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Feedback on the forum experience


Feedback on the forum experience

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Sol-leks
Sol-leks
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DTS:

I think there are some good ideas here. I'm going to start a new thread to cover a proposal I'd also like to make.

Post Edited (Sol-leks) : 23/06/2014 12:40:01 (GMT+2)


DeterminedToSucceed
DeterminedToSucceed
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OK, so I promised to get back to you with suggestions, so here is my starter for ten. I hope others chip in and contribute too.

Thinking through the problem (of a well-established but currently underused forum), I would divide it into several addressable elements: the forum technology, the commercial/income-generating aspects, and the user base, its needs, and how that relates to forum structure. These are interrelated, and therefore need to be considered as a whole and over a period of time.

The forum technology:

Forum technology has evolved significantly since this forum was set up, and dotNetBB seems pretty redundant, unsupported, and of course the user interface is now dated. There are open source alternatives (such as Vanilla) that could be used as affordable or free alternatives. Migration looks tricky but not impossible. An overhaul of the whole system would act as the stimulus to re-market and promote the forum in its new guise as a slick and modern place to support the aims of the forum and the charity. I would imagine there is an ex-offender out there who could volunteer their time to perform the necessary upgrades and migration, or the charity invests a few hundred quid to buy in the necessary expertise. Selecting the right forum platform at this stage future proofs the forum (from the technology perspective). New technology would also allow for better integration with social media and help users promote the forum, charity, and increase visibility.

You also mentioned better integration of the forum with the helpline at some point. There are several low-cost chat apps that can be integrated with the website and forum that would allow real-time and anonymous chat with your advisors. That might also help tie these two aspects of the charity together, and would certainly be a modern solution that in itself might help with grant applications (look at us and how we use modern technologies! etc).

Commercial/income-generating aspects:

You run Adsense and generate income off it (which I would imagine is very, very modest). It would be strategic to use advertising placement better (which links to a more modern and fit-for-purpose forum platform). The aim would be to increase traffic and advertising revenue. However, from my reading, a website needs to be huge (thousands of new hits per days rather than per month) to generate meaningful income.

So, is there another income stream from the forum? I would argue there may be, which is to use a model used by other successful forums. This is to keep the vast majority of the forum free and public (which would be the current bits) but offer something for 'full members' for a modest fee - maybe twenty quid a year or even less. Off the top of my head, there could be an area for available jobs or contracts from other ex-offenders or sympathetic employers, offers and discounts for ex-offenders, professional support for CV review or writing....there could also be an area to maintain a 'volunteer database' of ex-offenders with skills to offer that could be used by the charity (or other organisations) - the IT skills above being a good example. There must be lots of people willing to 'give something back', especially during periods of unemployment, and this would help the charity and, of course, help the individual in many ways, not least some restoration of self-esteem.

The user base, its needs, and forum structure:

So, with a well promoted re-launch, a fabulous new interface, and new offerings, there should be some momentum - so ideally it would take on a life of its own. I suppose the reality would be that there could be a re-think of categories and structure at this point to stimulate particular areas of discussion. What about a creative writing section (which would also help identify material for The Record), business advice (and self-employment), technology and IT? A short-story competition or two with a prize? Politics!

Obviously this would need moderation, but you could recruit a few people, have a day of training and introduce the charity a bit better, create a sense of being part of something. If things take off, there may be an opportunity to create a 'safe' space for re-introduction of discussion on banned offences with appropriate moderation, expertise, and input.

An approach like this one requires more of an emotional investment than a financial one from the charity, I would guess. But I do think it would help the charity re-engage with ex-offenders - which after all it what it's all about, isn't it? It seems an ideal time to do something radical, while things aren't quite working, and if you are going to carry on with the forum it is probably necessary anyway because the software is dated.

Anyway, that's a start not a finish, but would be interested to know what people think.

PS. Nice Try, I think it would be an unusual hosting provider that didn't log IP addresses, and website analytics provide a scary amount of data (I use it on my website - I was shocked when I first saw what is logged). There's not much you can do with it though, I don't think.
DeterminedToSucceed
DeterminedToSucceed
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I'm bumping up my own post - you asked for some solutions and I've made some suggestions...any thoughts from the charity and what do other contributors think? What do we want from this forum?
DeterminedToSucceed
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So, I've been on this forum for a week or two, but it's clear that there simply isn't enough critical mass to generate discussion.

