Web tools for programme management

We recently had an internal JISC meeting where we discussed what web tools we use to help us with programme management. Lawrie Phipps and I prepared a list of the tools that we use or plan to use to help manage ourselves and our programmes. I thought it might be worth posting the list here. I’d be interested to hear of any tools that people are using that are not on this list. Apologies for the length:

Community building

Twitter http://twitter.com/  – won’t suit everyone but is very good for little snippets, observations and off the cuff chats that the web has not really replicated until now. Could be used to build communities and for lightweight communication between projects. A useful feature is the use of hash (#) tags, placing the # at the beginning of an event or project tag to aggregate comments.

Blogs – persuading projects to blog regularly is great for the programme manager, for a community of projects and for anyone interested in the project. Blogging is not natural to everyone so perhaps in some cases, blogging can be used to replace project reporting?

A Project Manager’s reflection on the issue of keeping a blog:

So is it worth it? Speaking personally and (for once) completely frankly, I’ve been quite enjoying writing, for several reasons. First, it has allowed me to do a bit of self-indulgent vanity publishing, something for which I criticise other bloggers but, hey, I’m a hypocrite! Second, the requirement to be reflective has made me think about various aspects of the project, which is no bad thing. Third, as it has turned out, I haven’t had to trouble my conscience by using buckets of whitewash to tell a positive story; the project really has been going pretty well.

Ning https://www.ning.com/ – easily build your own social network, a good place for people to get to know each other online, communities can be closed or open and communication can be public or private. Ning is also a useful tool to run before a workshop for participants to start thinking, and during the workshop for getting delegates to write up discussions/findings, this is especially useful in, for example, plenary sessions where sometimes some delegates may have a tendency to dominate.

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ – I am not your friend, I don’t want to be poked, I can not be brought and sold as a pet, I am neither a werewolf hunter nor a vampire slayer, I don’t want a virtual pizza, if I hadn’t contacted you just after I left school what makes I think to talk to you 20 years later? FaceBook? Just say no!

That being said, some project staff are using facebook to some effect, but we need to be aware of issues such as IPR.

Jiscmail http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/ – tried and trusted method of community building. Even with the plethora of web 2.0 tools available to projects, the most reliable way of reaching most of our academic community is through e-mail, the JISC Mail lists are simple and effective.

Current awareness

Delicious http://delicious.com/ – the most popular social bookmarking tool. A little limited in some ways and with an unattractive interface but lots of people use it and persuading projects to share bookmarks is a very useful thing to do as it highlights overlaps of interest and promotes serendipitous discovery of information. An important element when using it to share is to encourage the use of ‘notes’ when bookmarking.

Diigo http://www.diigo.com/ – a newer social bookmarking tool, allows you to be more specific about which part of a webpage is bookmarked, it also allows annotation of webpages. It supports creation of groups and preparation of web slideshows. However, not as many people use it already so barrier to participation may be higher.

Twine http://www.twine.com/ – a new social bookmarking tool, which permits bookmarking of any document and analyses bookmarks for common people, places and organizations. Also allows for creation of private groups.

RSS readers (google reader, netvibes etc) http://lifehacker.com/390619/best-rss-newsreaders  – like twitter, won’t suit everyone’s habits but if you  can find a reader that suits you and can get into the habit of building rss feeds into daily routine then it is a fantastic way to keep up to date with a potentially massive amount of information

Dipity http://www.dipity.com/ – a simple timeline builder. Could be useful in giving projects or a more general community an idea of the steps that led to now and a rough outline of programme timescales.


Ideascale http://www.ideascale.com/ – a tool to source ideas from the community and to have ideas voted for and commented on. Worked very well for the IE team to solicit discussion and ideas from the repository community (http://jiscrepository.ideascale.com/) but plenty to be aware of here, including waning of user interest and expectations attached to voting. Also Dialogr http://www.dialogr.com/

Mechanical turk https://www.mturk.com/mturk/welcome– take advantage of a community that are willing to work for you on small tasks for micropayments. Here is a great description of a project that used mechanical turk http://waxy.org/2008/09/girl_turk/

Topcoder http://www.topcoder.com/ – tap into a large community of developers. The IE team are talking to topcoder about using their services for the developer community strand of the new programme.

mysociety.org http://www.mysociety.org/ – not really crowdsourcing but they build websites that utilise or support democracy and have worked for the government, bbc and google. Perhaps they could offer JISC something?


Google docs https://docs.google.com  – can be used for collaboration on documents in a team or in the community.

Confluence https://wiki.jisc.ac.uk/dashboard.action – wiki for collaboration and communication


Skype http://www.skype.com/intl/en-gb/ – instant messaging, internet phone and conferencing tool

Jing http://www.jingproject.com/ – a screencasting tool. Could be used for projects to communicate developments to the community.

Flickr http://www.flickr.com/ – picture sharing

Youtube http://www.youtube.com/ – video sharing

BlipTV http://blip.tv/ – video sharing

Flowgram http://www.flowgram.com/ – a way to create tours through various websites and content (an alternative to powerpoint or an introduction to a certain area)

Jiscmail – essential for large and active communities

Annotate http://a.nnotate.com/ – provide annotated documents e.g. templates

Slideshare http://www.slideshare.net/ – great for sharing slideshows, provides nice widgets and embeddable flash players, not so great at being searched by google.

Bringing it all together

There is little point giving projects 6 different tools without some way of bringing them all together. Here are some suggestions for amalgamating content.

