UKOLN’s annual Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW ) is now open for bookings. This 3 day event is aimed at members of institutional Web management teams  and others involved in the provision of institutional Web services in higher and further educational institutions and related organisations in the public sector.

This year’s event, the fourteenth in the series, will be held at the University of Sheffield on 12-14 July.  This year’s theme is “The Web In Turbulent Times” – and it seems appropriate to be making this announcement today, on the day of the general election.  And just as the results of the election currently appear uncertain, so too does the future of institutional Web services over the next few years, once the next Government (or whatever political hue) announces its budget for the higher and further education sectors.

For the first twelve years of IWMW (which was launched in July 1997, a few months after the Labour Party came into power) there was a feeling of optimism shared by many within the community: the early adopters of the Web were seeing their views of the strategic importance of the Web being vindicated and over the years, as the Government’s investment in education grew, we saw a move away from the individual Webmaster (or Webmistress – remember those debates?)  to the establishment of Web teams and an increase in levels of funding for these services.

But now those times are over.  Now the challenges which the Web teams will be facing will have to be addressed in the context of  reductions in funding and staffing levels and skills  (and I’ve already heard stories of experienced professionals taking early retirement and being replaced by junior members of staff).

This, then, provides the context for this year’s event.  Chris Sexton, IT Services Director at the University of Sheffield and chair of UCISA will open the event with a talk on “The Web in Turbulent Times“, giving her perspective on the implications of the cuts from her perspective as a senior manager.

Chris will be followed by Susan Farrell, former Head of Web and Portal Services at King’s College London, who, in her new consultancy role, will ask the provocative question:  “Are web managers still needed when everyone is a web ‘expert’?“. The abstract for Susan’s talk is equally provocative, suggesting that “While most senior managers would agree that the web is mission-critical, at a time when budgets are tight it becomes increasingly difficult to persuade them that employing skilled web professionals is vital“.

The opening afternoon’s session at the event seems guaranteed to generate discussion and debate – and a further plenary talk on “No money? No matter – Improve your website with next to no cash” looks at ways of continuing to provide institutional services in the context of cuts . Not all of the plenary talks will reflect the current economic and political context however: in a talk on “It’s all gone horribly wrong: disaster communication in a crisis” Jeremy Speller will seek to answer the question “How do you communicate with your staff and students and the wider world when it all goes horribly wrong?” 🙂

Although these talks aim to stimulate debate informed by bad news (whether cutbacks or exploding volcanoes causing disruptions to those attending conferences)  we need to recognise that we are still seeing technical developments and innovation in the Web environment. The event will therefore provide an opportunity to hear more about “HTML5 (and friends)” and “Mobile Web and Campus Assistant“.

As well as the plenary talks we are also providing about 20 workshop sessions which provide opportunities for participants to develop new skills, covering new technical areas (with sessions on “RDFa: from theory to practice” and “Looking at Linked Data“), social media (with sessions on “‘Follow us on Twitter’…’Join our Facebook group’” and “Sheffield Made Us – using social media to engage students in the university brand“), project management skills (“A Little Project Management Can Save a Lot of Fan Cleaning … or (Agile) Project Management for the Web“), personal development plans (“Developing Your Personal Contingency Plan: Beat The Panic“) and a whole lot more.

The event will also provide a valuable opportunity for networking – which might prove to be immensely  useful for what may turn out to be a shrinking sector.  On the second night of the event the social will be held at the Kelham Island Industrial Museum – a place I’ll be looking forward to revisiting (although I might also sneak off to the Fat Cat for a pint of Kelham island bitter!).

I hope to see you at IWMW 2010. I promise you it won’t all be gloomy!