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Presenting the build up of the University collaborative culture at IWMW 2017

Just before leaving for my summer holidays, I had the great chance to travel to Canterbury and the University of Kent, where the annual Institutional Web Managers Workshop (IWMW for short) was hosted. This was the 21st year for the conference, which underlined the success of this long-standing networking and collaboration opportunity.

My session was planned to be part of the “We feel fine (the core community)” strand, which focussed on how web teams can get the best out of collaborating with academic staff, students and academic professional services. I highlighted how Information Services have addressed communication and engagement, trying to unlock the potential of the locally resourced web development community. I tried to do this by taking the audience through a journey which started when the corporate University Website migrated to a new corporate web CMS, EdWeb, powered by an open source platform, Drupal.

EdWeb CMS information

Opening up to the community

While addressing the challenge of introducing EdWeb, a series of opportunities arose. We realised that we could learn a lot from the worldwide open source collaborative communities and their culture. These lessons would allow us to have more flexibility in leveraging the front and back-end outputs and experiences, as we could start to look into the University web development community to scale up the University Website provision and development capability.

EdWeb Collaboration activities

A series of “What if” questions have helped us grow our understanding in what kind of service level and information would have to be available so as to openly communicate and engage with this community. From sharing EdWeb’s road map and allowing Schools to participate in regular requirements gathering and prioritisation sessions, to opening up feedback and change request processes, and finally introducing a collaborative development framework, available to allow code sharing and foster a true open source community. The main principles behind these activity being:

  • Embracing transparency, by adopting open processes.
  • Providing flexibility, by offering support, training and tools to allow local development to happen.
  • Facilitating collaboration, by creating an open framework to create, share and build together.
  • Enabling contribution, by allowing ownership of code changes and providing feedback mechanisms.
  • Continuous enhancement, by having short agile delivery bursts, then stop to understand the impact.
  • Ensuring quality, by establishing and communicating editorial and technical standards.

Migrating to a new culture

The catalyst in making this effort a success is to achieve a change of culture. There has to be the understanding that people are equally, if not more, important as technology, and thus embed user-centred processes in all aspects of delivery, and not address them as an add-on. The fundamental impact that this change can achieve is distilled in the fact that anybody can copy and apply your strategy, but nobody can copy and just use your culture. Building this is hard and takes time, but it’s not impossible. Hence, in our team we are actively focusing in empowering the web development community, by running sessions, providing support and continuously identifying ways to collaborate and engage.

Building a Collaborative Culture in an Institution (IWMW 2017) in (Lanyrd)

Recorded video of my session (YouTube)

The full slide deck

The conference

This was my second visit to IWMW, the first one just two years ago at Newcastle, and was already aware of the value. I caught up with other colleagues to discuss common challenges, but thankfully IWMW is more than that. The level of openness, collaboration and sharing of ideas is unprecedented. The obvious lack of competition, with delegates having a more relaxed and informal attitude, generates motivation to engage during and after the conference. A big thank you to the advisory group, all of the conference organisation team and everybody for a great experience. Looking forward to next year!

The University of Edinburgh staff’s conference feedback

IWMW 2017 website

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