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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
The Scouts are recruiting for a volunteer Programme Sponsor to join our new Digital Programme Board, overseeing the organisation’s Digital Transformation Programme.
The programme is one of twelve areas of work developed to deliver Skills for Life, our organisational strategy, and focuses on creating and supporting delightful experiences for our members and young people through simpler ways of working and improved engagement and information sharing.
From providing advice and guidance to our adult volunteers in support of them planning and delivering weekly programmes for young people, helping young people record their journey through Scouting, the Programme Sponsor will play a part in improving how we deliver technology across the organisation.
We have already launched our beta website, providing visitors with a more joined-up online experience with features such as programme planning and POR, all in one place. With the creation of our Digital Programme Board, we are looking to radically reshape the delivery of services we offer, and the Programme Sponsor will sit at the heart of it.
The Programme Sponsor will make sure the Digital Programme delivers the capabilities, outcomes and benefits that meets the needs of the Scouts and help us to deliver our strategy. This involves co-chairing the Programme Board alongside the Senior Responsible Owner, a staff member and ensuring that the interests and needs of members are represented.
The ideal candidate will have knowledge of Scouting, with skills in leading a complex programme and knowledge and experience of delivering Digital Transformation.
To learn more about this opportunity and to apply for this exciting role, please download the candidate pack here. If you have any questions or queries regarding the role, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: the deadline to apply for this role has now been extended to Friday 26th July.
We are running some planned maintenance on our new beta website, which means the website is currently experiencing some downtime.
As our site is in beta, we’re working on updating elements of the underlying architecture to improve the overall user experience, which unfortunately means the site won’t be loading for the time being. Once the maintenance is complete, however, you’ll be able to access the programme planning feature with your saved programmes, POR and a slew of new features we’ll be discussing in our next blog post.
If you have any questions or queries regarding this maintenance or the beta website, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on this blog or email email@example.com.
This month we have released our new website. As we explained, this website is available to use while it is still in development. Commonly known as the “beta” phase, the release of software at this stage allows users to shape it as it is created.
Much of the work making the new website has been focused on building the architecture underlying our systems. We held an infrastructure webinar in March to share details of the work involved in creating a future-proof base for our websites which you can view here. We have also focused on delivering user-facing functionality in a few key areas.
Firstly, we have implemented basic functionality such as website navigation. As an organisation with thousands of members, our website contains a lot of information on a variety of subjects; ensuring it is easily accessible starts with designing effective navigation. That’s why we’ve made sure all content areas can be reached from a horizontal navigation bar with four categories – Be a Scout, What Scouts do, Volunteers, About us, with another link to our Shop.
We also know that, to best serve the majority of our users who visit our websites on their phones, our website needs a mobile-first design. That’s why our menu bar is collapsible, and the website is designed as a series of stackable columns. This means, whatever the size of your screen, our content is designed to be readable and font sizes are accessible.
Under the hood, we have implemented a new, future-proof content management system (CMS) which will allow us to effectively manage news items, badge and activity data and website pages through the same system. This has been developed to ensure we can pull data from this CMS to populate tools, creating a single source of truth for badge, activity and POR data.
Our programme planning feature, designed to complement your existing administrative tools, is also now accessible from the Volunteers dropdown. You can plan and save sessions and terms in your browser and utilise pre-made programmes developed using our activity content. For now, the content is focused on Cub leaders.
Beyond this month’s release, we have a whole host of features planned. We will be implementing site search, and a first look at the proposed Group/Section finder from the website homepage. We will start to migrate our fundraising and events websites in addition to adding more leader-focused content and member resources.
We are aiming to implement single sign-on (SSO) on the website, which will allow you to sign in using the login you already have. It will help us develop features like saving and sharing programmes and will give you access to your planned sessions across multiple devices.
Our long-term goal is to make elements of our website more self-service, making it easier to access the resources you want, when you need them.
We’ll be hosting a webinar on Wednesday 19th June to demonstrate features of our beta website in more detail. The webinar will start at 7:30 and last approximately 30 minutes. You can register for the webinar by heading to scouts.org.uk/digitalwebinar, where you can also add the event to your calendar.
In the meantime, you can view a demonstration of our website and programme planning feature here, and you can keep up-to-date with new features and releases by subscribing to this blog.
Last night, the digital team hosted an interactive webinar showcasing our new beta website, launching later this month. Hosted by our Digital Product Manager, Rachel Davidson, the webinar covered the website’s functionality and design, from the home page to our new programme planning tool.
For those who couldn’t attend last night, you can watch the webinar in full below:
You can also download slides from the webinar here.