About IWMW 2015

IWMW logoIWMW 2015, the annual Institutional Web Management Workshop, took place at Edge Hill University on 27-29 July 2015. Following the recent series of guest posts from participants at the event this is the first of two posts which provide the event organiser’s perspectives.

For those who are unfamiliar with the event, the IWMW series was launched in 1997 to support members of institutional web management teams, to ensure that they are kept up-to-date with technological developments,  could learn from the approaches to management of large-scale web services from others across the higher education community and develop and strengthen professional and social networks with others in the community.

As described in a post on Reflections on #IWMW14 the event is undergoing a transformation: after 17 years of JISC support for an event which was delivered by UKOLN last year the event was run jointly by myself and JISC Netskills. However due to the closure of JISC Netskills it was not possible to continue the collaboration for a second year so this year I had responsibility for organising the event, supported by an advisory group which provided valuable advice on the theme for the event and suggested specific topics and speakers.

The theme of this year’s event was “Beyond Digital: Transforming the Institution“: an idea which emerged during the Advisory Group discussions, based on discussions about ‘digital’ at last year’s event but also an awareness that the digital agenda needs to provide the basis of transformations within the organisation. Several of the talks at the event directly addressed the event theme and these will be highlighted in the following summary of the event. Note that a report based on an evaluation of the event will also be posted shortly.

The Plenary Sessions

Putting The Web Manager First

Following the refocussing of the event to be more directly relevant to the needs of those with responsibilities for providing large-scale institutional web services the event began by “putting the web manager first“.

In the opening talk  Mandy Phillips, Head of Corporate Business Change Initiatives at Liverpool John Moores University, described the nature of digital transformation at her host institution in a talk entitled “Out With the Old, In With the New: Digital Services at Liverpool John Moores University“. In this 30 minute talk Mandy, who leads the Digital Services and Business Systems teams at Liverpool John Moores University, provided a very relevant start to the event, which was appreciated by the audience with the following comments being made:

  • Really engaging and informative. A great starter for the event.
  • Really useful to find out how LJM went from zero to hero!
  • The case study approach is useful for others to see how transformation can be achieved.
  • Great talk – really interesting and full of things to take back to my own work
  • Good to see front end and back end teams coming together – as it should be. Good to see success can be realised despite some of the constraints (eg: use of certain agencies).

In contrast to Mandy’s talk on institutional change Rich Prowse, Digital Editor-In-Chief at the University of Bath, described the practicalities of managing content. In the talk on “An Agile Approach to Content” Rich explained why the University of Bath had adopted an agile approach to the creation and delivery of useful and usable content online, summarised  the work of the Digital team and shared lessons learnt on the importance of user needs, how to keep publishers happy and why building a community is important to successfully deliver decentralised publishing.  Again this talk helped to get the event off to a great start, with Rich received the following comments on his talk:

  • Fantastic talk from the Bath team. I really enjoyed it, they were brilliant and I can’t wait to chat to them again about Agile Content.
  • Nice to see sessions on actual techniques.
  • Again, great to see what you can do with better resources, ability to schedule everyday work into one day a week and focus on more creative thinking. Can definitely take the user stories recommendation forward.

I should add that Many and Rich both agreed to facilitate master class sessions which developed on the ideas described in their talks.

Supporting Our Users, Revolutionising the Experience!

The original title for the two talks which opened the second morning was “Supporting Our Users“. However the speakers felt that title was somewhat staid for their talks and suggested an alternative: “Supporting Our Users, Revolutionising the Experience!“.

Mike McConnell‘s talk on “The Challenge Is Institutional: Merging Customer Needs With New Operating Realities” was successful in generating much discussion and debate on the implications of engaging with commercial consultants in helping to identify ways in which the institution needs to transform existing and well-establishing business processes. The talk receives the highest rating of all the plenary talks, with 84% judging the talk to be ‘excellent’ and 16% to be ‘very good’. The comments on the talk included:

