Eating cake and thinking digital technology

It may be time to turn off Microsoft Outlook and just use Google – at least that’s what I’m thinking about doing following last week’s event Digital Technology and Cake, organised by Adapta Consulting.

The afternoon session included two cases studies. The first from Rob Gethen Smith who now works for Anthony Nolan but was speaking about his time as Chief Information Officer at the Southbank Centre. In the three years that he was there he managed to transform their digital operation from a system that could barely handle online credit card transactions at the same time as selling interval refreshments, to one that does such a good job at getting the basics right that they saw a 500% drop in website complaints within 18 months!

The second case sty was from James Higgott of The King’s Fund. He spoke about the necessary move from a centralised digital team to an independent model with individuals with digital roles embedded in each team.

There was then cake (it really was good cake!) and discussion.

What did I take away from the event?

1 – Fix broken things quickly.

It was Rob Gethen Smith’s first point, but it makes sense. You can’t get investment in digital ways of working from customers, staff or management if the technology just doesn’t work.

2 – Give people the tools and skills to work digitally

It’s no use just telling people to work in a particular way. You have to train them and also equip them to be able to do their job.

One, almost throw away, comment was to turn some of the traditional technology off and drive people towards using Google Apps. I tried this on the Thursday I was back in the office and basically it works. There are some challenges because I have an email filing system that was created in the world of Outlook (using folders) which doesn’t work so well with Google Mail, but I like the idea. I’ve been using Google Docs for a while and love the way it allows me to work collaboratively and remotely.

It also means that I’ve got some flexibility to my working environment – important things I can usually access as easily at home as I can in the office.

3 – Decentralise digital expertise

At Wycliffe I think we are already quite good at this.  During the discussions I was surprised to hear that organisations were filtering all their digital content through one team (or even one person). It was their responsibility to write Facebook posts, Tweets or blog about their organisation.

Already we have recognised that this puts a huge burden on one person and that it’s better to decentralise. Allow others to post on the things that interest them and, if there’s good overlap with what they write and what represents Wycliffe well, we will repost as an organisation.

The next step is to have people in each team that pursue digital innovation. That ask questions about how digital tools could equip them to work more effectively or share information more widely.


This was a great event for me because I was able to dwell on the possibilities rather than the constraints.

I know that people struggle with digital technology and the perceived pace of change, but I wonder if the real issue is that digital technology forces the user to open up to collaboration. Working digitally means that you have less control.

Any thoughts?

The slides from the event can currently be found here.

On joining Wycliffe Global Alliance and the work I will do

If you know me, or have been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been invited to take up a role as Director of Public Media with the Wycliffe Global Alliance.

You’ll also know that over the last few months I have been ‘raising support’, looking for people who will commit to pray for us as a family and contribute to our financial needs as this role comes without a salary.

As we’ve been doing this one of the questions that I get asked more frequently is, what am I going to do?

In some ways it’s a really easy question to answer. I have a job description that tells me I’ll be:

Encouraging and ensuring creative, collaborative and effective communication related to the Wycliffe Global Alliance and Bible translation movements worldwide through:

  • Developing mediums that provide resources [for Wycliffe Organizations and the worldwide Church] that inform, encourage and inspire.
  • Recognizing and creating opportunities and environments for multicultural, multilingual and multifaceted dialogue in the general public and the worldwide Church.
  • Leading, participating in, mentoring and fostering a learning community of communicators so that they can provide consistent, compelling and clear messaging.

(These are the highlights. There’s more, quite a bit more, but do you really want to read a full job description?)

In practice this means I’ll be overseeing communications channels and making sure the Alliance talks with integrity about Bible translation, mission and what God is doing around the world.

I’ll also be giving line management to a small team based in the UK, Germany and the US. Oh, and I’ll be serving a wide group of organisations by consulting with them on issues that relate to public communication.

Of course, I can’t do any of this without a support team behind me. People who will pray for me (I should say ‘us’ as we are entering into this as a family) and provide the finances needed to cover our living costs. If you would like to become part of that support team you can find out how to on this website – Join our support team.

In my next post I’ll talk more about why communications matters in mission.

What does your future hold?

