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The Ministry Of Stories Procurement

I volunteer as a technical advisor to the Ministry of Stories in Hoxton. If you don’t know them they are a charity that runs creative writing workshops for children. To help fund the Ministry they also run the Monster Supply Shop.

Right now they have a big project for which I need your help, as a charity they have lots of people who volunteer, donate or are just interested. Over the last year they have managed these various lists through a number of systems, some more ad hoc than others. Now though they know that they need to sort out some joined up system, we are into the world of CRM.

I have started looking at CiviCRM as a possible solution, but my experience with Drupal is rather limited. We have also been pointed to at least one commercial solution. So below I have noted our key requirements for a CRM system and was hoping that you might be able to help us work out the best route to take.

Currently we have three main sites on the net that can collect data for us, The main website, allows you to find out about the Ministry and sign up as a volunteer or just sign up for news. is our online shop, where you can buy Tins of Fear and more to support the work of the Ministry. This is another data point, allowing you to sign up to newsletters etc.

Finally we also have a presence on information from here should also get captured.

We have a database of people, mostly from signing up on the main Ministry website. These are contact details for people who want news, volunteers and donors. Volunteers have various roles, there can be volunteers who help out in the shop, or the office (or like me trying to give some domain advice) or they can be the mentors for the workshops. If they are going to work directly with the children, then they have to have CRB checks completed and references. All this needs to be recorded so that we know who is doing what, what status they are at (fully trained and checked, in progress etc).

Also people can have multiple roles, some will volunteer time as well as donate money. So when someone joins our database we need to be able to know about their multiple roles and make sure when we communicate with them we do so in the correct context and also make sure we are not spamming them.

We also have data on organisations and contacts at these organisations. Since some donations come in via such organisations we need to be able to record these as entities as well.

There is also a database of Schools and contacts there and we also keep records of the children who attend the workshops, data around allergies, dietary requirements and their progress through the workshops. This database we want to keep separate to further restrict access, but would need to get some reports from this into the general reporting in the main system.

As, yes, reporting. We need to be able to generate reports, for us to track people we have, interest, admin (ie who has CRB checks that need renewing, who has been attending the workshops, who is also signed up as an illustrator etc). We also need to be able to generate reports for various funding bodies, as they like to know information such as number of volunteers, number of volunteers from a specific area and other demographic information.

Where we have that data we need to be able to create these reports, they will help us to apply and maintain funding from various organisations. This data is also useful in quantifying the impact the Ministry is having, in terms of engagement etc.

So our new system needs to be able to do all this, but whereas at the moment this is all spread across a number of databases (wordpress users, filemaker, mailchimp, various spreadsheets) we would like to be able to have one system, or at least one core system that can push out relevant information to the other systems (so, when you sign up at the website we record your information in the main database, it can then update the wordpress system to create your account on there).


  • We would like to be able to attach paperwork to records, ie a scan of references, or CRB document.
  • Create contact reports when calling organisations / individuals about funding / donations.
  • Possibly integrate with ticketing systems, we run some events, some free some paid.

Finally, we hope that over the next year other Ministries will appear across the country and we would like to be able to say ‘Here is the CRM system for you, here are the reports you need, here is a shared contact database for funding groups. etc’

So we now need to find the solution that ticks as many boxes as possible, is something we can work with (on a day to day usage basis) but will also grow as our requirements possibly change.

It needs to:

  • Be cost effective, we are a charity with a very limited budget.
  • Integrate with our existing websites as much as possible. Though of course we can work on them to get them to work with the new system, I do want it all to join up as much as possible so we are not duplicating data or adding points where mistakes can be made.
  • Integrate with MailChimp. We currently use mailchimp for sending out our emails but we are getting close to the free limit, something that allows us to work closely with mailchimp to efficiently send emails, to make the best use of the free account would be great (yes, I intend to start talking to MailChimp about possibly helping us further).
  • Support a number of users working with the data. A volunteer co-ordinator and a fundraising volunteer could well be accessing records on the system at the same time.

So, as I said I have started looking at CiviCRm as a possible solution and we have had
suggested as a possible solution. What I would like to know is if you have any experience with either of these, would they deliver what we need and what would it take to make them do what we want.

Also do you have any other suggested solutions?

If you have any further questions, then please leave a comment or find me on twitter @marksimpkins.

new news foundation two

so far some very interesting comments, i especially want to thank @newsmary, @hemmysphere and @davidwilcox who have already come back with some good questions and things to think about.

Primarily, what is the ‘foundation’ to actually do? When I first started thinking about it a year ago it was to be a small fund to give to developers to get an idea off the ground, move something from a sketch to something to show people and grow. Much like the awesome foundation does but with a domain focus on well, news. I had written a post about wanting to re-imagine what I wanted my news to be and thought that one possible way to get there was to get new code written, outside the big news organisations.

But, something @newsmary said via twitter made me think today. It was about the cost, I had put in a figure based on the awesome foundation again, meaning each month there was £1000 for a worthy project. If that was cheaper though and more people took part and they could direct the funding as they ‘needed’ would that produce something more interesting?

That is what I wanted in the first place, something to help realise my vision on what news was, would in fact a new news foundation in fact be a facilitation route for people to get the news how they wanted?

For example, some people may feel perfectly well served by the mainstream media for most of their news, but the local news is just not reported. What is happening with the local council. The only story they get is the quarterly paper from the council itself. They may feel a use in a subscription to create more local news.

