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10 Portal Pitfalls

Page history last edited by c.fisher@... 14 years, 7 months ago

10 Portal Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Version 2,  Nov 09

Catherine Fisher, Strategic Learning Initiative at IDS


Some people assume that setting up a portal is easy. The first don’t, so obvious its not included in the 10,  is don’t assume that!  Whilst it is increasingly easy to create a portal, creating a portal that is populated with useful content, is sustainable and most importantly addresses the problem it was created for, requires a lot of thought work and resources.  


These don’ts’ are intended to help people who are thinking about setting up a portal to help them to avoid some common pitfalls that others have fallen into. 


They are aimed at people thinking of setting up portals which are intended to address information problem on an ongoing basis, particularly those created with development or social justice objectives. A portal is understood to be:

·         a web based dynamic platform,  that;

·         features content from or links to content from a wide range of organisations; and

·         is updated on a regular basis. 


Adding to or editing this article

I-K-Mediary Network members -  you can add your own portal pitfalls or don'ts by editing the wiki (just request permission) or by commenting in the box below.    Other comments and feedback that help to develop this are extremely welcome, please mail Catherine Fisher c.fisher@ids.ac.uk



10 Portal Pitfalls and suggestions for avoiding them 


1.  Don’t assume that a portal is the best solution

Spend time thinking about the problem and all the different options for addressing it before deciding to create a portal. Sometimes non-technical solutions or simple technical solutions may address the problem better.  Portals are most effective if they are seen as part of a solution and are accompanied by a broader programme of online and offline activities.


2.  Don’t do it if someone else already has, and don’t go solo

The last thing the world needs is lots of overlapping and competing portals.  Unless you are clear that your portal is totally distinct from any other portal in terms of content, purpose, target audience,  and that your primary stakeholders will be clear on that, don’t do it!  You could instead work on something in collaboration with others providing complementary portals or let them do the portal while you focus on tailored products for your target audience.  Given the amount of potential content in the world, no portal can be fully comprehensive, don't claim to be. Instead identify your priority content areas (however defined) and let other portals focus on others.


3. Don’t ask stakeholders what they want from a portal

No one wants a mousetrap, what they want is a way to get rid of unwanted mice.  Identifying the needs of stakeholders is important but don’t ask stakeholders what information they would like to see on a portal.  Instead ask key stakeholders what they would like to be able to do that they can’t currently do because of lack of information and when and how they look for information in their work. This will also help you decide if a portal is the best solution for their problems.


4. Don’t try to be everything for everybody

Even if your portal is supply driven,  ie it is about bringing together a body of knowledge with no particular audience in mind, you still need to be clear who the key people are that you working for, what you hope they will do and how you hope they will use your portal. If others use it in different ways that’s great,  but you need to design it with your specific target audience in mind.  Note that "everyone interested in subject x" is not specific enough to constitute a target audience.  


5. Don’t do it if it does'nt fit with your organisation's vision and mission

The public good nature of running a portal involves dealing with information from multiple organisations, not just your own. It may involve communicating perspectives that contradict the perspectives of your organisation.  If your organisation cannot handle that, don’t do it.


6. Don’t obsess about the technology

Many portals are seen as purely technical projects and this is reflected in the budget allocation.  Of course, technical tools are important; they need to be right for the job, robust and easy to use. However the success of portals relies on the people running them and  that goes beyond their ability to write code or manage databases. A good balance of budget spend is 80% on people 20% on technology.


7. Don’t forget about the content

A portal is only as good as the content it leads you to. Be clear when planning what kind of content you will include in your portal, this should relate to the problem you addressing and your values and aspirations for your portal. Think about how you will find content (don’t assume it will come flooding in, this is rare) and how you will decide what to include.  Don’t start building a technical platform for a portal before establishing this. 


8. Don’t set up complicated or untenable delivery teams

If staff who are working on the portal are also working on many other projects with hard deadlines (eg consultancy work) the portal is likely to get neglected. If simple decisions need to be made at a senior level or by an advisory panel, they will not get made and the portal might grind to a halt


9. Don’t assume that if you build it ‘they will come’

Even if you create a portal that exactly meets the needs of your target audience, you will need to: tell them about it,  remind them to use it,  ask for and respond to their feedback,  and make it easy for existing users to recommend your portal to their friends and colleagues. 


10. Don’t think that you can set it up then just sit back and relax

 Running a portal is an ongoing endeavour.  As well as delivering a high quality service, you need to fix it when it breaks, promote it, evaluate it, and fundraise for it.   Importantly you also need to be evolving and innovating in response to the changing information and communication environment of your stakeholders. 



Of course there are many other do’s and don’ts involved in setting up a portal – I have not gone into detail about any of the actual areas of implementation, for example deciding what kind of products to provide, designing and building the portal, setting up the editorial policy.   


If you are thinking of setting up a portal that deals with research based material for development purposes, you may want to join peers from around the world in the I-K-Mediary Network.   There is further information on this wiki or on the public site at www.ids.ac.uk/go/ikmediary-group/ 



Other resources

How We...Uphold Editorial Quality (PDF)  A guide to how the IDS Knowledge Services select material and maintain the quality of their products. 2009

How We...Produce Email Newsletters (PDF) A guide to how the IDS Knowledge Services produce email newsletters. 2008






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