This week, Wycliffe USA published a new video highlighting the need for people with very different skills in the Bible translation process. I don’t just mean that there’s a difference between translators, consultants, typesetters and printers, though there is. I mean the need for IT professionals, accountants, pilots, managers, administrators and someone who can make the tea. It’s good, take a look below.

So why is it worthy of a blog post here?

Well, I head up the communications team for Wycliffe Bible Translators in the UK. We have the wonderful job of telling the church in the UK about the amazing things that God is doing around the world. It’s an exciting job. It’s a pretty varied job too.

It’s also a vital job. People don’t pray for, give to or join organisations or projects that they have never heard of. If we stop talking about Wycliffe Bible Translators, eventually people will stop giving money and then the projects will stop and when they stop there’s nothing left to pray for… I guess the last one out can turn the lights off.

But in order to do this well we need to recruit people who understand the church scene in the UK and popular culture. Really, doing this kind of job isn’t suited to someone who is just back from 10 years in Uganda.

So, here’s the thing. If you’re part of a church in the UK, could you think if there’s anyone in your congregation (maybe even you) who loves the Lord and would love to serve him through world mission, but who is gifted in business or IT or management or finance. They could contribute so much more than you would ever think.

Drop me a line in the comments and I’ll get in touch. I’d love to talk some more. Oh, and these opportunities are global, so don’t feel as though you need to move to the UK.


One very basic communications skill to grasp is the ability to speak with one voice, even when it’s many people doing the speaking. To help with this many companies will have what is called a Style Guide. A document that provides references for many of the questions that come up when communicating.

In the UK, Wycliffe uses the Guardian Style Guide as a basis for our communication. It’s a fascinating read – really it is – if you want to know about frequently used and misused phrases in English. There are also natty illustrations for what is appropriate and inappropriate use of various terms.

The reference for Biblical Quotations is worth particular attention though:

Use a modern translation, not the Authorised Version. From a reader: “Peradventure the editor hath no copy of Holy Writ in the office, save the King James Version only. Howbeit the great multitude of believers knoweth this translation not. And he (or she) who quoteth the words of Jesus in ancient form, sheweth plainly that he (or she) considereth them to be out of date. Wherefore let them be quoted in such manner that the people may understand”

From the Guardian and Observer Style Guide

When is it OK to make things up?

Unidentified homeless man - London

An unidentified homeless man taken in London by Brad J. Gerrard

Does this photograph look at all familiar? If you’ve got Christian friends on Facebook then there’s a good chance you will have seen it in the last day or so illustrating the story of ‘Pastor Jeremiah Steepek’, who turned up to take his first service at his new pastorate, a 10,000 strong mega-church, dressed as a homeless man.

Only thing is, ‘Pastor Jeremiah Steepek’, isn’t the slightest bit homeless, rather he’s been created in the imagination of someone who writes for the website Beauty from Ashes Facebook page.

Now, the story does try to make a good point about values but I’m not sure that it’s helpful when it’s portrayed as fact rather than fiction. Making the mistake of reading this as a true story could lead the reader to draw a whole load of wrong conclusions about the US mega-church scene.

I find this even more frustrating when I think what Christian media should be. Truthful, accurate, well thought through.

Recent experience has taught me that while the secular media will get in touch with you to check facts and listen to your side of the story, much of the Christian media either reprints statements without any corroboration, or writes whatever fits best with their worldview. This is hugely frustrating when so much of my time is spent trying to ensure that the things we print accurately represent the communities we work with.

Surviving without e-mail

The BBC website is carrying a story about the boss of an IT company Atos, banning all internal e-mail.

Thierry Breton caused a sensation last week when he told an interviewer that he planned to ban internal email at the information technology services giant, Atos.

Read the full story here

Let’s be clear from the outset, he’s not planning to ban all e-mail. If you’re trying to get in contact with someone inside the business you will still be able to e-mail them. What Mr Breton is stopping is the stream of e-mail that goes from one desk to the next.

Personally, I reckon this is a brilliant idea.

In the last year I had to review my e-mail using habits. I wasn’t getting work done as well as I should have been because every five minutes there was another e-mail that would need replying to. Just that little envelope icon was enough to cause a distraction. So, I now have a plan.

For the most part I only open, read and respond to e-mail first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon. In cases where I think that the e-mail I’m sending will illicit a response that will require more of my attention, I’ll schedule it to be sent towards the end of the day, meaning that I won’t need to deal with any response until the following day at the earliest.

