For the Washington Fire Chiefs (WFC) association, collaborating on legislative and policy efforts once meant sending individual e-mails to as many as 1,500 members across the state. When members individually responded, WFC staff would then combine each submission into a final document.

All that e-mailing is over and the collating of member input is easier with a new content management system. “It saves us a tremendous amount of work and effort to get these policies, procedures, letters — whatever we’re working on — taken care of,” said Mike Brown, WFC executive director.

The new system, built on Microsoft SharePoint, allows the association to store shared content, such as news, events and job postings, in a single location and publish it to many websites. The technology allows WFC members to edit a single document in a shared workspace. In addition to a place for members to edit shared documents, members-only sections include chat and message boards.

The document workflows are used primarily by the association’s board members, according to Kathleen Harmon, who provides technical support for the WFC. The same process can also be used by each of the association’s subject-matter subcommittees.

Members can view and suggest changes to documents using Microsoft Word in the members-only section. “They need to have a Microsoft Office suite to be able to use that effectively there,” Harmon said. “Depending on the version, they may actually have to save it outside of SharePoint and then re-upload it, but as long as the name stays the same it will add it to that chain.”

An administrator can specify the number of versions to keep, and changes can be tracked using Word. Members can see suggested changes, reducing the number of duplicate changes that would previously have to be merged from multiple submissions.

Document workspaces may also facilitate Web conferencing, which the association is encouraging members to adopt to reduce traveling, Brown said.

Another benefit is the WFC can offer hosting for county fire chiefs associations’ websites and share content, such as job listings, event notices and classifieds, from the statewide site with the county associations.

The new system costs about half as much to operate as the $1,200 per month previously.