Since attending my first Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) in July I’ve been chastising myself for not discovering it sooner. What pearls of wisdom, illuminating ideas and work practices and valuable connections have I been missing out on all these years?
I felt an immediate sense of relief at walking into a ready-made community of like-minded individuals all grappling with the challenges of ‘doing digital’ in higher education (HE). In his talk on “Marrying Creativity with Management Complexity” Rob Van Tol (Precedent) recognised the therapy-like function of such a gathering: let’s face it, it’s good to share the pain. And when you consider the scope of the challenges facing most HE digital teams there’s a fair bit of pain to go around…
Revolution not evolution – the need to think big
The theme of IWMW 2015 (‘Beyond Digital: Transforming the Institution’) was nevertheless bold and positive and the conference was full of talented, passionate individuals that it was a privilege to listen to and learn from. Mike McConnell, for example, talked about the University of Aberdeen’s consultation process for developing a ‘digital vision’. This was big stuff – transformational stuff, no less. The focus was resolutely on people and processes, not just systems, websites and technology, and it was a theme that arose again and again during the workshop. Listening to such case studies, and hearing from people who are attempting to transform their institutions in this way, was inspiring. It reminded me of Martha Lane Fox’s recommendations to the Cabinet Office back in 2010 – ‘revolution not evolution’. I sense that it struck a deep chord with many of those present at IWMW 2015.
Putting the user first
Another notable theme (addressed by Paul Boag, among others) was just how crucial it is for universities to prioritise user/customer experience. Before returning to HE this year I worked at the Government Digital Service (GDS) where user needs are the driving force behind everything they do. The argument for putting the user/customer first doesn’t always seem to be accepted (or perhaps even heard) in the higher echelons of some universities, so it was heartening to hear this message being blasted out loud and clear.
An agile approach to content
Besides plenty of excellent plenary talks we also got to choose from a range of practical master classes. I couldn’t resist the University of Bath digital team’s session on an agile approach to content creation, delivery and standards. Music to my ears!
Rich Prowse and his colleagues generously shared everything – from their digital principles, roadmap and content strategy to their experiences of building up a wider community of publishers and supporting them with clear standards and guidelines. They skilfully led the group in a real-time user stories workshop, allowing us to try on a variety of agile practices (e.g. stand-up) for size. I came away feeling invigorated and relieved to see that many of the well-tested GDS design principles and agile work practices are finding their way into HE.
Breaking down the silos
Given the tendency towards silos in HE it seemed fitting that the conference encompassed content editors, designers, developers and digital managers, with everyone exposed to each other’s fields of expertise and how they interrelate. As a content person I appreciated the mix, and I enjoyed hearing some of the more tech-focused talks, such as the University of Kent’s hack day experiences.
Finally, as a newcomer to IWMW, the sense of community was striking – almost familial. The longstanding organiser Brian Kelly went out of his way to welcome me, to the extent of cherry-picking people for me to talk to at some of the social events (a fellow lone-wolf worker here, a fellow musician there, …).
Despite a late initiation, I’m looking forward to IWMW 2016. I just hope that other digital HE bods don’t take as long as I did to discover it.
About the author
Charlotte is a writer and digital content editor/manager with a background in higher education, currently based at UCL. She previously worked as a content designer for the Government Digital Service (GDS).