This may sound a little cheeky, but there are days when conversations can start by e-mail that are no help to anyone. While I’m not a great fan of meetings either, I can see times when it makes sense to get five people in a room to discuss and issue rather than attempting it by e-mail.

I should also say that there are occasions when rules need to be broken. Dealing with external clients and customers, I’ll try to respond more quickly. Coming back off holiday, I’ll sit for a morning or a day to clear the backlog. I’ll even deal with messages on my phone when I’m travelling and there’s not much else to do. But, in general, the principles above still hold true.

So this is currently how I manage e-mail, but I’m willing to learn. So if you’ve got any tips or tricks I’d love to hear them.

Memory like a sieve – I blame my phone

iPhone 4 32GB Black by Yutaka Tsutano

Once upon a time I could remember phone numbers. Now I rely on my mobile phone.

There was a time when I took time to check my spelling of words, now I look for a red line to tell me what I need to go back and change.

I used to write letters and always enjoyed going to the post room at University to pick up my mail. Now I open my in box to look for Facebook updates.

Where do you most notice change?

Communications headaches – the wonder and hassle of a world wide web

I’m a big fan of the internet. I love the speed, the access to all sorts of information, the ability that it gives to me to share news with friends in all parts of the world and the access to people I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to connect with (Paul, Mark, Eric, Ruth, Matt, Ann… Stephen and Boris!).

But, despite all the opportunities, there are a couple of things that cause me to stop and think.

The demise of the editor

Once upon a time documents were checked thoroughly for accuracy before they were published. This isn’t the case anymore. People can now publish opinion as fact without having to take responsibility for the consequences. Disclaimers can often be a get-out for people who just want to sound off.

No more borders

Once I could pick my target audience. Magazines and newspapers knew who their readers were, radio stations knew their listeners, everything could be targeted and tailored for the audience. We don’t have that luxury anymore. I need to remember whenever I publish something it could go anywhere. Even writing for a print publication, the final text could end up on a website somewhere and be open to the world to read.


  1. Accuracy does matter. Especially if you want to maintain your authority, which is valued in today’s online society.
  2. National borders no longer exist for information. Remember what you say could be read/seen anywhere so you should be writing for an international audience.
  3. Technology is a wonderful tool, but it’s a tool to aid communication and it’s the quality of the information/message that holds the value.

Flying for Life – the new magazine from MAF

MAF News - the old magazine and prayer diary

One of the organisations Wycliffe Bible Translators works most closely with is MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship). MAF provide planes and pilots to take people in and out of remote communities, transporting valuable supplies and ensuring that people can reach important medical facilities in times of emergency.

They share the news of what they do through their website and through a quarterly magazine and prayer bulletin.

Now, to be honest, their magazine hasn’t been doing their mission justice (see the top picture). The stories it told were fantastic, but the overall appearance was tired looking and cheap. Plus, there was no way to tell that the prayer booklet belonged to the same organisation as the magazine.

Compare this to the new publication (bottom picture), which looks and feels loads better. Why…

1 – The colour scheme runs through both publications. You can tell, without reading anything, that the magazine and prayer diary have come from the same organisation.

2 – The paper is heavier. It’s amazing how printing on heavier paper can make a real difference in the feeling of quality. OK, it pushes the costs up a bit, but it does convey a message about your organisation. Heavier paper people will associate with quality.

Flying for Life - MAF's new magazine and prayer diary

3 – Loads of white space. MAF have always shared really good photographs of what they do and they’ve never been scared of using half a page for a picture, but in the old publication any space not being used for an image was used for text. The new publication still has the great photography, but doesn’t have so much text, as a result it’s easier to read and is more inviting to the reader. There are still some great stories to read, but maybe in this case less really is more.

What I’d still want to change

The magazine and prayer diary look great, but I’d want to do more to strengthen the MAF brand. Their website could look more like the publications just by changing some of the colours to match what they are putting out in print.

That could be a quick win as changing colours doesn’t take an awful lot of technical know-how.

Of course, if there was money to spend I’d like to see the swoosh on the web too, but that can come later.

Now I’ll just be interested to see them at a future event to find out if this change has made it across all their literature and onto some of their display stands too.

For now I’ll just say, great job guys… keep up the good work and thanks for all the flying.