Headshift was engaged by the National College for Leadership of School and Children’s Services to provide this leadership development organisation with a new online social networking and collaboration solution.
The College’s online strategy was ambitious and its online provision comprised a number of components, integrated to varying degrees, including its public website, its Learning Management System, an extensive collection of valuable content, and registration, enrolment and admissions systems from third-party providers. Given this extensive stack of legacy systems, Headshift’s solution needed to perform well as a stand-alone environment, but also integrate seamlessly with these various components through solutions provided by the College’s managed service partner, British Telecommunications, and its contractors.
Headshift’s social networking and collaboration solution for the College emerged from an extensive period of business analysis, user experience, and social experience design consulting, carried out on a collaborative basis with a high level of active client participation and access to stakeholders.
Our user-centred consulting methodology on this project enabled us to gather a significant amount of evidence relating to user profiles and needs, user behaviour and motivation, interaction styles, business and personal use cases, workflows, and functional requirements. In turn, this ensured that the product we developed had the best possible chance of being taken up and used, thus forming an essential networking, learning and knowledge sharing platform free of the typical constraints of ‘traditional’ enterprise software.
Most of the recommendations emerging from our initial consulting work were accepted – and in some cases, enthusiastically endorsed – by senior College stakeholders, including Board members, who stated that we had managed to “really get under the skin of our users”.
According to the College, our social networking and collaboration solution “will be used in a flexible way by the College’s user groups to serve a wide variety of purposes. These groups will use the tools to reflect on their own learning and experiences and record these reflections in blogs or learning journals and support this reflection by storing resources in e-portfolios. They will have the opportunity to network and collaborate within a wide range of groups such as regional leadership groups, local network groups, support groups for programmes of study, research groups, special interest groups, international exchange groups, and so on. College staff will also use the networking and collaboration tools to share knowledge and to collaborate in formal teams and informal groups.”
Armed with the outcomes of our consulting and such excellent client support, we undertook a series of carefully-planned, collaborative development sprints, allowing us to develop large parts of the platform within a very rapid turnaround, and ensuring that the more complex, College-specific elements could be iterated to meet both the business and user requirements we had identified.
The first release of the platform went live in early 2010. Adoption rates among the College’s members has been significant, to the point that it is the College’s most visited and used application, by a considerable margin. Overall, users have been very positive, but we have also managed to enhance and extend both functional elements and user experience based on ongoing feedback and iterative development, in a ‘little and often’ approach which has proved to be more effective and responsive than a ‘big bang’.
The work to date has also included the production of tailored promotional and support materials and we have also been engaged to deliver a number of pieces of consultancy, including social media awareness training for College staff and advice about reviewing and understanding activity, practice and behaviour across the College’s online network.