  • Mind blowing talk from Mike, a really frank and honest talk about how to challenge institutional thinking and change it for the better. Very inspiring to see how much they managed to do in so little time.
  • Great talk, really well delivered. Again, interesting insights into how it’s possible (with time, effort, and money!) to shift institutional attitudes and practices.
  • Well structured and delivered. Presentation of the big picture of digital transformation supported by examples and experiences from Aberdeen was really useful.
In the second talk of the session Paul Boag asked User Experience Design. How Far Will You Go?. Paul is an experienced speaker at web conferences around the world and has also spoken at a number of recent IWMW events. Paul’s talk was appreciated by many, especially those who were hearing him speak for the first time:
  • Brilliant to get to hear him speak and know we’re in agreement!
  • Well presented talk. Content was both relevant and interesting for me.
  • As ever with Paul it was an enjoyable talk. Came away with some good ideas such as UX calendars, top tasks, the need to operate like an agency etc.

although a number of people who have heard Paul speak before probably agreed with the comment that “Paul delivery is always lively however the content was predictable“.

Managing the Content; Developing the Services

The second morning session featured two talks on “Managing the Content; Developing the Services“.  Mark Fendley, University of Kent was the main speaker for a talk on “From Hack Day to Open Day: Building a Tour“, a talk which, perhaps surprisingly, was one of only two which had a significant technical aspect. As described in the abstract for the talk:

At a Hack Day event last summer, a team of people at the University of Kent postulated the concept of an self-guided audio tour for mobile devices for our open day visitors who are unable to join a guided tour. This idea was enthusiastically prototyped and subsequently championed by the organisation. A full product has been developed in the first quarter of this year, with content being produced over the summer for a planned launch in the new academic year.

Although a show of hands on the first day showed that developers were in a minority at this year’s event the feedback suggested that people could see the potential benefits which ‘hackathons’ may provide.

  • Good to have a more technical talk about how a web team works in practice.
  • Hackathons sound like great ideas to gather “free” ideas. Also, chaos monkey could be good for testing.
  • Good intro to a new approach to rapid development.
The second talk in the session, “Marrying Creativity with Management Complexity“, was given by Rob Van Tol, Precedent and Sam Sanders, KPMG. This talk complemented Mike McConnell‘s talk on “The Challenge Is Institutional: Merging Customer Needs With New Operating Realities“, providing the insights from the consultancies which had been commissioned by Aberdeen University. This talk had the potential to alienate those who work in institutional web management teams, but the talk was well-delivered with 41% rating it as ‘Excellent’, 41% as ‘Very good’ and 18% as ‘Good’. The following comments were given:
  • Interesting to see how the two agencies work together. I particularly liked the opportunity to see one project from both the side of the university (through Mike’s talk) and the agencies.
  • Sam Sanders was engaging and persuasive, and didn’t come across as pushing a corporate agenda. Bit of a revelation, really…
  • Really good talk once they got going. Felt they were trying to be too funny at the start and just needed to get on with it. Once they got going it was a very challenging and informative presentation.

which suggest that the benefits of making use of external agencies are becoming accepted.

Beyond the Institution

This year saw a deliberately changed emphasis in the content, with four of the plenary talks coming from the higher education sector, four from the commercial sector and one from an educational charity (Jisc). It seems the greater involvement with the commercial sector was welcomed:

The content was really high quality and it was really good to listen from private companies working with HE

The final session on the morning of the third day, Beyond the Institution, featured plenary talks from a consultancy, a service provider and an educational charity, all of whom provide a variety of services relevant to higher educational institutions.

The session began with a talk by Michael Webb, Jisc on “Integrating Institutional Web Services with Jisc’s ‘Cloud First, Mobile First’ Platform“. The aim of the talk was to “explain Jisc’s new ‘Cloud First, Mobile First’ delivery platform, and show how web managers will be able to work this platform, both by using APIs to integrate resource into their own services, and by creating APIs from institutional web sites and services, allowing creation of new sector-wide services“. The talk did provide a useful summary of Jisc’s development work in this area although, in retrospect, it was probably too technical for many in the audience:

  • Very interesting to hear what JISC are working on – I was previously unaware of this. I think it’s useful to include sessions like this that are slightly more technical.
  • Great talk, however, I felt that it failed to take account of the range of individuals who attend IWMW.
  • Probably not what a lot of people in the room were expecting but I found it really informative. This is the kind of thing that we should be talking to developers about.

