping boxes of paper files in their closet for years afterwards (this was not uncommon).


Document management for your website’s files using OneDrive for Business (centralize information)

Your organization likely has a public-facing website where taxpayers can see what you’re doing, what events are upcoming, what reports you’re publishing, etc. Web hosting isn’t free; sometimes it isn’t cheap either. Space can become a commodity for web hosts because those companies know they have a grip on you because moving your website to a new hosting location isn’t easy (or cheap).

Instead of paying high fees for hosting, you already get a large amount of space via OneDrive for Business in Office 365: each individual gets a terabyte of space included. That’s the equivalent of 212 DVDs, per person. That’s a lot of space.

SharePoint Online has similar document storage abilities, but its space limits are smaller. You could easily do this with SharePoint, but if you want to be less likely to run into a space issue, OneDrive might be the least risky option.

Files that are hosted on your external website likely are accessed via links on webpages. It’s unlikely your website requires visitors to sift through folders of files via your website. Whether the files are hosted on your website or OneDrive is irrelevant to the user. They just want to be able to read, share, download, or print the file.

Moving website files to OneDrive and updating the links to point there will save on web hosting space. It also makes searching much easier (and better) because Office 365 search is available out of the box.

Now that we’ve discussed the idea of centralization, in the next post I’ll share more about the concepts of “push” and “pull” when it comes to communicating with constituents.


Title tag: Collaboration With Constituents Using Office 365 [Part II] – Centralization

Meta description: Tips on increasing productivity and collaboration within a public sector or local government organization to better serve constituents and the community.

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