News Article

BLOG: Using the MSL tool set to support democratic systems: part 2 - Student Ideas

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Gary McLachlan, Change and Represent Manager at University of Exeter Students' Guild explains how they use the MSL news and ideas widgets to support the Guild’s democratic systems in this second article in the series.

Our Ideas pages are indexed in one place, and currently we use tags for the “status” of each Idea page in the following way:

  • Every Idea contains a reference to itself – based on the poll ID# which is the voting mechanism for each Idea. i.e. Idea675 – the Idea which contains poll number 675
  • Every Idea for the current year is tagged 2016
  • Every Idea has a status tag which is either Open (voting live), Fast (Fast Ideas – a different voting mechanic and turn-around time), and Large (denotes Ideas which are the preferendum element of our voting system.)
  • Once an Idea has been voted on it is scored (manually) from the poll, and then given the status it achieved through voting – win, withdrawn, complaint, second, third, dropped or failed – these tags are used to display archives of what happened to the Idea after it closed. Inprogress is also used for active projects which are still being delivered.

The Idea index on the live page takers Ideas which are Open, Fast or Votes – with the additional check that they also contain the tag 2016. These are the ideas listed for students to click through (URL-based navigation) to vote or comment live.

Each Idea also has a “Related Ideas” news feed; which uses the same News source but searches instead for the tags relating to ‘topic’ by which we content manage Ideas – there are currently 52 topics which come up often enough to inter-relate; and each News story when it’s created gets one or two topics attached to it so that the internal referencing works.

For the Related Ideas News feed; we exclude the Idea on the page which is pulling the list – i.e. Idea 675 would exclude the tag Idea675 from its feed to prevent circular references; and would also exclude the Open, Fast and Votes Ideas which are currently live; being a list of closed Ideas on the related topics.

The is also an archive of Ideas for each year, categorised by those Ideas which passed, those which are still in progress and those which failed – and the status tags are used to display all Ideas which are not Open, Votes, or Fast (i.e. still active) in the appropriate list for navigation.

In this example, positive inclusion, absolute requirements, status and topic are all managed purely from tags used within the News widget, and each Idea has its own permanent URL indexed from the News feed – we have found this to be far more accurate for our daily use of Ideas since it means:

  • We manually control the status (and therefore display) of every element in the indexes without ever having to edit the HTML which makes those indexes.
  • Intervention is only ever done in one place – on the tags attached to each News story, meaning if mistakes are made we can correct them immediately and know that the entire index system is correct.

The use of the News system to write all indexes and Related Ideas lists on the fly saves staff time on every Idea or change – in the first year of operation an estimated 10 minutes per Idea was spent simply keeping the indexes up-to-date and editing HTML; where a mistake (i.e. forgetting to close a /div) can quickly break the page and take hours to hunt back down, or lead to Ideas being removed from the index entirely. Using News to automatically create new indexes by the addition of a news widget has cut administrative time considerably, to the point where we estimate that our upper limit for a single staff member to manage the system is around 800 Ideas a year – whereas in our first year of operation we would have struggled to achieve 200 had we received that many.

Read the next article in this series which discusses managing Student Council content with tagging.

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