IC’s guide to an intranet card sorting exercise

By Alfie Penfold
January 13, 2022
4 min read
Using a card sorting exercise can help build your intranet exactly as you want it

What is a card sorting exercise?

A card sorting exercise can be carried out either physically or digitally.

A card sorting exercise involves members of your organization defining and arranging the content they think should be included on your new intranet site. Employees are asked to write what content they would like to see on the site on post-it notes (one note per item) and stick them on a wall, then arrange the items into groups that make sense to them. The exercise can be carried out physically in a room, or digitally using virtual whiteboard software, such as miro.com.

Why should I carry out a card sorting exercise?

The exercise is a great way to ensure your intranet provides value to the members of your organization, as it involves them in the process of designing the site that they will ultimately be the primary users of. Starting with the needs of your audience members is more likely to result in a tool that serves those needs. After you perform this research, you can create a content brief and start working on the most requested ideas.

When an intranet is designed by a small number of individuals, it’s likely to reflect their understanding of what is important to the organization. Typically, intranet project teams don’t include a wide range of roles, so what they think is important doesn’t necessarily reflect what the rest of the organization thinks is important or useful.

Who should be involved?

Involving a wide variety of employees in the exercise will ensure your results are representative of your whole employee population, so including people from different departments, and different levels of your organization is essential. The more people you involve, the more data and insight you will be able to gather. This will not only help to inform your intranet to a higher degree, but will involve more effort to analyze, so finding a balance that suits your project team is also important.

How is a card sorting exercise structured?

Make sure to include your whole team in the card sorting exercise.

We recommend carrying out the exercise in two parts:

  1. What should be included on the intranet
  2. How should the content be arranged

The first stage is about defining what should be on your intranet. If you have existing intranet software, asking employees what they would like to see on the intranet could result in them unconsciously copying what already exists, so framing the question around their information needs may be better.

Some questions you could ask include:

  • “What information do you need to do your job effectively?”
  • “What information/tools are important to your department/team?”
  • “What information do you supply to other areas/departments?”
  • “What are your most accessed documents/tools?”

As the exercise leader it’s important that you understand the meaning of all the items that people have suggested, so if it’s not clear be sure to get confirmation. If you notice that some important items you know will be included on the site have been missed, feel free to add them into the mix yourself. Some items will likely be repeated, and that’s okay – it’s an indication that they’re important to more than one person in the group.

The second stage is about arranging the items your employees have suggested into logical groups or buckets. You can provide the overarching buckets for them to arrange the content into, but we recommend allowing the groups to define themselves.

Inevitably there will be differences in opinion about certain things, and encouraging debate around these items is a great way to help people think the challenge through. If the group can’t come to a consensus, create multiple versions of the same item (if they don’t exist already).

What next?

Once all items have been arranged, take a photo of the completed wall and save it for later. Then repeat the exercise with the next group of employees.

After all groups have completed the exercise, you’ll have a series of structures for your intranet content. It’s then the responsibility of the project team to sort through these structures, identify themes, and create a finalized structure based on what they have seen. If you can’t distill the results into one structure, create a couple of options and show them to some of the people who took part in the exercise, and some that didn’t, to get their feedback.

Once you’ve settled on a structure, use it to build out your intranet site. You may find that down the line you’ll need to tweak the structure for a number of reasons, but staying true to the general themes established throughout the exercise should result in an intranet site that makes sense to your employee population.

Looking for more resources to hone your internal comms strategy? Our team of experts designed tools and templates to help your organization thrive. And be sure to take our assessment to find out exactly what aspects of your strategy need improving!

By Alfie Penfold

Alfie employs an energetic and fun approach to internal communications. With a focus on building meaningful relationships, putting employees first, helping to connect team members, and delivering business value through effective and strategic communications.