The pleasing difficulty of judging a hack day

Bath:Hacked is asking the brightest and most creative people in our city to spend two days thinking, playing and hacking an untapped seam of BANES data.

It was with huge excitement that I headed along to Coworking Bath on Sunday morning for the judging of the first Bath Hacked event.

I arrived around 11AM, by which time the teams had been working for over 24 hours on their hacks. I spent 5 minutes or so with each of the teams in turn, looking at where they’d got to and getting a feel for where they were heading in the rest of the time they had.

There were no set judging criteria as such but I constructed a set of questions that I asked of each team I met to get a feel for:

  • The clarity of user need(s) being addressed
  • The importance being placed on the quality of user experience created
  • The application of locally-sourced data, especially that recently released by B&NES for the event
  • Tactics employed to clean, munge and splice data to make the data meaningful.

Around 3PM, the teams gathered together and presented to one another, the judges and a big group of curious onlookers for 4 minutes. Then it was over to me, Doug Laughlen and Valerie West to try to decide which team should win in each of 4 categories:

  • Grand Prize (£1k) – awarded to the best overall project, judged most imaginative, well conceived and likely to benefit the community, local business and/or the environment
  • Community Impact (£250) – awarded to the project most likely to resonate with the wider community
  • Best use of data (£250) – we’re looking for useful, clever or just plain surprising ways to use local data
  • Best completed project (£250) – shipping certainly isn’t mandatory, but there’s glory for those who manage it!

Continue reading “The pleasing difficulty of judging a hack day”

Delivering a digital strategy for the University of Bath

First published on University of Bath Digital Marketing & Communications blog

In recent posts, we’ve alluded to there being a University of Bath digital strategy. It’s the product of analysis and interviews conducted over the last 3 months, and we have begun taking that strategy around campus to introduce our colleagues to its contents and to get their feedback and support.

Our strategic goal
The University’s goal is to have a world-class digital domain developed around the needs of its users. This digital goal is framed by the actions set out in the University of Bath’s strategy for 2013 – 2016.

Users of our digital domain include students, academics, corporate staff, businesses and the public. While the majority of our digital users are here on campus, we receive high volumes of traffic from elsewhere in the UK and increasingly overseas. Our website serves in part as a marketing channel but our users are mostly task-driven and view our digital domain as a collection of services they use to get things done.

We want the people who use our site and associated digital channels to regard them as informative, trustworthy and useful. We believe that the manner in which we meet our users’ needs sets us apart from our peers and when we perform well it has a positive impact on the reputation and visibility of our research and teaching.

Continue reading “Delivering a digital strategy for the University of Bath”

Trialling delivery principles for the University of Bath Digital team

First published on the University of Bath Digital Marketing & Communications blog

The University of Bath has an in-house digital team. There are currently 11 of us and we are a mixed-discipline team of designers, developers and editors.

In recent weeks, the Digital team has been taking a hard look at what we do and how we do it in the interests of being more effective. We’ve run retrospectives of our work, been in conversation with folks we do work with and for around campus, and we’ve studied the way other digital teams work.

Our team provides digital products and services related to study and research, which are used by the University’s students, staff and partners as well as by the general public. When we looked at other teams in the digital industry (who provide products and services), we saw some had written down a set of principles that they worked to and this practice resonated with us.

From what we understand, delivery (or design) principles have many benefits. They draw a team together and provide a common thread throughout all its work. They help end-users understand the efforts that have gone into content, designs and features, and how the team might develop things in the future. And, they serve to manage the expectations of delivery partners and senior management about how the team is organised and what motivates it to work to the best of its abilities.

As we have reflected on our past work and the sort of team we want to be, we have zeroed in on a set of beta (or trial) delivery principles of our own. Here’s what we are starting with:

1. Put users’ needs first
The products and services we deliver should be driven by the needs of our users, not what suits us as providers. This means investing the time and effort to regularly engage with users and the contexts in which they interact with what we produce.

2. Make decisions based on data
Simply stating a user’s needs is insufficient, we must have evidence to make it compelling. We have been hired because we have good opinions and instincts based on professional experience. But we need to counsel these with sound qualitative and quantitative data, and use that data to make objective decisions about what to deliver and when.

3. Release iteratively and often
We will not store up ‘big bang’ releases because that is frustrating for the users and risky for the organisation. We will start small with the minimum viable product, we will test it and we will release it as soon as possible on a timescale of days and weeks, rather than months or years. We will repeat the process many times over, adding to our products and services based on feedback, tests and changes to technology.

4. Keep it simple and consistent
We run a big site with many supporting many channels, which draw in a diverse set of users who have an expectation of quality associated with the University of Bath domain. We will do the hard work not to over-think or over-complicate things. Whether a user is new or experienced, task-driven or browsing, they will able to get started quickly, flow through the process with ease and trust the integrity of the results.