Netvibes http://www.netvibes.comiGoogle http://www.google.com/igPageflakes http://www.pageflakes.com/ – can amalgamate content with flexible widget based approach. If it has an rss feed it can be displayed on these pages. However it is much more flexible than just rss (see repository widget work http://www.netvibes.com/rwidgets#General, or the exemplary widgets produced by tfl http://www.tfl.gov.uk/widgets/). I have put together an example page to show some of the things it can do. http://www.netvibes.com/amcgregor#Prog_management, obviously this page is shareable so can be used by projects as well as programme managers.

Ning https://www.ning.com/ – widgets using content from other tools can be embedded in ning. This is likely to be more difficult but more flexible than the netvibes style approach.

Getting things done

Tools for managing personal information or workflow:

Zotero http://www.zotero.org/ – a free bibliographic management tool. Only suitable for personal use at the moment but social features coming soon.

Google calendar https://www.google.com/calendar/ – a calendar application which is extremely easy to use and displays calendars of other users very nicely.

Remember the milk http://www.rememberthemilk.com/ – a to do list application that can be shared and can be used in a number of different applications (twitter, google calendar, blackberries and mobile phones).

Evernote http://evernote.com/ – a note taking application, includes ability to clip content from any application. Fully searchable. Can be easily used across computers and on mobile devices.

Outlook – task list, calendar all in one place and lots of people use it. Some useful plugins such as xobni http://www.xobni.com/ which takes advantage of the hidden social network in your inbox.

RSS readers – a way to manage information overload (see above)

Location and travel

Dopplr – http://www.dopplr.com/ – a social network for regular business travelers.

Have fire eagle http://fireeagle.yahoo.net/ and related geo data tools and social networks got anything useful to offer us?

More complicated stuff

Yahoo pipes http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/ – loads of cool tools including a way to set up persistent searches across a range of resources http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.info?_id=1b71cfefcc9933e084970aef476518ab (a nice explanation of how to set up a persistent google search taking advantage of the new rss feature: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/readwriteweb/~3/8HqjuPpekeY/how_to_use_the_new_google_web_feeds.php ) and to amalgamate whole lists of blogs into one rss feed https://infteam.jiscinvolve.org/2008/10/17/rsp-blog-directory-and-yahoo-pipes/.

Roll your own newsroom http://radar.oreilly.com/2008/10/rolling-your-own-newsroom.html  – a description of how an rss reader can be used to create a webpage of information relevant to colleagues. Could be used within JISC or within project community.


Tagging. It is important to think about tags at the start of programmes and projects so that searching across a range of applications is simple and effective.

It is very unlikely that simply advising projects to use a tool will work, the programme manager will need to devote some energy to promotion and provision of quality content to ensure that the resources are useful to projects. The best way to promote the use of a tool is to effectively use the tool.

8 thoughts on “Web tools for programme management

  1. Richard M. Davis

    Hi Andy

    Worth mentioning also is the newish “Forms” feature in Google Spreadsheets, which is a great, quick and easy way to knock up online forms to collect data for, say, workshop registrations, or surveys.

    Isn’t A.nnotate.com a paid-for service?

    Confluence looks cool – I’ve been wanting to try it for ages – but this seems to be a closed JISC environment. Is it going to go “open” like JISCInvolve blogs?

    As you know I’m partial to lots of these things too and have my own favourites, but I hope JISC will consider sustainability also in any recommendations – preservation issues are rife, as we highlighted in PoWR (e.g. https://jiscpowr.jiscinvolve.org/2008/07/13/sticky-wiki/)

    I think that “Bringing It All Together” is really key. As everyone goes and rolls their own Virtual Project Environment from their favourite Web 2.0 apps, isn’t there at the heart of it a need for some slightly more consistent kind of JISC-managed Project Portal (or Portfolio) where all these various streams can be pulled together? Say, iJISC, JISCvibes, JISCorati, JiiSCgo… 🙂

  2. Andy McGregor

    Hi Richard

    Annotate does have a free service but certain features are only aviable for the subscription services (the same is true of ideascale).

    I am not sure about confluence, Hector Peebles would be able to help you out more.

    These are all recommendations based on personal practice so sustainability has not figured greatly so far but I agree it is the elephant in the room.

    the problem with jiscvibes is that it would be all orange and blue!


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  5. Rachel Bruce

    Andy thanks for the session on this, it was really helpful. I have set up my netvibes and am getting used to it. I agree that sustainability is an issue and that is precisely what I thought when I read:

    “Blogs – persuading projects to blog regularly is great for the programme manager, for a community of projects and for anyone interested in the project. Blogging is not natural to everyone so perhaps in some cases, blogging can be used to replace project reporting?”

    *Currently* blogs can’t replace formal project reporting, they are a really good way to disseminate, reflect and to engage others. They can help up date your programme peers (including programme manager). If a project gets into it the blog might give provide a lot of material to be used in project reporting.

    So there is not only the longer term sustainability but if blogging was going to replace reporting there is the short – medium term sustainability issue. Perhaps capturing
    (bringing together) the information as Richard suggests would be one step towards this…but it isn’t the answer. Would/do projects blog about difficulties – some might be appropriate for a blog but many only shared in a formal report?

    I’ve probably taken the comment “…blogging can be used to replace project reporting” a bit further than you intended? 🙂

    Thanks for helping Web 2.0 our IE programmes!

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