WATCH: Our Group Finder webinar

Last night, we hosted a webinar focusing on the group finder feature of our new webplatform.

The webinar was hosted by our Digital Product Manager Rachel Davidson, who was joined by Jack Caine, Head of Volunteer Journey. The webinar gave section leaders the opportunity to learn more about the changes we’ve made to the group finder feature and why they’ve been made.

For those who couldn’t attend the webinar, you can watch a recording in full below:

If you have any questions about our group finder, you can email us at digital@scouts.org.uk.

WATCH: Our programme planning webinar

Two weeks ago we held a webinar to showcase the programme planning feature on our webplatform.

Hosted by our Digital Product Manager Rachel Davidson, who was joined by Volunteer Programme Sponsor Andrew Sutherland, they covered new features and followed the journey of a leader planning a programme for their group.

For those who couldn’t attend the webinar, you can watch a recording in full below:

Changes to our beta website

Our beta website will soon replace scouts.org.uk to become our main website. Since its launch in May, we have been improving it to make it much better than our old website.

It’s easier to use on a wider range of devices (particularly mobile) and the addition of tools such as the Programme Planning feature and an improved Group Finder should make it easier for volunteers and parents to find what they need more quickly.

In advance of the changeover, we have made further updates to our beta website that we’d like to update you on.

Firstly, you may have noticed a change to our navigation bar – we’ve removed the downward chevrons to create space on either side of the menu items, we’ve added descriptions to each of our dropdown menu items and we’ve added a link to the Scouts Shop.

Also on the navigation bar is a new, improved Search feature. Search now looks for results from the main website and also includes results from members.scouts.org.uk, showing the URL beneath the result to make it easy to find what you need. We are working on moving the content into the main website – you can see it starting to build up under the Volunteers tab. In the meantime, members’ resources remains a separate site and is still available for your use.

We’ve also included a button allowing you to “sign in” – currently the button is greyed-out as we’re working on an implementation of single sign-on which we’re going to be rolling out in the next month. This will allow you to sign into the programme planning tool, to access and save programmes made on any device. We can’t wait to share more about single sign-on with you.

In addition to the cosmetic changes, we have updated Group Finder to include meeting day information, to help prospective volunteers and parents find groups active on days that suit them, and this includes Explorer Units.

Over the past few weeks we have been working to connect Compass to Group Finder to allow the editing of information within the Group Finder. However, it is now clear that we are not able to fully connect up the contact details element of Group Finder with Compass. We are still able to use the meeting times, schedules and location from Compass to populate Group Finder’s new search-by-day functionality.

With regards to the Group Finder data, we have extracted and cleaned the contact information and group location from the current Group Finder, as well as taking the meeting schedule and locations details from census and we have uploaded this to Compass and our new database for the Group Finder.

Alongside these database changes, we have also automated the “Want to Join” process so the form filled in by prospective volunteers and parents can be sent directly to the appropriate contact without displaying individuals contact details. We think these changes help to make Group Finder more secure and easier to use.

We’d like to thank you for all your feedback and support since our beta website’s launch in May which has helped to improve it and ensure it’s ready to become our new, main website this month, and we’re excited to tell you more about our upcoming features when they’re ready.

Developing a volunteer journey at our leadership forum

As an organisation with almost 600,000 members, the Scouts requires a large number of teams to work together to provide a quality Scouting experience for adults and young people. To help facilitate this, we hold a number of leadership forums throughout the year; this allows the staff leadership team to share what they’re working on and discuss how to approach the big opportunities for Scouting.

A key part of the Skills for Life strategy, launched in May last year, was to make being a volunteer at the Scouts a better experience. One of the three pillars of work of our strategy, People, highlighted our objective to have “more, well trained, better supported and motivated adult volunteers”. This meant improving the way we support and celebrate our volunteers and the work they do to develop the skills of young people.

We knew that digital would likely play a central role in these improvements, particularly in achieving a greater sense of belonging with the rest of the Scouting movement. By getting our staff leadership together we were able to work on a journey for our adult volunteers that would be as simple and enjoyable as possible.

