2021 was an incredibly busy year for our IT Team. We learned early on that our existing IT infrastructure and services (Server, website, and map host) would need to move from their provider. Rather than invest a significant amount of time and effort re-establishing what we had, we jumped at the opportunity to re-imagine how our website would look and function, incorporating some of the insights gained from our mobile app study in 2020. This led to some ambitious goals:
- Design and develop a new website, using a new content management system (WordPress)
- Design a new map that offers more ways to display our map site data
- Design and develop a custom application to manage our extensive photo library
- Establish the IT infrastructure to support these projects and BC Marine Trail’s technology needs in the future
The process to redesign our website began over two years ago. Visiting our website is often the first interaction that someone will have with our association so we needed to make it count. Simplicity, ease of navigation and visual appeal were at the top of our list of design requirements. We also wanted a platform that would be easier to maintain for volunteers, yet still offered room to grow in the future through the addition of new features. Things like: a blog for community members to share their trip experiences with each other; a place to sell BCMT-branded merchandise; and a more streamlined system to manage events. All these features add value to our members and can be implemented gradually as volunteer resources allow.
As we were laying out the website, we realized we didn’t have all the information we needed. How would we write about the work we were doing? What tone would we use? What kind of photos should be used to present our work the way we want to? This led us to dive into our branding, creating a cross-committee working group that met weekly during the summer. We nailed down our “Why” in a couple of clear statements, identified how we could better tailor our content to our members, and wrapped it all up in a professional branding guide document. This document then formed the basis for the logo and colour palette changes that you will find on our new website and are steadily being incorporated into all BCMT communications.
At the end of 2020 we asked newsletter subscribers to complete a survey. Those who completed it were sent a PDF document with Top Spots for a Day Trip, as selected by a small group of BCMT Board members. Well over 300 people responded, giving us solid insight into who our members are and their habits. We learned that our map continues to be a major draw for our members, but only 50% actively use it. Out of date or missing information, better maps elsewhere, or issues viewing on mobile devices were all identified as areas we could improve. With this in mind, we began exploring options, finally deciding on an ESRI product: ArcGIS Online. It is a very popular map service and is highly customizable, allowing us to share tools that are developed from the experiences of users worldwide – now and in the future – at no charge to our members.
You may have heard that we were also exploring the idea of developing our own mobile application and were wondering: “What happened with all that?”. The answer is that we paused the project to be able to focus on the website and map upgrades. The aim of the mobile app was to allow us to collect information about map sites in the field, where there may not be cell reception. Thankfully, our licences with ESRI contain off-the-shelf applications to do this, which is something we will be exploring further in 2022.
This project aims to help us better manage our photos. Soon, you will be able to visit our website and submit photos related to campsites, events, and pretty much anything else related to our work. Before you submit your photos though, we’ll ask you a series of questions to help determine if we can use it. If it’s of a campsite, we’ll want to know where it’s from, when it was taken, etc. This will help us organize these photos internally, keep track of the most current ones and remove those that are no longer useful. It will help make us more effective, which will also improve the map, website, and our other communications. This project has required a significant amount of work, building both the technological architecture as well as the different user interfaces. This custom work would be expensive if done commercially; fortunately, we have a talented and experienced volunteer willing to help.
We are excited and proud of what we have delivered this year. This number of simultaneous projects would be ambitious for any organization, least of all a non-profit. Our talented and dedicated volunteers have worked extremely hard through 2021, not only on these projects but also maintaining our day-to-day systems and operations. Approximately 1,500 volunteer hours went into this work, conservatively estimated to be worth between $60,000-100,000 in commercial costs. This sizable donation is further proof of the passion and commitment to BCMT’s work that exists within our volunteers.