AmbITion North West Roadshow – New Writing Partnership Case Study

This is a live blog of the AmbITion Roadshow North West  event at the NOVAS Contemporary Urban Centre, Liverpool.  If you spot any errors or inaccuracies or would simply like to contribute to the conversation, leave us a comment!

Bill Thompson, BBC journalist now sharing an early strategy document as created by the New Writing Partnership (NWP), a writing development agency for which he is serves on the board.

AmbITion supported the New Writing Partnership in making a paradigm shift from how they work using digital.

The New Writing Partnership received funding in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

New Writing Partnership is now Writers’ Centre Norwich.

The story:

City of Norwich, Arts Council England and University of East Anglia established New Writing Partnership in 2004 with Trevor Davies as Director.

Chris Gribble took over in 2006.

Bill Thompson joined NWP board in January 2007, NWP already Tier 1 AmbITIon partner.

Bill attended the AmbITion launch in March 2007, having been involved in some of the early discussions with Sarah Fisher, Dave Moutrey and Hannah Rudman.

Was the lead board member on AmbITion work throughout the project.

“I’ve got 733 emails, a lot of them about AmbITion in my ‘nwp’ folder on my Mac”

Bill shares the journey that Writers’ Centre Norwich has been on using these emails about the AmbITion project.

Even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a meeting…

An opportunity to take some of the funding available and do something quite ambitious beyond just creating a website.

Realised that it wasn’t that the website was a poor reflection of the organisation.  More about the website being a reflection of the organisation’s aspirations at the time which wasn’t really clear.

This is a problem a lot of people face.  By the end of the first meeting the plan was to rip up New Writing Partnership and use ICT to build a new kind of organisation.

Instead of just taking what you already do and automating it, you start on the assumption that the systems are already there and design a structure around what the system can do.

Just as 20 years ago, arts organisations would have assumed telephones were there and didn’t write documentation on how to integrate it into their practice, we started with the assumption that social networks were already there.

What they did had planted a seed and involved going into the organisation, looking at the skills of all the staff and deciding  if the organisation was at a stage where they could move on.

The AmbITion project became one of the main things the organisation does over the last few years.

Lots of discussion around the big picture stuff as well as the £18k for the website budget.

The board’s away day was the moment when the organisation started to see the direction the AMbITion project would take them.

There was the technical direction being provided by Bill and the actual direction of the organisation.

The AmbITion project allowed them to build IT in from the beginning as a way the organisation worked.

They had to look at the existing mission and then change the focus to look at writers and writing not just about literature.

New mission proposed by Chris:

‘NWP seeks to explore the artistic and social power of creative writing through pioneering and collaborative projects and other partners.’

Bill’s job was to provide as much input on the technology landscape that made this possible.

They then had to convert this into a full AmbITion business case.

In effect they were successful in receiving the funding from AmbITion to re-invent themselves.

In early 2008, they realised that the way the organisation worked to deliver projects ‘was the tail that wagged the dog’.   It was not sustainable for growing the organisation.

AmbITion funding was used to develop:
Artisitic Plan
Marketing Strategy
Job description and even a new name.

All staff interviewed and assessed.  New structure introduced.   New ticketing system introduced.

By autumn 2008, they were able to draw up tenders for brand identity, IT infrastructure and website.

Bill now showing a prop showing different proposals for Writers’ Centre Norwich’s brand identity.

Separated IT infrastructure from web and internal system.

By October 2008, they had to sign off the web brief, select a designer for the branding work, make a decision regarding ticketing and reviewing an outline strategic marketing plan.

Writers’ Centre Norwich is a partnership organisation with a number of different funders.  The new name was important as they had to keep the City council and other funders happy and involved.

‘New Writing Norwich’, ‘Writing East’ examples of names suggested.

Writers’ Centre Norwich was chosen.

Bill is particularly proud of the apostrophe as it shows they are a serious writing agency.

It can be used to eliminate job applicants who miss it out!

Key design considerations of the new IT system allows remote collaboration: desk top clients communicate with a fast server.

Chris Gribble sent a final email about the company legally becoming Writers’ Centre Norwich from the AmbITion Re:Connected event in Manchester via their new IT ‘virtual desktop’ system.

It’s not over yet.

Office IT systems in place – thin client
New branding being rolled out
Website development progressing – interim site in place
And even thinking about cloud computing as next stage.

Website built on a content management system (CMS) that allows document control that is managed internally and then shared online immediately.

Those sorts of IT systems will allow Writers’ Centre Norwich to work better.


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