Bristol Shows True Spirit Of Collaboration

Bristol Shows True Spirit Of Collaboration

Late last year, I appealed to Bristol’s tech community via Linkedin, asking if there was anyone willing to give some of their time to help Frank Water design and build a new website.

The response was immediate and incredible!

Within hours, we had dozens of offers of help from both individuals and agencies who were keen to donate their time and expertise. We met with everyone – either over the phone or face to face. We drank a lot of coffee. And what struck me time and again was each and every person’s willingness to collaborate with others. Initially, we’d hoped to find someone to facilitate a UX workshop. But, given the openness and enthusiasm of everyone we spoke to, we began to look beyond the early stages and wondered if perhaps this was a model that would see us through from start to finish.

The context

For those of you not familiar with Frank Water, we’re a social enterprise and safe water charity, founded in 2005 by Katie Alcott. This year (2020) marks our 15th anniversary and in that time we’ve helped nearly 400,000 people in India and Nepal to access safe, clean drinking water, decent sanitation, and good hygiene. Our social enterprise encourages consumers in the UK to change their behaviour away from products, practices, and processes that have a negative impact on global water resources. Our Refill service can be found at festivals and in restaurants, cafes, and bars. We lead by example in the move to ditch single-use plastic drinking bottles.

We have a new five-year strategic plan in place and understand the importance of having good, well-integrated digital tools in place to make this plan work.

Getting started – UX workshop

Our journey began in February with a one-day workshop, hosted by Potato and run by Cecile Eschenauer and Tom Foster. We’d spent a couple of hours with the two of them beforehand and during that time, Cecile had suggested that we treat this project as a cooperative in which all parties, whatever their involvement, would work openly and collaboratively. Notes from each stage would be available to all contributors via Trello and we’d ensure handover between stages was fluid by overlapping sessions.

We loved this idea and worked hard to incorporate the approach from the word go. Our initial workshop included the Frank Water team (Katie Alcott, Sarah Moore, Lizzie Rapley, Claire Allen, and myself) and we were joined in the afternoon by Ben Coleman and Jonti Eccles.

We got so much out of the day, thanks to coaching and questioning from Tom & Cecile, and came away with a far greater understanding of our key audiences and how they might interact with us via the website.

User needs, stories and Information Architecture (IA)

Things moved swiftly after the workshop. Ben & Jonti ran a further two sessions to finalise the personas and produce a set of user stories and started looking at the information architecture (how we should structure the site) as well as thinking about how to approach the content design (planning, writing, and managing content).

User research

Alongside this, we started working with Indu Kaila. who’d offered to take on some user research. She’ll speak to existing supporters and partners to gain firsthand knowledge of how they are using our current website to ascertain their needs for a new, improved version. Together with Ben & Jonti, Indu has spent time drafting questions for the different user group representatives and she used Miro to explain her thinking.

And in the background, we’ve been talking to a whole host of people who have provided ongoing guidance and support, including Nathan Baranowski, Rajnish Razdan, Eriol Fox, and Tom Saunders.

We’ve started looking for help for the next phase (wireframing and visual design) and have met with more gifted and experienced contributors who have offered their help. This roll call of experts includes Ollie Francis, Magda Faizov, Yvette Commander, Chris Davies, and Fiasco Design.

The challenges

With such an unexpectedly enthusiastic response, this project has also brought some challenges. Frank Water is staffed by a small team of primarily part-time workers. Project management is divided between Claire Allen (FW Communications Manager) and myself (a voluntary Trustee). My day job is in digital technology and I have experience running digital agencies so I know just how time-consuming and intensive these projects can be!

Whilst we’re fully dedicated to the idea of a cooperative, it’s not without its difficulties. We’re building our team on the fly. We don’t know how long each phase will take given that people are offering their time for free. We’re relying on experts being available according to our timetable which is a tall order. Each individual or team is completing a discrete piece of work before they pass the baton to the next person, who they’ve never met before. Communication is key!

A curve ball like no other

The biggest challenge – for us all – came in March when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Like every small business and charity, this has caused uncertainty within Frank Water. Funding has been cut for work overseas and UK festivals are more or less all cancelled.

Yet the irony is that safe water and good hygiene have never been so important. And we know that we have a crucial role to play as advocates for and implementers of robust Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programmes in both India and Nepal. Next month, we’ll launch an emergency appeal to raise funds to protect some of the most marginalised people in India from coronavirus

What’s next?

We are now in week four of UK lockdown and it’s clearly having an effect on us all. There is a lot of uncertainty both personally and professionally and it would be easy, and indeed understandable, for pro-bono projects such as this to slip and fall to the bottom of the pile.

It’s vital that we continue apace with the new website project. Not only have we learned how important it is to be able to effectively communicate to current and new supporters online but the new site will play a major part in helping us bounce back from this setback.

The next step in this project is a sketching workshop, where we intend to gather together participants from the original UX day to sketch out ideas for key parts and pages on the new site. Whilst virtual sketching workshops aren’t the easiest, we’re exploring how we can use white-boarding tools such as Miro and Mural to make this happen sooner rather than later and keep up the momentum. I’m hopeful that we can keep this moving and deliver a fantastic new website for FRANK Water later this year. Watch this space for further updates!

We’re so grateful to everyone who has responded to our posts on LinkedIn. It has certainly proved that collaboration in the Bristol tech world is alive and well. Special thanks to Potato, Cecile Eschenauer, Tom Foster, Ben Coleman, Jonti Eccles, and Indu Kaila.

Thanks for reading, stay safe and keep in touch with us at Frank Water.