Someone else may prefer the more long form investigative pieces of work, maybe they want briefings on world events?

Then others are quite happy to fund what is, in essence a news organisation that is not owned by any single individual?

Both @newsmary, @hemmysphere and @davidwilcox have rightly pointed out that some discussion on what is needed or wanted is the right next step, should we get a group of people together to start working out what such a foundation would do, before we commit to people putting money into the pot (thanks @hemmysphere), we should connect with the work that @davidwilcox has been doing and @newsmary is also right, that the price has to be right for the people who need this kind of thing, those not already happy and served by the existing media structures.

So, my next step is to get that discussion going. If you want to take part then leave a comment or find me on twitter @marksimpkins.

a new news foundation

An idea that has been about a year in the noodling, you may have noticed some of my thoughts on re-inventing news or at least trying to approach the subject from some different starting points, outside of the existing, large news rooms.

To this end, I want to launch in March 2012 a ‘new news foundation’ along the lines of the Awesome Foundation, so I was thinking of putting this on pledgebank:

‘I pledge to contribute £100 per month for 10 months to the New News Fund if 9 other people also agree to do this. This fund will be used to support and help new ideas in news, journalism and communications.

The projects supported will be decided upon by the fund contributors, and the contributors will be able to vote for an ‘advisory panel’ made up of people we believe will be able to help us find and support the important and interesting new ideas in the continual evolution of the news industry.’

So my first question is does this make sense? In what form should the fund exist, should it be an semi-informal thing, or should it be set up as a proper organisation (which I would prefer to do, but we have to be careful about time available to run something more formal, also we have to make sure that costs to run the fund do not come from the fund).

In doing this project I am interested in being able to support new projects and ideas, but should the fund be able to ‘invest’ in ideas, in the aim of getting a return on the investment and thus able to make more money for the fund? This idea, which I think would be very interesting also has a lot of issues around legislation, since the fund would then be a financial service.

March is the month of launch, so that we can do a 10 month run for 2012. We should be able to produce a report on the projects supported over this period of time. This is both serious but also an opportunity to allow some more playful and esoteric ideas to maybe get more of a foothold than they would otherwise.

Also, any ideas for a better name?

calling international rescue

it is nearly christmas here in the west and then the new year according to the calendar that I currently use. When new year comes around it is a good time to create some goals for that coming year, so this year I am going to post some thoughts around some ideas and goals that I have for 2012, after all it is going to be a busy and interesting year.

Firstly, following on from my wish to curate a set of TED talks that could be shown to school kids in primary school and then getting them to do things inspired by said talks I want to suggest something else to get our children excited by.

The last few years have felt tumultous, disasters, war, cultural upheaval. We need to instill the idea of Preferable Futures now more that ever.

Warren Ellis wrote about ‘rescue fiction‘. Thunderbirds and the like, that excited us as kids. Technology and Engineering used for good to make the world a better place, (whilst still being exciting and adventourous in the process). Now, my son is happy when the ShelterBox his cub group helped fund goes out to help people but what if once a week each term we charged the children with a task, to imagine solutions to current problems.

Lets not hide the world from them, its something exciting to embrace and we can approach this from practicle, design a thing to iamgining a world that they want, why the current status quo is not what they want.

once a week each term, I want schools across the country to make their children ‘International rescue’ and unleash their creativity on the world.

(Mr. Gerry Anderson, please let us do this in the name of the Tracy family).


a new new art riot

this weekend just past (19th & 20th November 2011) Rewired State hosted a Hackday For Honda at The Guardian and I got to go along as one of the devs.

It was possibly the scariest hackday to do as what to build, what did Honda and their agency Amplify expect? It was a tricky event but the amazing Rewired State team did pull it off and some amazing ideas got built. You must check them out.

I planned to work with Chris Thorpe (@jaggeree) and originally we planned something on behavioural change but…

You turn up, you think differently, a hard week and you want to try something else. Art became our theme quite quickly and in fact, just making something that could be called art.

So we did.

Under the group name ‘This Is Our Algorithm’ we produced three pieces of art, pieces that had thought and ideas behind them, that should be provoking but playful.

‘The Watchful State’

At last I started my CCTV mapping project, if you have spoken to me in the last ten or more years you will know I have been interested in the idea of mapping our surveillance infrastructure. Over the weekend I started a project to actually start to realise that idea, albeit slowly.

I had discussed the fact that rolling up to a large surveillance installation with a camera and starting to snap would in fact interest the police. But what if the image of the installation was recorded with pencil and paper, or charcoal or even water colours.

The final triptych consists of:

A map made using (This is Michal Migurski awesome tool that makes a paper map of anywhere, but you add details to the map, then scan it back in and help add detail to Open Street Map)

A photograph of the CCTV installation in question and a pencil and charcoal drawing or sketch of the street scene.
First art

The other pieces were Karma,




and a Dream with a Dream

A Chain of Dreams #hondahack

All three pieces dealt with algorithms, code and control. They were as much about some strange desire we have to codify up our lives into possibly complex but ultimately meaningless algorithms, trying to reduce complexity to a point beyond understandable simplicity to end at a nihilistic pointlessness.

Reality is complex, understanding reality is hard.

That’s what makes it fun!

So we intend to make more art. We will tell you more about it all at This Is Our Algorithm.

UPDATE: 23/11/2011

You have to go and read Chris’ thoughts on the event and learn more about Dream with a Dream. He’s right, I miss it already too and want to build another chain. Possible Christmas decoration project if nothing else.