CA:MK-Week 6: Long term thinking…

As we continue through this project, the process of bringing a tool to life has revealed, more than ever, the scope of the challenge we are addressing. As we shared last week, it is very exciting to see the progress being made, but the scale and breadth of the challenge means that some things are taking a little longer than we envisaged. The process of tidying and creating more keywords and themes has been a long and windy road. Our beneficiary groups represent the whole voluntary and community sector (VCS), therefore their work touches on a vast range of areas.

Although time consuming, we realise it is so important to ensure our tool is fully inclusive, and all of the VCS groups that will use the tool have appropriate themes / keywords under which to log their vital information. The fact this task is taking a lot of time (and brain power!) just demonstrates that the amazing VCS provide support across all aspects of life. We hope to have a comprehensive list to share with groups in the coming days.

Another area of learning that we have come across this week, sparked in our weekly call with Angus from Mosaic Digital, related to what the data form might look like. We have been using our historic ‘dialogue form’ as a starting point for finalising the new themes and keywords. Whilst this has been really useful, we did not want to be restricted by the format of the old form, and discussions with Angus helped us to realise that it would be really useful to see all keywords at once, rather than just when you have selected the associated theme.

Keywords selected would still allow us to capture what themes are coming up, but in a more user friendly way. We think this way of working will be more intuitive and capture a more detailed understanding of the issues logged. The initial ‘mock-up’ of what this might look like from Angus, is exactly what we hoped for, so we’re very excited.

The mock-up

Another task for us in the coming days will be to create some ‘guiding’ text for the themes and keywords. We are very aware that whilst the meaning of themes and keywords may be clear to us, as people that have devised them, this may not be the case for people coming to them without this insight. We will also continue to reflect on the prototype Angus has created, considering tweaks and improvements and look to begin asking users groups to let us know how easy (or difficult!) it is to use, and what they need to make the experience better.

On a more technical note, last week we shared that we had planned to use Airtable. However, from our discussions around future work, and how this tool might interact with other projects and our wider aims as an organisation, Angus concluded another option looks to be more fitting. We’re really pleased to be working with Mosaic Digital in this way. Sharing knowledge, testing solutions and not being afraid to change course if needed. Angus will explain more below about the reasoning behind the tech shift, and the benefits of this new, alternative option.

This week has mostly been about programming.

Apart from one fairly major/significant incident. I woke up early on Sunday morning and realised that there was a problem: we’d decided upon Airtable as a data store, as it came with hosting & support, an API, scripting (for bespoke functional enhancements), and most importantly, an easy-to-use interface (for a product of this nature) that makes it relatively easy for less-technical people to administer data. Our architectural design had taken into account some of the limitations and we thought it should all work.

A revealing nugget of information that had arisen from one of our weekly catch-up calls was that the Community Action team saw this project as a stepping stone, that it needs to be strategic, and be able to be built upon. And that meant potentially hooking up with other data from other sources. When it came to figuring out exactly how that might happen (specifically matching id’s of external data with references to data within the AirTable base, it became clear that AirTable just wasn’t going to cope — while there might be solutions, the additional complexity just introduced more risk, for what intuitively feels like a relatively straightforward system.

  • So, with that in mind, we’ve thrown out the Airtable layer and reverted to a traditional data model on a MySQL database.
  • developed some data-administration screens for the team to use to manage the aspects of data that are likely to evolve as time goes on.
  • Taken the feedback from the initial data-submission prototype screens and built a second version, incorporating some more intuitive data collection widgets.

The Community Action Team have been working hard, trying to finalise (as far as possible) the data that they’d like to capture, and it looks like we’re nearly at the point where the relationships between the different data elements can be locked down.

It’s been a really productive week, and next week should be more of the same, hopefully taking us to a point where we can share the initial work with our test users!

Thank you for reading and we’ll see you next week, Anna, Danielle, Julie and Angus :)


UK collaborative to bring a social purpose to the digital…


UK collaborative to bring a social purpose to the digital revolution. From CAST, City Bridge Trust, Comic Relief, DCMS, Esmée Fairbairn, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and The National Lottery Community Fund.

Community Action MK Team

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UK collaborative to bring a social purpose to the digital revolution. From CAST, City Bridge Trust, Comic Relief, DCMS, Esmée Fairbairn, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and The National Lottery Community Fund.