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Report from the Central Office:
by Susan Dudley, SPSSI Executive Director
Updating SPSSI’s Online Profile
In the summer of 2006, SPSSI Council embarked on two important projects. First, Council asked Metis Consulting to conduct a comprehensive assessment of our Central Office function and to provide recommendations on how we might work more effectively. Soon afterward, they asked NPower to advise us on ways to improve our internal and external IT efficiency and performance.
Since then, we’ve been making steady progress toward implementation of many of the recommendations growing out of these two studies. While each new piece has improved our operations and benefited our members, the majority have nonetheless been relatively invisible from outside the Central Office. In contrast, upgrading our website, which both of these consulting groups recommended, and which then-president Irene Frieze adopted, as a priority during her term in office, is an accomplishment that we can all see, benefit from, and use directly.
You’ll find the SPSSI web pages at the same address as before, but our online image is definitely new. If you haven’t visited www.spssi.org in a while, please take some time to explore the new site. Here are some of the highlights:
A New Image: Before our first meeting with the members of the design team, they had studied our old site and concluded that we had been projecting ourselves as academics, pedagogues, and researchers. This didn’t feel quite right to us, and with the support of Council, we decided to make a change that would focus attention on the real-world issues and ideals at the core of SPSSI membership. We developed the homepage slideshow, with its series of images evocative of some of the range of social issues upon which our members’ research touches, as a better way to convey what SPSSI is all about. There are currently five images in this sequence, and we’re hoping that members will send us more photos from their personal collections to enhance this opening program.
Improved Navigation: Early in the process, our web developers asked a random sample of 500 SPSSI members to participate in a sorting exercise familiar to social scientists, in which respondents grouped – in whatever way made sense to them – a long list of terms describing the content present on our old site. This helped the developers to devise a new organizational scheme for our content that would be more intuitive for more people. All the content from the old site is still available in this new format along with some new features. We hope to enhance our content, building out some of the “thinner” sections so that members and visitors will want to come to the site often, and that once there, they’ll be able to locate what they’re looking for easily.
Members-Only Content: When SPSSI members log in, they immediately gain access to password-protected features that are not visible to non-member visitors. The most important of these right now is a membership directory, which members can access under the “Membership” tab. This directory is searchable by name, university, state, or many other variables. We’re confident that as long as members are conscientious about keeping their member profiles up to date, the directory will prove to be one of our most important resources. At an administrative level, the site provides us the capacity to build other limited-access content that, for example, will allow members who are serving on awards committees to log-on to read grant and award applications, saving the time, resources, and expense of circulating them in other formats.
Homepage Features: Along with the new colors and the slide program, the homepage features seven navigational tabs along the top – Policy, Teaching Resources, Conferences, Membership, Early Career Professionals/Students, Publications, and Grants/Awards – to highlight our major programs. These tabs, as well as the “About SPSSI” (where important governance, leadership, history, and other important administrative information appear) and “Contact Us” links show up again at the top of many of the interior pages. The homepage also provides direct links to important content including the Featured Member section, the Lewin Award history, SPSSI History, our newsletters, and information about our journals, listserv, and convention.
Membership Services: SPSSI’s membership database links directly to the website, allowing members to update their profiles, pay their dues, or make special contributions to our awards programs. The webpage will continue to be the portal for online voting in SPSSI elections and registration for SPSSI conferences and it is where you’ll be able to read the latest newsletters, access our newsletter archives, and get information about grants and award opportunities that SPSSI sponsors. Although we say it so often it probably sounds trite, please do go to the Membership section and be sure that your member profile is accurate – because we have to rely on you to correct the mistakes that inevitably creep in over time. This will increase the efficiency of all of our many database-dependent operations.
Content Management: And of course, there’s more to the new site than meets the eye. The “back end” is built on the Community Enterprise® platform developed by the Boston company, CitySoft, Inc. The content management capabilities of this system enable us to add content and keep the site updated easily, without having to rely on dedicated IT staff or outside consultants. This saves SPSSI time and money. We hope to take full advantage of the content management system as new materials are developed and added.
Our new website wouldn’t have become a reality without the commitment of Council, and especially of Irene Frieze, who ensured that sufficient resources were available to see this project to completion. We also owe special thanks to David Livert, chair of SPSSI’s Web Committee, who participated at every stage of site development, and Michelle Kaufman, former chair of the Graduate Student Committee, who helped us through the visual design phases. Getting to the launch date has been a lot of work, and a lot of fun, but we’ve only just begun.
The real challenge that lies before us now is to build out each and every section so that the value of our features and content – to both SPSSI members and visitors – is always growing. For this, we rely on you! Please send us your ideas and feedback, photos from your collections that you’d be willing to let us use, nominations and/or profiles for featured members, course syllabi and teaching resources, and other content ideas. Direct all suggestions and submissions to email@example.com.