5. Do the hard work behind the code
The success of a great digital product or service doesn’t rest entirely on what  appears on screen. To deliver accurate, pleasing and sustainable products and services means investing in simple instructions, efficient workflows,  accurate monitoring and great support. Often this can all be provided by the Digital team directly but we also expect to work hard with our partners on getting this right.

6. Work in the open
We will share what we are doing as often and as freely as possible because we believe that scrutiny makes us a more effective team and our products and services better. This extends from our product backlog through to the data generated by our output. We will ensure that we provide updates, explain our actions and demonstrate where and how we have taken on board feedback.

Now that these principles have been written down and shared, the hard work of putting them into action begins. We will apply these principles regardless of the scope or scale of delivery. We will apply these principles to our delivery regardless of whether we are a designer, developer or editor. We will apply the delivery principles regardless of whether we are working completely within Digital or with people outside our immediate team. And you can hold us to account when something we produce seems to be falling short of these principles.

There is no orthodoxy or set of rules to follow when choosing principles. Delivery principles are context specific, based on who’s in the team, what the team is having to do and over what period of time. Our principles are based on best of breed examples in the wider digital industry but have been adapted for the specific circumstances of this University’s Digital team.

As we develop as a team and work our way through our backlog and goals, we expect these principles to evolve. They will change based on our own direct experiences and on the feedback we receive from our users and co-producers. As and when substantial changes take place, we’ll keep you updated. Please also check back for posts capturing case studies of these principles being applied to real products and services that you can click on and use.

We’ll always keep the latest version of these principles published on our wiki.

My first week as Head of Digital

First posted on the University of Bath Digital Marketing & Communications blog

It is the end of my first week as Head of Digital here at the University of Bath. Naturally, I have had a busy week of meetings but it has been a joy getting around the beautiful campus and meeting the lovely people who work and study here.

I have been pleased to hear everyone I have met say that world-class digital communication is critical to the University’s ongoing success. They believe that the University can be proud of its digital work to date and that more should be done to build on that track record.

That is a fantastic mandate to have. I am looking forward to working with people from across campus to deliver the digital profile that the University deserves.

At the centre of those efforts will be my team of editors, developers and designers. In the short time I have worked with them their passion for this University has shone out and they are bristling with the skills and energy that this University needs to take full advantage of digital media.

Over the course of next few weeks and months, I will be trying to meet as many people as I can to understand how the University operates and what the folks here need from my team. I look forward to updating you on what I discover, and if you want to talk to me, please drop me a line or leave a comment here.

If you want to read a bit more about my background then have a look at my LinkedIn profile and if you want to follow me on Twitter I am @rossferg.


At the end of July, I will be deployed from the Government Digital Service. Like much of the government digital estate that has come through GDS, I am being shipped as a much improved product.

Formula for leaving

I’m leaving, I had a great time working here, I am proud of what I achieved, the team are wonderful, but it’s time to go in search of new challenges.

This post doesn’t stray far from that leaving post formula, so maybe you are done here. Or if you read on maybe you’ll gain an insight or two into the GDS ‘secret sauce’ from someone who has had a hand in its concoction.

Continue reading “DONE”

Succeeding at the foot of the ladder – tips for interns and their employers

Internships are so big, Hollywood is getting in on the act
Internships are so big, Hollywood is getting in on the act

One morning, when I was interning at an Edinburgh ad agency, a client in Dundee called to say that rather than needing ‘that dvd’ next week, they needed it ‘right bloody now’.

The team fussed and moaned about how they would get it there in time. Then, being creative types, they realised they had an 18 year old youth in their company. And there’s not a lot faster than a West of Scotland teenager, other than perhaps a West of Scotland teenager tasked with an urgent delivery and loaned an account director’s drop top Golf GTI.

So roof down, away I went with my cargo. Arrived promptly and well turned out. Client was happy and impressed and called the bosses back at base to say as much.

The point of placements

There are two points to this anecdote. One is cometh the hour, cometh the intern – sometimes the most junior members of staff save the day. The second is that internships can involve grind, boredom and bewilderment but they also introduce you to what it is like to be in a workplace, in a role and have professional responsibilities.

At the end of an internship you want to come out more rounded, a bit more savvy and have a clear set of stories to tell an employer at interview. If you get to drive a cool car, that’s a bonus.

Continue reading “Succeeding at the foot of the ladder – tips for interns and their employers”

GOV.UK is going Worldwide

This post originally appeared on the Government Digital Service blog

Today we are very pleased to release the Worldwide section of GOV.UK, which explains the structure and activities of British government organisations in over 200 locations around the world.

Worldwide ( is the new home on the web for the overseas web presences of DFID and FCO, and much of UKTI‘s international-facing content (ahead of a wholesale transition later this year). These location profiles will be frequently updated to set out the government’s response to international events, present case studies of diplomacy, development and trade in action, and provide information about senior staff responsible for overseeing that activity.

Continue reading “GOV.UK is going Worldwide”