It is important to feed back to the charity that this forum does not provide a positive experience for reformed offenders, or at least this one. I am aware of the historical issues, but actually I do not think that is the problem. The charity's attitude to this asset is poor. In particular, the responses to posts (from the charity), when not completely factual, have had a dismissive, irritable, self-important, and patronising tone. There is a lack of engagement with real issues that are affecting your end-users. No doubt you are working on many things (including 'better solutions' that you mention in a recently locked post), but you fail to communicate them via any of your channels (The Record hasn't been updated for two months, and pithy 140 character tweets are a cop-out). Do you know that you just broke the 2000 member mark? What an achievement! - but what a contrast to how you celebrated similar milestones in the past. No welcomes to new users and no responses to helpful posts. You hide individuals behind an impersonal moniker ('The Unlock Helpline' - I've used similar tactics myself when I've been avoidant).

You may wish to blame others or scapegoat for the lack of engagement here, but ultimately the forum is reflecting the tone and direction of the charity and the responsibility is yours. I recently re-read Ian's parting shot, and he was right on the button.

The reason I am writing this is no to undermine you, but to communicate my frustration. What a shame you are not cultivating this better, given that this is an established technological resource most organisations would die for. You have the opportunity to promote grass-roots support. Of course you are small, of course there are resourcing and time issues, but the biggest sadness for me is that, compared to two years ago, you seem to have disconnected from the very people you aim to help, and who would be willing to help.
DeterminedToSucceed
DeterminedToSucceed
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Thanks for responding Chris. I am out of town for a couple of days but I will think about possible solutions and post after I have thought it through carefully.
DeterminedToSucceed
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Thanks Chris, that's good to know. I'll be interested to see how things develop and I hope that there are ways in which I can contribute.
AJW83
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Trouble is Chris a lot of members are turning away for various reason whether its the nature of the offence that they cant discuss, or simply there aren't enough active members that will reply who is going to post on a forum that is a ghost
town.

I could count probably 5 or 6 active members that post and reply its gone from an active helpful forum to a dead one over the past 2 years and its a shame.

Hope you guys can turn it around
Christopher Stacey
Christopher Stacey
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Hi DeterminedToSucceed,

Thanks for the feedback. We always welcome it, and know that we can always do better.

I'm pleased that you don't think the historical issues are the problem, and in fairness, I think we've let them get in the way of developing the forum further, and that's certainly our fault.

You're right, the charity is small, and resources are scarce, and we are constantly trying to find the right balance between the various things we 'could' do. But we can always do better.

If I may, I'd be interested in asking about any practical suggestions you can make in terms of how it could be improved, bearing in mind the forum isn't specifically funded. As also, solutions are better than problems! For example, offers of helps from members, and ways we could involve some members of the forum in specifically helping us to improve it, promote it, post news etc.

Finally, I'd just like to pick on your point about communication channels. The easiest way to sign up to 'news' from Unlock is to subscribe to our email list - see unlock.us2.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=45c161a5b068f45e640606f58&id=11b62d791e - there have been at least 3 updates this week I believe!

Need Unlocks advice? Visit our self-help information site or contact our helpline
Christopher Stacey
Christopher Stacey
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And you're right, I'd completely missed the '2000' members. Certainly something worth shouting about.

What I'm constantly amazed at is the number of unique visitors we receive every month to the forum - over 6,000 last month. We know from feedback that we receive that people get a lot of value simply out of reading the forum - that's why it was so important for us to make it entirely open and visible when we first set it up!

Need Unlocks advice? Visit our self-help information site or contact our helpline
Christopher Stacey
Christopher Stacey
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Hi DTS - we're doing some work behind the scenes, where all the suggestions being made here will be being considered.

So to both you and others, please do use this thread as an opportunity to provide feedback on the forum. Trust me, it's all taken into account. And we'll feedback as and when. Cheers.

Need Unlocks advice? Visit our self-help information site or contact our helpline
GO


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