UW Today

April 20, 2011

Blog Profile: Office of Planning and Budgeting follows all things higher ed.

Members of the UW community are increasingly expressing themselves in blogs about their interests or professional matters. UW Today occasionally features brief profiles of these blogs and their authors. Here we visit the Office of Planning and Budgetings OPBlog: Higher Education Junction, which has several authors. One of them, Jessica L. Thompson, higher education policy analyst in Planning & Budgeting, answered our questions.

Q: How long have you been writing this blog, and how did it get its start?

Thompson said her office got “lots of positive feedback” in 2008 for a series of memo briefs emailed out about policy and budget information.

But two thoughts persisted. First, “There were a whole lot of things that we were tracking, analyzing, and discussing within OPB that werent necessarily worthy of a brief to campus but that we felt others both inside and outside of the direct UW community would be interested in knowing about.” Second, she said, “We thought it would be great to have a medium where we could discuss the wide array of things we work on and think about without pushing copious amounts of content on unwilling email recipients.”

She said Paul Jenny, vice provost for planning and budgeting, “was on board with the blog right away, but technical roadblocks combined with other priorities delayed our implementation until we went live with our first OPBlog post in September of 2010.”

Q: Who is your intended audience?

“Part of what we do here in the Office of Planning and Budgeting is closely follow not only what is happening to higher education spending and policy in Washington state and at the UW but what is happening with our peer institutions and their states, and what is generally happening nationally and internationally,” Thompson wrote.

“Our primary audience is of course all of the members of the UW community and other UW stakeholders, but we also more broadly aim the blog at anyone who is at all interested in higher education. You will find a mix of very UW/Washington State specific posts and much broader posts about trends in other states and countries, opinion data, policy ideas and more.

“So, on any given day you might find a post about the UW budget, a post about a California scholars newly imagined future for public higher education, or a post about state pension spending and how it may or may not be affecting higher education spending. If you visit our blog today you will see that the ‘tag used most often in posts up to this point is ‘economy, which is illustrative.”

Q: Do you have any plans for where youll take the blog in the future?

“Right now we are just trying to keep the blog posts as frequent, fresh and informative as possible,” Thompson said. But she added that they have “several near-term goals” for the blog:

  • Increasingly bring in new authors and address new topics. Weve started doing this with a couple of space-related posts published by a senior planner in our Capital Resource Planning group, as well as some posts by a UW undergraduate student worker in OPB.
  • Start working in more graphics where possible to spice the visual up a bit.
  • Raise the profile of the blog, primarily through search engine optimization.

Q: What are your best and worst experiences writing this blog?

Thompson replied, “The stress associated with thinking up new posts has definitely been the most challenging experience. I definitely underestimated how much time the process of maintaining a blog takes if you want to provide value to the reader beyond just throwing up a link.

“If we link to a source it means we have read it and are willing to answer questions or provide more information about it, which takes some serious time during both the pre-posting and posting process. Given time constraints and the work level that we have in OPB right now this often means that my colleague Sarah Hall and I spend many nights dreaming up and drafting post topics, and sometimes spend our weekends combing through reports and sifting through higher education press coverage.

“Thankfully we really love this stuff, and actually enjoy having the opportunity to share it with others who may be interested. Sometimes people directly email or tell us that they appreciate the blog, and weve even gotten a few contacts from journalists who have stumbled across our blog in the process of writing a story, including a reporter for the New York Times who came across a book summary we had written and highlighted on our blog and posted a link to it in a New York Times blog post.

“That link brought several thousand new visitors to our website over the course of a few days — definitely a highlight!”