Issue date: 31 January 2002

Bristol community groups are getting free consultancy from final year Information Systems students of the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Mathematical Sciences at the University of the West of England.

Most community groups do not have the resources in time or expertise to make best use of what ICT can offer. Nick Plant, Director of the Community Information Systems Centre at UWE, said, “Each academic year we look for local community organisations to act as partners. The organisations benefit from free consultancy on ICT-related topics in exchange for hosting student projects. Students on our information systems analysis award develop practical competence in shaping ICT to suit the people and the organisations using it.

“Our scheme offers win-win-win benefits. Local groups in desperate need of ICT help get a valuable consultancy service. Students are given a unique learning opportunity, highly reputed in its field. This in turn benefits -and benefits from- University research.

"Depending on the level at which the organisation uses ICT, students might be engaged in designing a website, getting the most out of email, reviewing existing systems or investigating e-commerce opportunities, to name but a few benefits.”

Colin Last is working as part of a team with Childrens Scrapstore, a voluntary organisation working with business to redistribute scrap resources for use in schools, play schemes and community groups. Colin said, “Initially the groups have to give a presentation describing what they do and how the scheme might benefit their organisation. Childrens Scrapstore impressed me and I could see potential for a number of projects that would interest me and at the same time help improve systems. I will be working on expanding the telephone system.”

Phil Lowe is also working with Children's Scrapstore and will be updating the web-site. "Children's Scrapstore does have a very basic web-site that could be working harder to improve the organisation's service" he said. "We have been questioning staff and members in order to map out a solution that reflects their current and future needs. We have made suggestions such as making their quarterly newsletter and member application forms on-line. We will also be looking at working on a feasibility study into developing what could be a potential e-commerce web-site.”

Jo Polack from Childrens Scrapstore said, “Getting help from a student team who are using up to date terms of reference is very useful to us. It’s good for staff morale and there are knock-on training benefits for the staff here at Childrens Scrapstore. The students have become involved as volunteers as well as working on the project which has helped their understanding of what we are aiming to achieve.”

Shane Devlin's team is working with Bristol Debt Advice Centre, a charity providing free independent advice for people in debt. Shane said, “I chose to work with Bristol Debt Advice Centre because they knew exactly what they wanted out of the project. I will be working on their contacts database and write a feasibility study on an Intranet. We want to help to make the database more efficient and practical and integrate some statistical capability. The possible introduction of the Intranet will help the Centre to centralise its IT/IS resources which will improve productivity and make working in the centre more efficient.”

Damon Willcox from Bristol Debt Advice Centre commented on how the group would never be able to afford to buy in the level of consultancy being offered by the UWE students. He said, “The timing of this project has been ideal. We needed to review the way we used our growing computer network and had a number of additional functions we wanted to add. I’ve been very impressed by the maturity of the students working with us and have no doubt this will be beneficial to us all. Less time spent at the computer screen will mean more time spent working on behalf of clients!””


Editor’s notes

Each year the Community Information Systems Centre at UWE looks for community and voluntary sector organisations to act as partners on their ‘Information Systems Practice 3’ student projects. Client organisations benefit from free consultancy on ICT or ICT – related topics, in exchange for hosting the projects.

Student teams of three or four consultants, from the final year of the award in Information Systems Analysis (BAISA) work in client organisations for up to a day per week between late October and late March.

Only a small number of projects can be run, so a selection process is involved. The scheme is conceived as a three way working partnership benefiting the community, the students and the University.

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