The second talk in the session was given by Charles Hardy, who is responsible for LinkedIn’s engagement with the Higher Education community. In his talk on “LinkedIn for Higher Education – How Universities can Leverage LinkedIn to Engage Future, Current and Past Students” Charles described how LinkedIn has developed a number of features specifically for Higher Education institutions, blending career data insights with people and brand and explained how these features can be integrate into an institution’s social media / content strategy. Again this talk was well-appreciated, although some expressed concerns regarding personal data about staff and students being held by a commercial company:

  • Brilliant! A commercial speaker delivering a disruptive technology that could blow apart the sector and change how things work. Charles was a great speaker, answered the questions brilliantly and in a non threatening manner.
  • A very well delivered talk. There was a lot of potential shown for what we as HE can do with out LinkedIn pages/profiles.
  • A really excellent overview of the capabilities and potential of LinkedIn from an engaging presenter. One of my favourites of the conference
  • Interesting and useful talk, although somewhat uncomfortable with the subject matter and the company’s motivation.
  • Hand over your data and Linkedin will make money out of it. The only talk that was a little out of place, but incredibly useful to have an insight into what they are doing and have them express their rationale.

In the final plenary talk Niall Lavery and Dan Babington, PwC revisited the conference theme in a talk entitled Beyond Digital – The Agile University“. Again this talk generated much discussion, with some expressing concerns at the criticisms being made of higher educational institutions by a commercial organisation, although it was also admitted that such criticisms had some validity:

  • Really excellent. Lots to take away in terms of approaches and how to look at things differently. Great to get external experts in and sharing at that level.
  • Good talk on how the HE sector needs to evolve over the next 3 to 5 years to reflect the societal changes occurring around us
  • Some challenging ideas around what universities are for and how that impacts user experience and digital strategy. Seemed to end up being a bit of a sales pitch though.
  • It was very enlightening to see this consultant view of the sector. There was much in the presentation that I found distressing, but I can’t fault its accuracy. It also in part confirmed many of the statements I, Mandy, Rob & Sam had made regarding institutional structure.

What Does The Future Hold?

This year’s event concluded with a panel session. The panellists, Mandy Phillips, Claire Gibbons, Charles Hardy and Marianne Kay, were asked by Mike McConnell, the panel chair, to give their thoughts on four questions: (1) Are universities businesses? Are they truly in competition? Where do third party services like LinkedIn fit in, if at all?; (2) What is the role of pedagogy/academics in this brave new world? Are we driven by a culture of managerialism?; (3)What effects will the Internet of Things have on higher education and the student experience? and (4) What is the future for IWMW?

The panel session, which was introduced at last year’s event, was felt to provide a useful way of concluding the event:

  • Half hour was maybe too short – could have done with a bit more time and a bit more debate. But good nevertheless!
  • I feel like this is a welcome addition to the IWMW format. A chance to ask the key talkers some points that may not have been formed until after some hindsight.
  • Nice quick, interesting panel session.
  • Good session. Good to have a serious discussion on what we think about the future of higher education.
  • Some interesting discussion and debate to round off the event. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would!

The Parallel Sessions

In addition to the plenary talks and panel session there were also six workshop sessions which lasted for 90 minutes (on Working with an Institutional Web Team – Edge Hill University; iBeacons for Recruitment Events; BS 8878: Systematic Approaches to Documenting Web Accessibility Policies and PracticesAll CMSs are Rubbish: Live With It!; A Revolution in the Exchange of Courses Information: The national rollout of XCRI-CAP for Postgraduate course marketing information and Future-proofing the Web Professional) and three master classes which lasted for 3.5 hours (on Working in an Agile Way – Content Creation, Delivery and Standards; Lessons Learned from Helping HE Institutions Develop their Digital Strategies and a merged session which included Moving from the Old Web Team to a New Digital Services – Liverpool John Moores University and Working with an Institutional Web Team – University of Bradford).

Over 60% of respondents rated the workshops as “Excellent” or “Very good” and over 80% rated the Master classes (another innovation this year) as “Excellent” or “Very good”!


This is the first of two posts about IWMW 2015. This initial post has summarised the content of the event. The second post will describe participants’ thoughts of the event: what they liked and the areas they felt could be improved.

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