Beacon Supporters from across Britain met in Birmingham on Tuesday, 10th March to learn about the Beacon Upgrade and to help plan its rollout.
The supporters had a chance to meet the independent consultant who’s been advising the Third Age Trust on the project as well as representatives of APT Solutions, the provider of Beacon Update.
It was a full and stimulating day but there’s no doubt that the most eagerly awaited session was a demonstration of the platform onto which Beacon will be upgraded. The APT representative demonstrated the Membership and Interest Groups parts of the system, showing us what a membership secretary or groups coordinator is likely to see when their U3A receives the Update.
The system we saw was not the finished version, but first impressions are that Beacon Update looks more modern and less cluttered, and is at least as easy to use as the existing version. What isn’t immediately visible is that behind the scenes the new version meets modern accessibility requirements, is more secure, and is easier to enhance as the needs of U3As changes.
An important session saw the supporters split into groups, with each considering a part of the Beacon Upgrade project: testing, documentation, supporter training, roadshows, and rollout. Each group, having discussed their subject area for some time, then passed their findings to a different group so that further thoughts could be added. After each stage the groups presented their analyses to the entire meeting.
The result of this process was a comprehensive set of points raised by the supporters that will allow those planning the Upgrade project to ensure that it meets the needs of the U3As.
The meeting achieved its goals: By the end of the day the supporters had been made to work, but now knew considerably more about the future Beacon than they did when they arrived. Perhaps more importantly, the project team working on the upgrade were left in no doubt of the needs and concerns of Beacon users as the changes get closer.
On 18 November, we held a successful and well-attended Beacon Team Training Day in Birmingham and a further such session is being planned for March. These sessions allow the volunteer Beacon Team, who are based across the UK, to introduce new team members, share best practice and keep up-to-date with changes.
Following the announcement of APT as the proposed partner to work with us on the Beacon Upgrade Project, meetings were held with U3A members at their offices. For the first meeting, members having registered their interest at being involved were invited to attend or watch online. The second meeting saw a representative sample of local U3As attend. Both meetings comprised a short presentation from APT followed by a round-table discussion, the results of which have been fed into the discovery phase of the project.
Throughout November and December APT have been working closely with the Beacon Upgrade Project Working Group. APT have produced a Project Foundation Document which is being reviewed in detail by the Working Group, including over the Christmas break, in preparation for further discussion in January.
A Beacon Upgrade Project Working Group meeting was held last week, and another is set for 13 January, with detailed discussion taking place with APT meanwhile.
The Beacon Upgrade Project is therefore still running according to plan and we expect to move to development, testing, training, documentation and pilot in the coming months.
Please continue to refer to the dedicated Beacon website for project updates. Website address – https://beacon.u3a.org.uk
Frank Bailey – Beacon Team National Support Lead
Sam Mauger – Chief Executive and Chair of the Beacon Upgrade Project Working Group
Adam Walton – Project Executive Officer
This month, it was announced that the Third Age Trust Board of Directors have decided to partner with APT Solutions Ltd to deliver the Beacon Upgrade Project.
Following a recommendation by the Beacon Upgrade Working Group the Trust Board of Directors approved the appointment of APT and the beginning of work in the coming weeks.
APT is a specialist provider of software and services to the membership sector and have worked with a range of organisations of a similar size and structure to the U3A movement both in the UK and abroad.
The decision to partner with APT was taken following a competitive procurement process led by the Beacon Upgrade Working Group which saw a number of potential partners show off their expertise and products to the group. The working group, which comprised U3A members and representatives of the Third Age Trust, assessed the participants and made a recommendation to the Board.
Chief Executive Sam Mauger said, ‘I am thrilled that APT will be working with in partnership with us to deliver a system designed for the U3A movement, by the U3A movement. APT have shown how their approach will involve U3A members throughout and this interaction is key.’
The next stage of the project will be a discovery phase in which the knowledge we have already gathered from U3As and members is consolidated and built upon to ensure the upgrade meets the needs of U3As and users.
We will do this by using the information we have already gathered plus a number of additional exercises such as focus groups with U3A members.