Building the Star Cafe II

 The Star Café – A Growing Success Story

Star Cafe is the intranet for the American Friends Service Committee.

Since 2007, members of the LTA team have worked side by side with the AFSC’s in-house team and have played key roles in design, implementation, roll out and support for the Star Cafe.

Year by year acceptance of the Star Cafe has been steadily rising among members of the AFSC community.  In 2012 the Star Cafe reached a tipping point and has become an integral part of the fabric of work life at the AFSC.

Mailing paper documents out to the Board has stopped. Instead, relevant documents are posted to the Star Cafe and Board Members have learned to access them and use them to prepare for and participate in meetings.

A central list of current Program Plans is now available in the Star Cafe. These link to supporting documents and can be linked to from other resources on the site.

A Compliance List, backed by well-defined business processes and work flows in under construction. This list will allow the management team to be alerted to compliance issues on the horizon and track the steps that need to be taken to fulfill the requirements. An example: country registration renewals for offices and programs around the world.

The Star Cafe has been central to the current Strategic Planning Process at the AFSC. The site has allowed both Staff and Board members to follow the process and comment at each stage. That Process is now quickly coming to a close and we have received extensive feedback from both groups that they both enjoyed the process and found it useful.

In short, the Star Cafe has revolutionized the way the AFSC carries out its work. And LTA has impacted the emergence of the Star Cafe. In many ways this project epitomizes the kinds of transformative partnerships we aim to build with our clients.


Staff members’ willingness to work within your Intranet and embrace the tools it can offer can promote cooperation and collaboration within your organization – and radically streamline the way you do business.

A critical aspect of your intranet in this respect is a user-friendly design tailored to the specific needs of your organization. Key design elements that  have emerged in the Star Cafe are:


Suites in the Star Cafe are dedicated to each of the major organizational units in the AFSC, including Governance. All of the rooms within a suite share the same Quick Launch (see below) and thus the same set of links to the major room and resources within that suite. This provides a consistent experience, for those working anywhere within the suite, and over time, a sense of familiarity.

Top Links

The top links provide easy access to the set of suites from each room in the Star Cafe:

Top Links - Star Cafe


Note: The Support link includes a drop down to each of the eight support units at the AFSC.

The top links are consistent across the Star Cafe.

Quick Launch

The Quick Launch in the Star Cafe is a band of links on the left-hand side of each page in the Star Cafe.

The Quick Launch in the Programs Suite is divided into Resources, Priority Activities, and Related Rooms. Related Rooms include the major departments or teams that make up Programs, e.g. the Africa Region, the Integration and Impact department, the Quaker United Nations Office.

Local or Room Navigation

As mentioned above, each room in the Star Cafe displays both the Top Links for the entire Star Cafe, and the Quick Launch for the particular Suite of which it is a part. For each individual room, an additional set of links provide clear navigation for the sub rooms, the resources within this room, and resources stored across the Star Cafe that are important to the team associated with the room.

We consistently include these as links in a band on the right hand side of each room.

The room navigation in the Program Planning Center currently looks like this:

Room Navigation - Program Planning Center






Statement of Work

For each room we ask the owner to provide a brief statement of their work. This allows the visitor to get a quick take on the room and to see if it matches their interests.

Team Members 

In each room we provide a list a link to a list of the primary team members who work in this room.

Audience Banner

At the top of the page in a given room we provide an Audience Banner that looks like this:

Audience Banner - Program Planning Cneter



This quickly orients visitors to the intended audience for this room, and lets them know who they can reach out to for more information.

Issues of Audience and Permissions

Permissions in your Intranet can be assigned to individuals, and to Permission Groups.

Individuals in your Intranet can be assigned to Permission Groups, which we work with you to create. For example, you can assign all members of your HR team to a group with specific permission levels, allowing them to view, access and share content relevant to their work, while also ensuring that potentially sensitive content is restricted from other audiences. Good examples are salary and healthcare records.

When an individual provides their credentials and signs in to your intranet, the system recognizes them and “knows” the full set of work groups to which this user belongs.

Permission Groups can then be assigned an appropriate level of access to every room and resource in your intranet.

Some rooms in your intranet may include sensitive information – or work in progress that is simply not intended for a general audience. But this will typically apply to only a small fraction of the rooms and resources in your intranet, some of which are  posted with the intention of sharing them with a broad audience.

One guideline that we have found extremely helpful is to think first, what harm will be done if someone enters this room or views this document. We can work with you to think through these decisions and create and maintain appropriate permission levels.

