About this Guest Post
IWMW 2014 marked the start of a new adventure for the event series, following the cessation of Jisc funding for the event the previous year. The relaunched event was held at Northumbria University and was organised in conjunction with Netskills. In this guest post, based on a post originally published on the Netskills Voices blog, Steve Boneham, the main local organiser for the event, reflects on the event and describes how these days “digital is more than just the Web“.
Digital is More than Just the Web – Lessons from IWMW 2014
In July 2014, IWMW 2014 came to town. Our town. At our invitation. So we worked hard to make it an event worthy of a place we love. Our conference team did such a good job of the organisation that I even got to sit in on the talks. So I get to blog about them here …
Rebooting the Web
That was the event title, but to get more of a sense of what it was about visit the IWMW14 pages on Lanyrd where you can see slides and resources from the speakers and attendees (NOTE Lanyrd service subsequently was closed).
I don’t intend to review each session in-depth here, but rather highlight a theme that stood out across those I attended. That is that digital teams have a role well beyond simply being a service to “put things on the web.” Instead they should be catalysts for institution-wide change.
Much has been said about digital “disruption” and the external threat this represents to education. What I found refreshing here was the desire from people in digital teams to see this as an opportunity. They’re the ones trying to instigate change because they care about what the organisations they work for do and know that doing digital better means doing education better.
Who said that then?
Paul Boag from Headscape talked about the idea of “digital transformation” and how those working in web/digital teams can lead it. He advocated establishing core digital teams, empowering them and giving them the independence to make good things happen.
Ross Ferguson talked about doing this in practice at Bath University, where he’s encouraged a startup culture/attitude to digital, honed at the Government Digital Service. It was inspiring to hear about the willingness of his team to stick to these principles and demonstrate, despite some opposition, why they lead to better results. The culture change was partly about different approaches to managing digital teams, but also about helping people in those teams see their work in the broader context of what the organisation is for.
Hiten Vaghmaria, from the University of Westminster, presented a more centralised organisational model for their ‘digital development services’ as part of a talk on creating work allocation tools for academics. Again though, they had set digital in a broader context, linking many of the units that can often become silos.
Christopher Gutteridge of Southampton University chipped in from the audience with stories of working beyond the organisational chart to form ad hoc groups of able people who were motivated to achieve something they thought needed doing. That doesn’t require a new committee or unit, but it does require leadership.
That sentiment was echoed by Tracy Playle who outlined issues with the “groupthink” approach of committees and strategies. She told us that if social media strategies serve any purpose, it is to act as a Trojan horse for organisational change by starting conversations that organisations really need to have, such as “restructuring communications around audience needs instead of internal department structures.”
In the final panel session, Mike Nolan observed that “sometimes you have to do things under the radar to get them done.” He said that digital teams should lead developments, not just react when they are asked to. I think the nods of agreement around the audience show a dedication that organisations should recognise and value.
Institutional Change is a Big Deal
This reminded me of a Jisc project I worked on way back in 2008 looking at Institutional Responses to Emergent Technology. To detect institutional responses to the rise of “web 2.0” we looked for changes in ‘5 Rs’ – Rules, Responsibilities, Rewards, Relationships and Routines.
I think this is still a pretty good model to identify any organisational change, such as the change I hope the people I met at IWMW will go on to achieve. While that will no doubt take time and effort, I think it would have a positive impact on educational organisations beyond just their websites.
Off the Record
I also learned that the people who go to IWMW know how to party! So a town that knows how to host one proved a good choice of venue. I think I can speak for all my fellow organisers when I say it was a pleasure to be involved in both the social and educational sides of IWMW. We’re looking forward to seeing what Brian Kelly comes up with for IWMW 2015! [Editor’s note: a successful IWMW 2015 event was held at Edge Hill University].
IWMW 2014: Facts, Figures and Feedback
- IWMW 2014 ran from 14.00 on Wednesday 16 June to 13.00 on Friday 18 June 2014.
- The event was the first held in the post-UKOLN / post-Jisc funding environment
- The theme for the event was “Rebooting The Web“
- The £350 entrance fee included 2 nights’ accommodation
- There were 14 plenary speakers of whom two were female.
- This year there was only one set of (eight) parallel workshop sessions, with a larger number of plenary talks taking place.
- The majority of respondents felt that the content was either excellent or very good, with an overall rating of 4.3 on a scale of 1 (very poor) to 5 (excellent).
Comments on the event included:
- Highly recommended, the IWMW event offers the chance to network with colleagues from other higher education institutions across the country. The event is always well attended and you can expect to see a variety of knowledgeable presenters and take part in individual workshops over the course of the 3 days, as well as get the chance go out and socialise and take in some of your surroundings.
- I found IWMW 2014 to be practical, encouraging, empowering, and enthusiastic. Brilliant opportunity to network with other people in the sector, and learn that you’re not just on your own. Other teams are going through exactly the same things. Definitely the best IWMW conference I’ve been to.
- Over the years IWMW events have had more positive and direct effect on my career, the working practices of my team, and the University of Aberdeen than any other developmental conferences or activity. The only opportunity for UK HE’s web professionals to gather in person, compare practices and reflect on current challenges. An engaging and thought provoking event that challenges those in the sector to look ahead and see the possibilities as well as the pitfalls.
- IWMW has been a constant in my working life since 2003. It allows me space to think, to test new ideas and to develop a strong social and professional network. With contacts built through IWMW I can contact folk anywhere across the UK on any one of a number of (often specialist) topics for a useful insight or debate.
- Should be in the calendar of every web professional in the higher ed sector. Quality sessions, a great community and excellent value for money make it a no-brainer for me. IWMW offers a unique opportunity for digital professionals to come together, share experiences and learn from each.
The most highly rated plenary speaker was Ross Ferguson, Head of Digital at the University of Bath; 78% thought his talk on “Using the start-up playbook to reboot a big university website” was Excellent and 22% felt it was Very Good. This was an average of 4.8. Comments on his talk included:
- Ross was really interesting and I found this talk the most motivational one I attended.
- Brilliant, fantastic, breath of fresh air and nicely delivered as well.
- Loved it! He had no need to apologise at the start. I was very encouraged to hear him talk about what we are trying to do at St Andrews.
- Best presentation – most relevant to how my team are currently working and interesting approach to dealing with some of the University politics/pressures. Would be interested in hearing from other staff who are currently still at gov.uk as its quite transferable to our sector.
- Every year there is one stand-out talk for me, and this was it for 2014 an inspiration
- The way it should be: great to see how it can work with the right support form management. Engaging presentation and I’m sure the highlight for most.
Steve Boneham is now the Open Access Support Officer at Newcastle University. He supports open access to research at Newcastle University and helps promote the benefits of open access for researchers, the university and the wider public and support the processes that enable open access publication. From 2000 – 2014 Steve was a learning technologist at Jisc Netskills where he helped people working in education make better use of technology through research, communications and training.