Exploring our beta website functionality

Our new beta website.

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.

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.

Our new beta website

 

Later this month, we will be releasing the beta version of the new Scouts website. This website is the culmination of a year’s work, designing a new website from the ground-up that aims to deliver on our Skills for Life plan launched in May 2018.

Our new website, unlike other digital developments we have released over the years, will be publicly available in its ‘beta’ phase. We have been testing a prototype with a group of volunteers, and now we’re sharing this working version of our website to get feedback, giving you the chance to shape our tools and improve their quality.

What this means in practice is that our new site will contain some – though not all – of the information currently on scouts.org.uk. It won’t have the full functionality we have planned for it, and some information may be unavailable at the start. Scouts.org.uk will still continue to function as our main site until we have created a website that we are satisfied fulfils all of its functions and more. For the time being, you’ll still be able to access member resources and read our news from the same pages you usually visit.

One of the key objectives for our new website is the rationalisation of existing sites into a single source of truth – that’s why, alongside adding information to the beta site, we are working on improving it, too. We’ve already transferred some information which will be accessible from day one, and we’ll continue to add more.

As well as providing a new face for our organisation with a mobile-first design, the beta website will provide visitors with access to our new programme planning tool.

The new tool has been developed in collaboration with a group of section leaders from our Community of Interest, and national volunteers such as Wendy Human (UK Commissioner for Programme Assurance), Graeme Hamilton (UK Commissioner for Programme Delivery) and Andrew Sutherland (our lead volunteer in developing this new digital programme planning tool). It is designed to complement other tools you may use in the administration of Scouting, such as OSM, and provides access to our badge and activity content, helping leaders plan sessions with their sections using live and up-to-date information. This first release is aimed at Cub leaders, but we will be adding Beaver content by the end of this year and Scout section material during 2020.

We hope the programme planning tool becomes a key part of a section leader’s digital toolkit and makes it easier for anyone – whether you’re an old hand or just starting out – to give our Scouts skills for life.

Why are we releasing our site to the public in its ‘beta’ phase?

In the digital age, we need to be much more flexible and responsive in how we develop new online services. For the Scouts, this means involving our members, our strongest asset, from the beginning. We’ve been lucky to test, change and develop our beta website in collaboration with volunteers, but now we’d like to share our work with a wider group and gather even more feedback. We will use this feedback to continue to develop and improve the website in the future and we will regularly update you with what you have told us and what we are doing about it.

To tell you more about our new website, we’re hosting a webinar on Wednesday 8thMay. Starting at 7pm and lasting approximately 30 minutes, we’ll be covering details of our new website, its functionality and how you can feed back into its continued development. To join the webinar, follow the link below.

https://scouts.org.uk/digitalwebinar

For those unable to attend, the webinar will be recorded and available to watch on this blog from Thursday 9thMay.

We’re interested to see what you think of our new website, and hope you’ll enjoy being a part of its development.

Technical infrastructure webinar

On Tuesday 12th March, the digital team will be hosting an interactive technical infrastructure webinar. Starting at 7:30pm and lasting approximately 30 minutes, the webinar will cover work undertaken over the past year to upgrade and improve the architecture underpinning our digital systems, including:

  • Our transition to the Public Cloud
  • Cloud Native development
  • Our software development lifecycle
  • DevOps

The webinar will be hosted by myself, TSA’s Digital Product Manager, and you will hear from our Solution Architect, Jeff Nayler. There will be a chance to ask questions at the end.

If you are interested in learning more about our technical infrastructure, please click or copy the link below into your browser at 7:30pm on Tuesday 12th March to join the meeting.

https://join-emea.broadcast.skype.com/scouts.org.uk/81584ad642fb460684182ea98c95ca9c

For those unable to attend, the webinar will be recorded and available to watch on this blog from Wednesday 13th March.

Prototyping: what it is and why it’s useful

We mentioned in our end of year roundup that we were developing a prototype of our new programme planning tool for section leaders.

We’ve been testing this with a Community of Interest group and, during those tests, explained the purpose of a prototype within the wider context of the tool’s development.

Prototyping is a crucial part of the design of any modern tool, so we thought we would go into more detail about why.

 

What is a prototype?

A digital prototype usually takes the form of wireframes. Wireframes are simplified designs which help to keep a viewer’s focus on the substance of the product rather than the designer’s visual choices, like which font they used.

Images like this are intended to demonstrate the functionality of a tool. Copy may not be finalised and images may be lacking but the viewer is aware of the purpose of the page.

Where a wireframe becomes a prototype is when a tool links these images together. There are various online services that provide this functionality, such as Marvel, InVision and Axure. We’re using the latter to prototype our digital programme planning tool. Linking wireframes together allows a static page to emulate a functional tool.

 

What is a prototype for?

A prototype is intended to help viewers test what we have designed without distraction. The aim is to see if the user can fulfil their goals on their own. It isn’t the time to critique colours or image choice, hence the rectangular box with an ‘x’ in the middle which acts as a placeholder for an image.

This helps to evaluate ideas and, through testing, to learn what we didn’t know. That lesson could be how people react to the placement of a button, or what users are expecting from your tool. A prototype will help you develop and test the function, as opposed to the visual form.

Because a prototype is not the finished product, it can prove integral to ensuring development is on the right track, before going too far in the wrong direction. Being careful to avoid bias, user engagement through prototyping can help to keep the development of your tool focused on creating a positive user experience.

What next?

Once you have a prototype you and your testers are happy with, you can start to create the visual design, or the form, of your tool.

Creating a digital tool like this means constantly balancing form and function. It is incredibly easy to do one or the other – the hard work is striking the right balance.

To learn more about our digital programme planning tool, or to become part of our digital Community of Interest group to assist with future testing, please get in touch.

 

End of year roundup

It’s been a busy year for us in the Digital team. More of the projects in the Skills for Life plan are starting to get up and running, and we’ve been planning in Digital supporting them with a clear, volunteer-focused direction.

As we head into the Christmas break, we thought we would produce a short roundup of what we’ve achieved this year and what’s on the cards for next year.

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