Before we began our work on the volunteer journey, we had an expert talk to us about what it means to be a volunteer for the Scouts today, and the future of volunteering. We also had the lead volunteer for this project help frame our approach and remind the team to be bold in the planning of this transformative piece of work.

Staying true to the Agile methodology, we worked in scrums, collaborating to come up with user stories that attempted to highlight the issues our volunteers would face. From these we tried to come up with solutions, developing paper and wireframe prototypes that suggested how the future adult journey would look.

In this leadership forum our staff leadership team learned a lot about the issues faced by adult volunteers and gained a wide range of digital skills by working in an Agile way for the day. This work will help to frame our approach to improving the volunteer experience, using digital as an enabler to make the adult journey simpler and more joined up as part of our Skills for Life strategy.

My digital work: an interview with Gareth Jones

We have been working with volunteers from across our movement to develop our new digital tools, like the beta website and the programme planning feature.

Gareth Jones is a member of our Board of Trustees and has been in Scouting since he was 10 years old. He has been working with the Digital team, helping to ensure our tools are user-focused, allowing volunteers to focus on giving young people Skills for Life.

We spoke to him about his work and the future of digital in Scouting.

Our first firebreak

“It’s great to see Scouts fully invested in the agile delivery approach and willing to experiment with handing more control over to the team.” David Weston, Head of Project Management at Reason Digital, delivery partner.

At the beginning of our first firebreak, our development and technical teams decided on the activities they were going to work on. Some of those ideas included:

  • researching new technology; 
  • a proof of concept with new technologies; 
  • a series of bug fixes and ‘tidy up’ activity; 
  • creating guides and updating documentation.

The team then took two weeks to carry out their ideas and presented their work in a team meeting.

One of the ideas – the proof of concept of new technologies – involved creating a GraphQL implementation of the new group finder and its API.

GraphQL was created by Facebook as a way of improving communication between systems. Typically, a developer defines what data can be retrieved from a system that is then built as a fixed interface. If different data needs to be retrieved at a later date or by another system, a new interface would be created or the first one updated, creating extra work, testing, and the possibility of breaking parts of the system already using the interface. 

The approach pioneered by Facebook is to allow the system fetching the data to specify what it needs. By providing one flexible interface capable of retrieving all the data in a system, we can reduce the changes needed and greatly speed up development of new features and tools in the website. Using this approach, we were able to produce a prototype that implemented Graph QL to flexibly display our group finder data.

One of our frontend developers commented, “The firebreak was great for taking a step back and looking at the wider impacts of decisions we’ve made around the fundamental architecture of our applications. Finding the time to reassess and question these approaches is often difficult, but can provide a huge amount of value in the long term.”

Although we won’t be releasing the work produced during the firebreak, we are continuing this work by looking at ways of tying together data from Badges, Activities, Groups and more through a single interface.

We can’t wait to see what the next firebreak produces.

Designing the beta website

Alex Pereira, UI and UX designer.

In a previous blog post, we touched on the design of our new beta website. To explain in greater detail, we interviewed one of our user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers, Alex Pereira, on his work. 

How did you come up with the designs for the new Scouts website and what principles or ideas, if any, guided you in your design work? 

The new website is based on standard web design principles using a 12-column grid. This transposes easily into a mobile device template, which is really important these days. The design itself is inspired by our brand identity and applied to all the new visual work currently being produced by the team. Because we are working with interactive digital elements more consideration is needed from a user’s perspective.  

Ultimately, the user is the primary focus. We need to give them the clearest and most intuitive path whilst trying to maintain as many of the principles of the brands’ tone of voice – Confident, Active, Challenging, Inclusive, Optimistic. 

Was there anything from the existing Scouts websites that helped to inform your work? 

One of the best things about designing the beta website is that it was a completely blank page to start with. There are no influences or distractions from the old website’s design. Building a complete UI design system from the bottom-up is an exciting and challenging process. 

