About This Guest Post

The IWMW blog was established in 2016 — prior to IWMW 2016, the 20th anniversary of the event — to support those with responsibilities for managing institutional web services and other digital channels in the UK’s higher education sector. The blog complements the annual IWMW event by not only providing information about IWMW events but also by providing a channel for guest posts from members of the community to share their thoughts on topics of interest to others who work in institutional web and digital teams.

The first guest post this year is provided by Ayala Gordon, Head of Digital at the University of Southampton. Ayala, together with Padma Gillen of Scroll, will give a plenary talk on “User Needs, Content Design and Culture Change: Digital Transformation at the University of Southampton” at this year’s event.

Why I Applied To Speak At IWMW 2018

The annual Institutional Web Management Workshop is an excellent stand-out event in the calendars of any staff who are responsible for web and digital services in UK Higher Education, so when I saw that the organisers were looking for new speakers, I thought “why not?“.

Naturally, I was chuffed to bits when my joint submission with Padma Gillen was accepted for this year’s event.

Rewinding back to 2017

The theme was “It’s the end of the institution as we know it (and we feel fine)”, and as a newcomer to the Higher Education sector, my colleague suggested I attend. As the theme suggested, the conference was about the changes to the Higher Education institution as we traditionally know it.

There were many things I loved about it, so reflecting back and looking through my notes, almost a year later, here’s my list of what I particularly enjoyed at the conference and why I submitted a proposal for a talk in 2018:

Good variety of talks

The talks at the conference were engaging, interesting and very open. Given that we’re all competing in the same space, I found colleagues in the Higher Education sector to be very welcoming, inclusive and transparent about working practices and ideas sharing. I find this quite unique to our sector; it makes a refreshing change from some of the unnecessary animosity between industry peers that I have encountered in past roles.

There were so many good talks and workshops. I took something away from each and one of them, but below is a summary of the ones that left a dent on my work for the past year:

  • Bonnie Ferguson of the University of Kent, on the UK’s European University in a time of Brexit. Bonnie was talking about how the role of Universities is changing and what the role they are likely to play in the future. She dived into great concepts such as ‘antifragile’, ‘black swan events’ and ‘disruptive innovation’. It was the first talk of the conference and most definitely set the pace to all that followed.
  • Andrew Millar, an IWMW veteran, brilliantly delivered an amusing talk on the turbulent times of the HE Sector, pointing out that there’s nothing like a good crisis to force change! This talk stayed with me for the past year, and especially the winning phrase: ‘the web is broken’. It made me think very carefully how my team can affect the change more widely.
  • Carley Hollis, St Andrews Head of Digital Communications, opened the second day with a seriously impressive talk about ‘High Sights, High Standards’. Carley explained how all the recent changes in St Andrews have increased demand on her team, and how they were using the change to build digital services and develop accountability with colleagues at the University. The approach, which totally makes sense for this model, is a three pronged one: standardisation, documentation and education. Love it.
  • Gareth Edwards’ ‘You touched it last’ about designing a digital governance model for devolved institutions had us all laughing. His compelling personas resonate even with newcomers like me. A great talk about the practicality of it – what should be devolved, what shouldn’t and what a pragmatic governance system can look like.

But there were so many: Rich Prowse, Graham Bird with Jenni Taylor and David Hopkins, Melanie Read and the fantastic Paul Boag to name but a few!

It’s very sociable

The conference is not just about working, there is a strong, sociable and non-enforceable networking element to it. Unlike some other conferences, this is not fake. I found it very easy to start a conversation with colleagues who might be facing similar issues where they work. There are also sociable activities, such as a quiz, BBQ and an opening dinner in the first evening.

I also have to mention that the organisers of this conference, Brian and Claire, are a big reason for the success of this event. You can see that they put their heart and soul into it and this is a result of the care and passion they both bring. #respect.

It’s very good value for money

In the age of austerity, the organisers ensure that you get real bang for your buck! . For the full ticket price, I don’t think you can get much better than:

  • 2-night accommodation
  • Breakfast, lunch, BBQ and first night (amazing) dinner
  • Fantastic, thought-provoking lectures
  • And have I already mentioned?! The food was excellent
  • Also, every year the conference is hosted by a different university – a great opportunity to travel around a bit!

Why I decided to submit a proposal

During the 2017 conference, and as soon as I got back to my day-to-day work, I decided that if the plans for the team and the transformation we’re about the embark on, would be going ahead, then I would definitely like to submit a proposal for a talk at the 2018 IWMW conference. It was a personal objective that I set for myself, and I’m glad to return this year as a speaker and share all the great stuff we’ve been up to.

We’re all facing the same challenges around digital culture and ways of working. We’re all dealing with hell of a lot of legacy systems that put constraints on what we do. We’re all looking at the best way of engaging with colleagues, gaining ground and making change that will last (thank you Paul for your awesome book and cards – they did help with the initial thought process and battle).

We’re still going through a lot of change. So without giving too much away about our forthcoming talk, I think you should try the IWMW conference and decide for yourself.

Thank you very much and I hope to see you for a yet another wonderful conference in July.

N.B thank you to my trusty reviewer, Jonny.

Biographical details

Ayala Gordon joined the University of Southampton in 2017. She has many years’ experience project managing digital delivery including websites, portals and campaigns. At the university Ayala is working in Communications and Marketing, responsible for the development of a global digital strategy for the University of Southampton and supporting digital transformation initiatives. Responsibilities also include leading a team of digital specialists to successfully deliver against priority areas within the strategy, ensuring best digital practice with a strong focus on user experience, data driven decision making and maximum ROI.

Ayala has worked with organisations such as PayPal, Parcelforce, technology companies and also some UK Universities and institutions.

IWMW events attended: IWMW 2017

Acknowledgements: The photograph of the IWMW 2017 conference dinner was provided by Claire Gibbons, IWMW co-chair. The conference dinner was one of several social events which provide opportunities for delegates to socialize with their peers across the web management community.