In general, we recommend a bias towards openness, matched with a keen vigilance where security is required.  To accommodate this openness in the Star Cafe we have created a broad permissions group titled the AFSC Family that allows us to open a room or resource to the staff, the Board, the committees and a handful of others. Members of this group can automatically access the bulk of the resources in the Star Cafe.

Permission levels for a room or resource can be very specific – for example a document library within a room that is only visible to a certain working group. We can work with you to adjust permission levels over time as your needs evolve.


The implementation of your intranet is a continuous process and entails an ongoing partnership between your work groups and the intranet development team.

At the AFSC the LTA Team has worked closely with both Programs Staff and the IT team to designed rooms and resources tailored to their needs and have worked to design and build many of these solutions.

We continuously work to make sure that Star Cafe follows and reflects the thinking of each work group about their work, their goals, and how they can best organize to accomplish those goals.

Here is a brief description of just of a few projects that should give you the flavor of the Implementation Process.

The Programs Suite

The AFSC has programs in eight regions around the US and the world plus the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) in Manhattan. In addition,  the Planning and Evaluation, Integration and Impact, and Public Policy and Advocacy teams support staff in the field in approaching their work in a thoughtful, effective and coordinated way.

This structure has developed over time and will undoubtedly continue to evolve. We  designed and built the Programs Quick Launch to match that structure and have maintained it over time to reflect and quickly orient the visitor to the way the Programs Department approaches its work.

The GPPG Room

A key work group within the Programs Department is the Global Programs Planning Group. Members of this group meet weekly and communicate continuously about the diverse work being done in programs work, new opportunities that are available, and threats that face that work.

The LTA Team worked with the GPPG Team through its formative stage, and continue to work with them to keep their Star Cafe Room streamlined, functional, and easy to use.

For example, the room includes a  Meetings Document Library dedicated to upcoming meetings, in which all of the resources that will be shared at that meeting are posted in advance and made available to the team. Many of these are working documents.

There is also a separate GPPG Document Library where the resources that emerge from meetings as final documents for circulation are posted and stored. These are grouped by major categories to make them easily accessible.

The Meeting Support Calendar

As the AFSC has matured into the opportunities offered by emerging technologies, the number of meetings held by the organization has multiplied – especially those including participants attending remotely from locations around the world. As this process unfolded requests and details about meetings were coming to the IT department through a variety of channels – over the cubicle wall, via colleagues passing in the hall, and increasingly, in Skype chats and over email. As the logistics of meetings themselves became more complex, details could be spread over a string of ten email messages. To streamline the process we worked with the Star Cafe Team to build a Meeting Support Calendar.

The Meeting Support Calendar provides a single place to store all of the details for each meeting, including not only time, date and physical location, but also what technologies and applications will be deployed – and is paired with an interactive Calendar View. We also designed and built an InfoPath form providing an easy way for staff to enter their meetings themselves and to keep attendees up to date on the details of the meeting as they emerge and any changes they should know about.

Building this resource and consolidating these details in a central place has made scheduling and tracking meetings straightforward.

Developing and Tracking Meeting Ready Offices | Meeting Ready Staff

As the AFSC continues to grow and expand, the organization is currently involved in a major initiative to get offices and staff Meeting Ready.

As part of this process the MSS Team has developed a strategy to make sure that offices and staff worldwide have the skills and resources they need to be meeting ready, and developed innovative ways to track the process.

We reached out to staff throughout the organization and have begun to receive a steady stream of updated information regarding the meeting ready status of offices and staff. Using SharePoint Lists and linking to the wealth of information on staff members and offices already available in the Star Café, we have created a central way to capture and collaborate around this information.

As a result we are well on the way towards moving beyond reacting to meeting ready barriers and problems as they arise, and instead addressing them proactively in a systemic way.

These initiatives are already taming the data around our meeting ready initiatives much like the Meeting Support Calendar tamed meetings and we are confident that they will play a similar substantial role in transforming possibilities for communication and collaboration both within the AFSC and with outside partners.

Orientation, Training & Support

We work continuously to improve Star Cafe skills across the organization. We develop and circulate documentation appropriate for various audiences, ranging from simple quick reference guides and tips for first time users to detailed user guides, using both traditional documents and video clips. We also offer small group and individual training sessions on how to improve Star Cafe skills, both on an as-needed basis and to keep users up to date on new features and resources as the Star Cafe develops.


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  1. […] For an in-depth discussion of what we learned and what we have accomplished there, click here. […]

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