Project Websites - Start Spreading the News
Written by Andrew Mitchell

As discussed in one of our previous blogs, the expectations of some public funding bodies regarding public-facing project communications can go far beyond just publications in scientific journals and presentations at conferences. The EC outlines its expectations for Horizon 2020 projects by specifically requiring consortia to disseminate to ‘multiple audiences (including the media and the public) in a strategic and effective manner.’ (Horizon 2020 Grant Agreement, Article 38). While many organisations and institutions will have existing communications strategies, you may wish to invest in creating a project website to meet this requirement – a centralised place for public-facing information on the project’s background, goals, progress and results.

Approaching this task will be dependent on the resources available. Contemporary websites can be developed and deployed to fit all budgets, providing consortia with a high degree of flexibility. For this blog, I’ll be avoiding the technical aspects of designing and developing such a site and instead share some advice to help support the process.

Define your target audience

A public website is viewable by any person with an open internet connection. As such, it may be tempting to simply state that your target audience is ‘everyone’. However, drafting content for a project site that is both accessible and relevant for all potential visitors can be a difficult prospect and a website that attempts to be everything for everyone might be difficult if your goal is communicating technical information. By narrowing down your target audience you might actually be granted more freedom to provide information that is actually relevant to visitors. Defining your audience also includes considering accessibility: providing options for language support, supporting disabled visitors and considering the various devices that visitors may be using can all support the dissemination process.

Define your message

Are you providing a general overview of your project for the public? Are you attempting to explain the technical background of your project for those visitors with existing knowledge of the area? Are you producing information targeted towards patients who may be visiting your site in conjunction with an on-going clinical trial? Your answers to these questions will help shape your site’s contents.

Define your communication methods

You’re by no means restricted to simple text when producing website content. While your options may be limited due to budget or available staff, consortia with greater flexibility may want to consider whether information is most effectively delivered via text, images, animations or videos and whether the nature of your audience influences these decisions. Visitors to the project website are not likely to remain long if they don’t engage with the material, and with the increasing immediacy of the internet they may not even read much of what you write, instead hunting for accessible chunks of information and ignoring the rest. Try to make your key points as engaging as possible.

Define the website’s function

The consortium’s obligations to disseminate information should not come with the weight of expectations to create the next Facebook, Google or Twitter. However, contemporary website development can involve many moving parts, all in support of each other. At the earliest stage possible, it can be useful to identify information that will be static – unlikely to change throughout the project’s lifespan – and information that will be dynamic – changed or added to on a regular basis. Examples of dynamic content might be blog posts, news updates or public contact details as well as documents that you may wish to host for download. Providing support for these more dynamic elements adds layers of complexity to the finished site and it can be best to define these as soon as possible to avoid having to revisit and redraft existing designs and content at a later date.

Define roles for the project team

Even if you intend for your website to remain unchanged throughout a project’s lifespan, it can be useful to define personnel responsible for ensuring that it remains functional. This advice goes double for websites that are to provide dynamic, changing content in any fashion. Try to identify who will be providing these updates, how regular they will be and how you will ensure that information is given approval for dissemination prior to upload.

A project website can seem like a simple thing on the face of it, but with further complexity comes greater investment and all on top of the actual research taking place. Priorities are bound to shift throughout a project, but initial planning, resourcing and assigning team-members can pay dividends in terms of providing a central, accessible and engaging means for project dissemination. Euram work closely with project teams in order to help support the development of project websites as well as other aspects of project management; if you would like to discuss your options, please get in touch via support@euram.ltd.uk.