The National Eisteddfod of Wales and their move to digital

Written by Andrew Thomas

18 months ago we started working with the National Eisteddfod of Wales over this time we have really grown to understand the complexity of such a large festival.

For those that don’t know - The National Eisteddfod of Wales is an annual festival that takes place over a week from the 1st of August. Its location changes each year, alternating between venues in north, south and mid wales.

Throughout the week 130,000 people visit to browse the stands and take part or watch over 900 events take place from poetry through to hip hop dance groups - it's a great representation of our diverse Welsh culture.

Yet it is remarkable to think that the core team that makes such a large event happen with approximately 15 members of staff and pretty much running all of this through paper based forms and submissions.

However what was refreshing is they understood the need to look to the future. With an ambitious goal of moving these events to an online system, they knew a move to online would be a complicated transition and one that came with a huge amount of worry around upsetting existing audiences.

National Eisteddfod of Wales on an iPhone

Our first actions were around a solid timeline and sharing experiences of previous projects to way lay fears around this huge transformation. We worked with the team to develop a strong plan for the future, identifying a structure that would work over years - given that the website needs to evolve year on year with the festival.

Once we had established this grounding we begin to look at users and understand their needs. We built quickly so we could test and iterate, poke, prod and test again. We didn’t get it right first time, but every new iteration got us closer.

Once the core structure of the site was in place and the Eisteddfod were confident to run with it, we needed to look into the competitions and booking. Discussing how taking payment and managing competition entries currently worked - what was good, what was bad and then understanding how we could implement a new digital version.

The first area we focused on was understanding the various ways that money comes into the organisation - things like buying programmes, merchandise and booking campsite pitches. After came lengthy chats about how it worked at that present time. We pitched the option of developing a custom module build around Drupal webforms that allowed any form to have a set of monetary values. This provided the flexibility to create complex forms as the Eisteddfod were already doing and then charge the user upon submission.

We launched this feature in February 2016 initially as a campsite booking form and within a matter of days there was hundreds of successful submissions raising thousands in revenue for the festival.

Another large development that needed careful planning was managing the competitions and their entries. In previous years all entrants submitted paper forms, which were manually entered into a rather clunky database once received by the Eisteddfod. To gain the overall picture we went to the source - running a workshop with the competitions subgroup on the process - a process that evolved overtime and sometimes seemed overly complicated - to us as outsiders.

With so much information, we needed to get this planned out and mapped - back at the Hoffice we broke down the touch points for both entrants and audience and the completion administrators - generally ignoring actual data to begin with.

Instead we focused on the user journeys and created a number of questions to help from the initial structure work.

How and when competitions could be entered online? Will the user completing the form be the entrant? How can we make the process of entering data simple and manageable? How the new feature is discovered? And how and when payments are taken? These questions lead to develop a paper-based prototype before moving it onto Drupal and our development site - exploring ideas for user dashboards and various stages of the entrant's submissions.

National Eisteddfod of Wales website on Desktop

Launching with the bookings and competitions in February 2016 and then slowly released further additions over the subsequent months. By the following May competition entries were due to close and we received amazing feedback from the Eisteddfod, with over 80% of all competition entries being made online. The uptake was unprecedented, we were expecting around the 40% mark - but that was only a rough assumption based on it being the first year when competitors could enter online. There was even a minimal amount of entrant queries, which just provides that extra level of reassurance for us having developed the strategy, structure and tools themselves.

Overall the Eisteddfod project has been a great example of understanding and mapping a need, for the organisation itself and its users - but also having the insight to step back and review the process as a whole.

18 months on we’ve entered our third major iteration of the website - developing a flexible online shop for the sale of general and annual Eisteddfod merchandise. We’re also excited about our next website review booked in for November allowing us to plan the next iterations for next year’s Eisteddfod in Anglesey.