Intra1: outcomes of the first intranet research sprint – EMBL Communications

EMBL Communications

Informing, inspiring, and engaging society with EMBL’s research, services and training

Intra1: outcomes of the first intranet research sprint

The purpose of intra1 was to understand how people currently use EMBL’s intranets. Specifically, we wanted to:

  1. Understand audience behaviours
  2. Define audience segments
  3. Define the functions and the scope of EMBL’s intranets
  4. Inform the EMBL community about projects to rebuild EMBL’s core websites

We conducted this research with a view to, in the long term, building a new, single, intranet that can serve the entire organisation.

What we did

We conducted research in three broad areas:

  1. Surveys: asking users to complete a short questionnaire online
  2. Analytics: looking at statistics in Google analytics and Piwik to understand user behaviour
  3. Interviews with users: in-depth interviews both in person and online to understand how people used the intranet and the issues they currently faced
  4. Task completion (observation)

User behaviours

The user behaviour that we observed across EMBL showed that people use the intranet for similar purposes and in similar ways, across all sites. We see no barrier, from the perspective of users, of moving towards a single intranet, as long as:

  • site- and campus-specific information is well catered for (e.g. shuttle times, events on campus today, lunch menu, IT practices);
  • contextual cues are explicit (e.g. “you are seeing this information because you are on the Rome site, see similar information for other sites here”).

Indeed, we see positive reasons to move to an integrated intranet and we found evidence for a demand from users for this integration in a number of areas.

Audience segments

We failed to define useful audience segments in detail from this study. However, one area where we identified segments that are underserved by the current infrastructure are those who cannot access the intranet but who want to. This includes:

  • Alumni, including retirees
  • Prospective new EMBL people, and people about to join EMBL
  • Collaborators and contractors
  • Campus partners

Another area where a segment appeared consistently were group and team administrators. These people act like connectors: they are highly knowledgeable about EMBL processes and resources and can access content very effectively in the current intranet environment. They are relied upon heavily by colleagues to find things and perform common tasks for them. We recommend that this user group is closely involved in making future changes and is notified and consulted prior to the majority of users. The level of dependency on group and team administrators by intranet users over time could be used as a measure of how well the intranet is performing.


The primary functions of the intranet as evidenced by user behaviour are:

  • Gateway to tools such as SAP, webmail and room booking
  • Directory for people and units
  • Knowledge base (for questions relating to HR procedures and IT tools, for instance)
  • Campus information (such as lunch menus or shuttle times, for instance)
  • Event information (such as seminars and social events)

These functions are not ranked in any order (usage or impact on operations, for instance).

Communications: informing the community about projects to rebuild EMBL’s core websites

We managed to consult and involve a good number of colleagues in this exercise: 158 people participated in the survey, (and we assume that many more people saw that the survey was there), and we invited dozens to take part in interviews.

We’ll need to keep momentum in this to ensure that people know that we are building on the contributions that they make.


Based on the research outlined in this document, we make the following recommendations:

  1. Resolve access issues so that every intranet is available from every EMBL network
  2. Remove the mobile version of the Heidelberg intranet
  3. Improve the usability of person search results to a) extend the default number of results (currently 5) and/or b) make the link to a full list of results easier to find
  4. Grenoble / Hamburg / Heidelberg / Monterotondo: merge the quicklinks and the area around the shortcuts link, create links based on most read and searched for items
  5. Grenoble / Hamburg / Heidelberg / Monterotondo: review and improve information architecture
  6. Improve discoverability by improving quality/precision of written content and encouraging editors to enter richer metadata.  Explore shared ontologies (e.g. EDAM) and agreeing on common language (e.g. holiday vs vacation vs leave). General training and development for content writing might help.
  7. Apply a comprehensive search across existing intranet channels, which might for example include Confluence if appropriate to the site.  Feed in information from other sources, e.g. bus times from campus specific intranets not operated by EMBL/EMBL-EBI
  8. Add capability to search for people on EBI intranets (DONE)
  9. Explore enrichment of “people” content (e.g. personal profile update, skills mapper integration)
  10. Increasing the contextual editorial support in the content management system to encourage people to create better content, and update it.

Next steps

Here’s what we’ll do next.

  1. Take the technical change recommendations to IT teams
  2. Run sprints based on improving content and information architecture in existing intranet properties and exploring collaboration needs of users
  3. Investigate the impact of opening the intranet to non-authenticated users

Want to know more? Download the intra1 summary report [PDF 2.5MB]