The improved design will also be mirrored on how the majority of pages are going to function. Users will have enhanced and new features when the work is fully integrated. 

Designs for the beta website in Sketch.

What tools did you use? 

The primary tool I use is Sketch, because it allows for a fast, iterative design process. The goal is to eventually create a complete library of usable building blocks. When a comprehensive library is in place the pages literally build themselves!

Why is good design so important when building a website? 

Every page has a purpose and if it is badly designed users can get confused. If they’re confused, that could eventually see them leave that page. 

The user’s journey through a website can be more guided when consideration is given to typography, space and colour. Building a successful experience that reinforces the brand values is vital so that users feel happy to return and endorse what has been made. 

Planning a ‘firebreak’ – beta website development

We are starting our first ‘firebreak’ – a short break in a development cycle to rejuvenate and reset the team. Because this process is new to us, we thought we would share the thinking behind it. 

To develop our new website, we have been using the iterative development approach known as Agile. This means you build software in small, incremental stages, called sprints, working to achieve a series of goals that can be released as features or fixes periodically. In contrast to other approaches, Agile encourages the development and release of individual functions as opposed to a whole, finished product. This is what has enabled us to release our website in its “beta” stage. 

Each Agile development is unique, and we have chosen to work in three-week sprints. During this time our development and technical teams deliver features, bug fixes and infrastructure changes. 

This is a very intensive way of working and the team can quickly burn out if the cycle is not broken. We looked to the Government Digital Service, Google and other tech organisations to see if they had any solutions, and they did – a ‘firebreak’. 

A firebreak is, as the GOV.UK team describes it, a time to “investigate new ideas”, allowing developers to “scratch their own itches”. We decided that a two-week firebreak once a quarter would help to maintain development pace and morale. The break would help the development and technical teams to reflect and recharge by working on their own ideas for the Scouts. We could also use this time to reflect on our work, meeting with key stakeholders to look at the year ahead and plan for the next quarter. 

We also decided, to ensure we were maximising value from the ‘break’, that we would set some rules. 

How it works 

Just as in a normal sprint, the team comes together to discuss issues. In this case, they also discuss ideas they have had, to see whether it ‘has legs’. As individuals, or in small groups, team members then pitch their idea, explaining what it is and why they feel it’s important. 

To ensure pitches are relevant to the development of our website, they have to fulfil these criteria: 

  • the idea must be related to the overall direction we are moving in; 
  • the work must be completed within the firebreak and take no longer. 

The team then votes on ideas they want to work on and those they feel will positively impact the Scouts. From this, our firebreak work is decided. Development work then begins and is presented at the end of the two-week period. 

We can’t wait to share the outcomes of our first firebreak with you.

Watch: New feature webinar

To help showcase the new features on our beta website, the Digital team held two webinars in June.

Hosted by our Digital Product Manager Rachel Davidson, UK Cub Scout Advisor Matthew Longden and Programme Sponsor Andrew Sutherland, they covered in detail how to use elements of our website and gave users the chance to ask questions about content and functionality of the website.

For those who couldn’t attend the webinars, you can watch a recording in full below:

New release: Group Finder and updates to Programme Planning

The Scouts beta website has been updated to include a host of exciting features, including a new sample Group Finder search and improvements to our programme planning feature.

In a new release, the website now gives visitors the chance to search sample data for Scout groups in their area, providing details on the sections run there, what day of the week they are running and contact information for the section leaders. Currently, the system uses ‘dummy’ information to demonstrate future functionality, and users are warned of this when searching on the site. This will, however, be updated with live information, and we hope this simple tool will be incredibly useful to new and existing members.

The programme planning feature has also seen its fair share of updates, with the inclusion of staged badges in the badge and activity search pages, and the ability to delete activities in planned programmes. These changes help to make the creation of interesting and varied programmes even easier for section leaders.

We’re really excited to be launching these new features and we can’t wait to hear what you think.