Digital Works in 2020 and beyond, and introducing Brand Works

Author: Ash Mann

When we held the first Digital Works event at Hackney Empire in January 2017 I didn’t really know what it would turn into.

I thought I’d identified the need for an event that allowed digital professionals working in the culture and heritage sectors to come together and hear from experts on some of the many, many things that digital folks in cultural organisations are expected to be expert on – or at least have an opinion about.

Alongside this I wanted to create an opportunity for people to share their experiences – good and bad – with their peers.

Now, almost 3 years later, we’ve held nine Digital Works events covering a broad array of topics, from machine learning, digital strategy and natural language processing through to social video, SEO, user experience, inclusive design, and much more.

We’ve welcomed hundreds of digital professionals working in organisations big and small across the UK who have shared experiences of success, failure, learning and challenges.

Challenges

Running a series of free events is not without its challenges; venues and catering cost money, and speakers need at least their expenses covering. Fortunately to-date Substrakt has underwritten the cost of these events, and will continue to do so.

There is also the fact that these events are organised by 1 person (me) who, despite generous support from my Substrakt colleagues on the day of the events, also has a fair amount on as MD of a busy web agency.

We also, at every event, see a disappointing level of drop-off (the worst we ever had was 50% despite some genuinely brilliant speakers), which I find very upsetting as I know it’s often the people who are “too busy” who will get the most out of these events.

So given all that, it has become clear that whilst there is an obvious and growing appetite for what Digital Works offers we need to rethink how we run these events to ensure that they’re manageable and sustainable for the next 3 years, and beyond.

New plans

Starting in 2020 Digital Works will switch to taking place twice a year, rather than the ‘once every 3-4 month’ pattern that we have had until now. This will give me the time and space to give event planning and organisation the attention it deserves in amongst everything else that’s going on.

At present I am expecting Digital Works #10 to take place in late May or early June 2020, and Digital Works #11 to take place in November 2020.

I am also very aware that, so far, we have only ever held one Digital Works event outside London. From 2020 onwards this will change and we will alternate locations with every other event taking place outside the M25! So DW#11 will be the second non-London Digital Works (after DW#6 which we held in Birmingham as part of the Design Festival).

We are also going to bring in a small charge for places, at the moment I expect this to be £25 per person. We will also have a number of free, bursary tickets available for each event so that people from organisations of all sizes can still attend.

This money will go towards paying for the venue hire. I also firmly believe that speakers should be paid for their time and want to be able to offer a fee for speaking at Digital Works from now on. The money from ticket sales will not cover all of the event costs and Substrakt will continue to make-up any shortfall.

I hope that this fee will also mean that we suffer fewer no-shows, Digital Works always ‘sells out’ and there is always a waiting list, people not turning up on the day are denying the people on the waiting list a place. It may be that the introduction of a fee doesn’t help with this, but let’s see.

Conference

Looking further ahead I have started to make plans for a 1-day Digital Works conference. Obviously plans are still at a very early stage but I am currently planning for this to take place in January 2021. I’ve already got a couple of great speakers lined up, I’m hoping to retain much of the structure and format that people have said makes Digital Works so useful, but on a much bigger canvas. Watch this space.

Podcast

Lots of people have asked why we don’t have a Digital Works podcast (I say ‘lots’, at least 6 people have asked), and I don’t really have a good reason why not.

We get some fantastic speakers at these events and I’d love to be able to share their perspectives more widely. So, from January next year we are going to start doing a bi-monthly Digital Works podcast with interviews and discussions on some of the topics that we cover in the IRL events.

Brand Works

You may be aware that earlier this year Andy and I founded Impakt with Rob Macpherson. Impakt is a strategic consultancy and Rob has been doing a lot of work with organisations on brand, culture and values.

It’s out of this work, and the conversations that he has been having, that Rob will be starting Brand Works. These events will share much in terms of format and approach with Digital Works, they will allow plenty of time and space for discussion, debate and peer-to-peer sharing, alongside hearing from experts in their field.

Brand Works #1 will take place in March next year and Rob already has two great speakers lined up; Lucy Sinclair (BBC, Royal Opera House, Google) and Garry Blackburn (Rose Design). To find out more, sign up to Rob’s monthly Impakt newsletter.

If you would like to speak at or attend a future Digital Works event then please just drop us an email to events@substrakt.com.