National Autistic Society launches Interactive Member Forum

The society chose Verint’s Community Solution in order to facilitate engagement and interaction

The National Autistic Society UK (NAS) has invested in new technology to provide its members a safe, online discussion forum for sharing stories about their experiences with autism. 

The society chose Verint’s Community Solution in order to facilitate engagement and interaction through shared stories, advice and support, while providing a great online experience so the society can better engage with its members. 

The NAS said it chose Verint because of its ability to integrate with leading CMS systems, and because the organisation needed to launch a replacement for their previous ageing system with a modern platform, while redesigning and relaunching its website. 

“We wanted to replace our aging forum software with a modern, reliable platform to support strong online communities for autistic people, their families and for professionals. Verint also provides a solution that will integrate well with our main website, which is currently being redeveloped,” National Autistic Society digital projects manager, Dominic Wilkinson, said. 

“We look forward to exploring even more features, including incorporating blogs and Q&A forums in the future.” 

The community is part of the Society’s three-part Web presence. The main site offers guidance and advice, as well as details of services and how people can support them. Specialist sites provide information about and for professionals who work with autistic people in fields such as education, health and social care, and the law. 

National Autistic Society digital project manager, David Rossall, said the aim of the community has consistently been to allow members to share experience and ideas. 

“That’s confirmed in our impact report for 2009-10, which includes mention of our plan, during that year, to launch our new online community, creating a forum where the whole autism community can come together to discuss experiences and issues, and share ideas and news,” he said. 

“I don’t think we could definitely say now from where the idea first arose. Often, these things are a result of various conversations coming together. In any case, the organisation and its constituency are not entirely separate; for example, many of our trustees have autistic children, or are themselves on the spectrum, and indeed that is true of some staff as well. 

“Our social media channels contain updates, news and announcements we believe will be of interest to our audiences. The community is very much about autistic people, and their friends and families, sharing experiences and ideas among themselves.

“Most important for them is making sure the Community and website are integrated. For instance, people looking for advice on a specific subject can also find a community thread discussing that topic.  

As a charity, supporter and customer engagement are central to achieving the mission, Rossal continued. "Right back to our founding by a group of parents of autistic children, a close and supportive constituency is fundamental to what we do.” 

Verint general manager, intelligent self-service, Michael Southworth, said the organisation understands the importance of robust moderation capabilities for a public forum. 

“The National Autistic Society is a forward-thinking organisation that recognises the value of an online community to its mission and to the digital services it provides its member," he commented. “As an organisation that supports autistic people and their families across the UK, and works to improve their everyday lives, we know a key enabler of this mission is the sharing of knowledge.

“Verint Community allows people to exchange their real experiences of everything from diagnosis to daily life for the benefit of others in similar situations, while preserving privacy for those that choose to remain anonymous.”

And privacy is a vital component to this endeavour, Rossall added. “Privacy is very important to the NAS. The discussions are open to the public, because the aim is to enable others to benefit from what people are sharing," he said. 

“However, the NAS strongly encourages everyone to use forum names that do not relate to their real names, and to avoid posting anything that might reveal their identities. They use custom code to provide anonymised forum names when people first sign in. This avoids showing sign-in usernames as forum names, because people using their web shop and other single sign-on services may well choose sign-in usernames based on their real names. 

“There are various opportunities where Verint Community may help the NAS in the future. However, at present, NAS is fully focused on other projects and not yet made definite plans.” 

Founded in 1962, The National Autistic Society is the UK’s leading charity for the 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK, and their families. The organisation’s goal is to help transform lives, change attitudes and create a society that works for autistic people.

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