Introducing the Digital Projects Dashboard

This is not the Digital Projects Dashboard. This is just a dashboard (Image: Pixnio)

After a relaxing end-of-year break, the digital team is back in Heidelberg and raring to get started on our many projects. This week we built a dashboard to help us to keep track of the scope, status and dependencies of our nearly two-dozen projects.

All of the things

Mark kicked off the year with an “All of the things” meeting in which we tried to call to mind, write down and categorize all of the various projects – no matter how small – that we have been working on.

Our list, on post-its on the office wall, ranged from straightforward items such as “newsletter redesign” or “write documentation” to massive, multi-year projects such as the “Enterprise Data Repository” or “fix the intranet”. We categorized the projects by status, too: Alpha, Beta, or Live (more about these categories here) – and added each project’s dependencies. And then, because we’re the digital team, we built a digital version of it.

The dashboard

Check it out here. Our projects are listed by the stages they are at (Not started, Consultation, In progress, On hold, Delivered, To be Retired), and tagged by status (Alpha, Beta, Live). We also listed Dependencies – projects that fall under the remit of other teams such as Heidelberg IT, or that need EMBL-wide buy-in, such as retiring the Fiona CMS which runs our public sites and intranet.

(Screenshot of the new Digital Projects Dashboard – a work in progress)

You’ll notice the dashboard is clad in a handsome design provided through the EMBL Visual framework. It even boasts a (non-working, prototype) EMBL toolbar!

We’d like to encourage anyone interested in our work to peruse the dashboard, and keep checking in for changes and progress. There will be plenty of changes to track: to make new digital tools and sites we have to work fast, build and break prototypes, and iterate quickly. Hopefully this dashboard will help make some sense of this process, which can admittedly feel a little messy sometimes. We’re happy to show off our new dashboard and how to make one; Tabea from Stratcomm’s Digital team has already expressed interest in something similar for her workflows. Watch this space!


Finally, a note on dependencies. Digital projects are complex, and have many moving parts. Apart from the design and content, there is a codebase as well as underlying back-end technologies to think about, including diverse Content Management Systems and databases interacting through APIs.

There have been many points in our projects where we realise that to fix one thing, we first have to fix another underlying issue, which itself may have dependencies and underlying fixes needed. But instead of embarking on an Inception-like quest for the underlying fix, we have to start somewhere.

So we’ve started building tools and services on existing technologies, and for some, we may need to swap the less efficient parts later. It’s the price of working quickly – but worth the benefits of rapid iteration and prototyping, as we dash towards better websites.

Doing and enabling

In our communications for EMBL, we have traditionally highlighted what EMBL does: research, training, services and so on. As I have said before, what EMBL does in each of these areas is not unique in the life sciences. Efforts to describe what we do as unique will therefore rely on things that are difficult to substantiate such as, “EMBL strives for excellence” or “the EMBL spirit is unique”. I’m not saying that these things are not true, but they are not tangible and they are difficult to describe and justify. So what tangible thing or things might we use to differentiate and position EMBL? Continue reading “Doing and enabling”

EMBL’s top social media posts of 2017 and what we learned from them

I want to take a look back at my first full year as EMBL’s social media manager. So what worked best over 2017 and what can I learn from this?

What are we measuring? Why?

My basic goals for EMBL’s social media are to build community and develop a shared understanding of who we as an organisation are. Consequently, I care about what resonates on the different social sites much more than driving traffic back to EMBL websites, although traffic is obviously a by-product. Continue reading “EMBL’s top social media posts of 2017 and what we learned from them”

Who are we reaching on Social Media?

In this post I share an outline of what I have learned about EMBL’s followers on social media. This is based on my observations and research, as well as third-party data about social media users in general.

Social media users are generally young, well educated and well off, even compared to average internet users. The gap in social media use between people aged 18-34 and those aged 50 and older is significant in every country surveyed. The percentage of people who use social media differs from country to country, as does which social media channels people use (Source: Pew).

Let’s look at each of our channels and see what we can say about our audiences.
Continue reading “Who are we reaching on Social Media?”

Mapping brand structure to support communication

During EMBL’s 43 years it has grown in size, scope and geography. Today EMBL has six sites, many activity areas and focuses on five related but distinct missions.

There is a very strong unifying concept at the core of EMBL. However, during those years of growth a solid conceptual view of how websites, brochures and newsletter relate to each other has not yet been forged and adapted holistically.

Today, products vary in look, format and feel — some of that is for very practical reasons and some reasons are largely attributable to entropy.
Continue reading “Mapping brand structure to support communication”

Our Design Principles

The design sprint that started a couple of weeks ago began with the team describing their visions, their ideas, and thoughts of what a new EMBL corporate design could look and feel like. Central to describing and understanding why something looks the way it does are our design principles.

Many organisations have design principles to guide their work. They are often described as ‘the star to sail your ship by’; a set of common beliefs and guidelines for a project, product, organisation, or initiative. Some of my favourites are documented here.

Here is our first draft of a set of principles that came out of the last two weeks working together. This is just the start. As per principle #2, we’re showing this as early as we can so we can get feedback and iterate.
Continue reading “Our Design Principles”

Start up life science

Sometimes it takes someone to ask the right question to arrive at an important piece of information. And often these questions are asked by new people, who challenge the assumptions you take for granted about the place where you work. Shortly after Dan and I started working together to lead strategy and communications he asked me what I thought was special about EMBL. Like most other people that he had asked before, I struggled to distill the gist of what EMBL is down to one sentence. But he continued asking and after several rounds of ‘I don’t buy it’ and ‘you don’t get it’, we arrived at something we both thought was a very powerful concept. EMBL is an incubator. It recruits the very best scientists worldwide and gives them almost complete freedom and the conditions to do something great … after they left EMBL.
Continue reading “Start up life science”