In spring 2020 as the RAC offices closed due to COVID-19, we convened a group of 5 staff members representing each of the Rockefeller Archive Center’s program areas to learn and explore how we measure our work and impact in the context of website analytics data. This Web Analytics Owners Group was formed as part of a project to standardize and better leverage the organization’s use of analytics data from our various web properties. It has been an incredibly successful case of cross-program collaboration, building expertise, and strengthening the RAC community in what has been a pretty bleak and isolating year for the world. One year out, this post reflects on how this group came together and what has made it successful.
Two years ago, I undertook a project to assess our use of web analytics data at the RAC. We had implemented Google Analytics for all of our web properties at launch, but had never developed a comprehensive and consistent strategy to leverage the data for specific program plan objectives or designated roles and responsibilities for setting up, maintaining, and reporting on the data. This Digital Strategies team project consisted of a study of the ways in which the various program areas in our organization were (and were not) using web analytics data, which web property data was of interest to which teams, an assessment of web analytics privacy implications for our users, and what the existing expertise and organizational capacity was to effectively and usefully interpret and leverage the data.
The resulting project report included recommendations that were adopted by the RAC related to protecting user privacy, standardizing analytics infrastructure, and regularizing user provisioning and permissions to share responsibility for the use and maintenance of analytics properties and to empower all program areas to take ownership over the data that related to their functions and goals. The report also recommended that someone from each program area in the organization be designated as an “owner” of their team’s relevant web analytics. These owners would work with their program’s director to identify relevant metrics to support strategic objectives identified by the team. To empower folks to use and understand the analytics data, the report also recommended developing training opportunities and sharing resources related to web analytics tooling and basic data analysis skills.
The Web Analytics Owners Group
The analytics “owners” from their respective teams were identified in April 2020: Erich Chang from Collections Management, Kathleen Leonard from Reference, Darren Young from Processing, Rachel Wimpee from Research and Education, and me from Digital Strategies. Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to transition to remote work, I invited this group to meet as a part of a training strategy to develop our skills. We set up our first regular meetings in May 2020, initially focused on sharing our existing knowledge and learning the basics of Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. Team members researched topics and reported back to the group, which created space to share skills, questions, and to explore how web analytics topics might apply in the contexts of our different program areas. We compiled a shared document of resources and key concepts with guides, training resources, and other reference sources. The skillshares and discussions have covered topics that include:
- Considering the limitations of analytics-based assessment and other methods we might use to answer different kinds of questions.
- Reporting methods, data visualization, and how to present relevant data effectively to stakeholders.
- Setting up and using Google Tag Manager to track site events like button and link clicks.
- Understanding how to use and share custom dashboards and reports.
- SEO and interpreting and leveraging data about site traffic.
- The newly released Google Analytics 4.
- The possibility of moving away from using Google Analytics to a different platform like Matomo.
These Analytics Owners Group skillshare meetings came at an important moment for the Rockefeller Archive Center web presence with the recently redesigned RAC website, the new RE:source digital storytelling and educational site produced by the Research & Education team, development and release of our new archival discovery system, and our continued interest in sharing RAC documentation widely with that archival community. In this context of multiple new mission-critical RAC web properties, the group offered a space to explore ideas about how we measure our work and impact while gaining the skills to implement event tracking and reporting mechanisms to enable that analysis. Finally, we’ve been cautious and clear about the limitations and problems of overreliance on metrics-based assessment.
A collaborative cross-departmental team
Because the Web Analytics Owners team is a group of individuals from across different function areas of the organization with distinctly different day-to-day work, this specific group of people has never had occasion to convene before this. The group is intentionally non-hierarchical in structure with rotating facilitation and a predetermined but collaboratively created agenda for each meeting. We have structure and accountability, but a loose and conversational approach that leaves us space to explore, often sharing resources in a team chat between meetings. From our first meeting in May 2020, we have periodically revisited and reflected on our purpose, the value of our meetings, our focus and interest in specific topics, and meeting frequency. We have adjusted our strategy over time to ensure that the group remains useful and fun instead of unnecessary and obligatory.
Reflecting on the past year of remote work and how it has impacted us, this team stands out to me as a bright spot. We continue to meet once a month with plans to contribute to an upcoming Digital Strategies team project to assess our use of Google Analytics and whether or not it remains the most appropriate tool for the RAC’s analytics needs. But regardless of our future, the past year with this team has been a success and a model for cross-department collaboration that likely would not have developed in this way if we had not been forced to leave the office and rethink/realign many of our day-to-day tasks.
Having a space to learn and teach new skills, think outside the boundaries of our usual tasks, and make connections with colleagues who we don’t often get to work with in a low-stakes environment has been a success; it’s a model that I’m hopeful we can build on in other project contexts to empower ourselves and each other.