Using collaborative methods, empathy mapping, and some good old fashioned hard work, OXD mapped out Emily Carr University’s digital landscape, enabling them to approach their digital transformation with actionable insights.
Emily Carr University, founded in Vancouver in 1925, is one of the leading art and design schools in the world.
Every organization has a digital “footprint”—that body of online data related to that organization’s activities and presence—whether or not they know what that footprint is or have control of its shape. Emily Carr University worked with OXD to illuminate the true scope of their digital impact, map its current state, and uncover opportunities for the future of digital transformation at the institution.
A hazy digital landscape
As a forward-thinking, creative, and curious institution, Emily Carr University of Art + Design had a long history of embracing new technologies. And when the internet came around in the early 90’s the students, faculty, and administration embraced everything the web and digital technology had to offer. They pushed the boundaries and explored the possibilities of this new medium, building a striking landscape of digital cities, monuments, and ghost towns.
But after over two decades of unbridled excitement and barely-contained development of “rogue” instructor sites, off-beat student experiments, and third-party-managed properties, and the University found themselves in a curious situation. They no longer knew how big their digital footprint was. Where were the borders? And what else had been in created in their name that they didn’t know about?
The situation had moved beyond needing a simple clean-up and into serious brand erosion territory. It was time for Emily Carr University to take back control of their reputation.
But the organization would be in for a shock when they discovered the full extent of their digital landscape.
Giving shape to the unknown
Who visits and lives within this digital landscape?
We brought together twenty-one representatives from Emily Carr staff and faculty to collectively identify Emily Carr’s audience. This cross-sectional team mapped the full breadth of their 211 audiences and categorized them into 25 groupings, the totality of whom derived nearly 150 benefits from their interactions with the University. An additional fourteen representatives from frontline Emily Carr staff and faculty crafted empathy maps—a collaborative exercise that formed a compelling, 360-degree understanding for each of the audiences.
What’s out there in the the digital landscape?
We undertook the actual digital audit by merging two inputs over three passes. The first pass was a brute-force hunt through Google search, link tracing, content reviews, and analytics records to assemble a raw list of anything that had Emily Carr University’s identity attached to it. The second pass was reviewing the digital records of the University’s IT department. The third pass required us to reconcile the first two inputs and review what gaps were revealed.
We identified nearly 400 distinct digital properties, most of which were unknown to Emily Carr staff and most of which hadn’t been updated in years.
What are the boundaries of the digital landscape?
To help Emily Carr University make sense of their audit, we created a “Matrix of Influence” which mapped current (and future) digital properties across two axes: The ability to centrally control or influence content, and the degree of ownership over the platform. This allowed the University to ignore properties that fell within the low control / low ownership quadrant of the map and focus their resources accordingly.
We also looked at the audit data across multiple dimensions: which audience(s) they served, freshness, and governance.
Emily Carr University now had a robust audit of their digital properties. So now what? What did that mean? What should they do about it?
What are the challenges and opportunities in this growing digital landscape?
In the end we highlighted ten areas for the University to consider and contemplate as they moved forward with a digital strategy, including observations, challenges, and opportunities in areas like governance, social media, managing future growth, and overall digital experience.
Taking control of Emily Carr University’s digital presence
A governance model that works for the organization.
One of the key challenges for an organization rooted in fierce independence, free-spirited thinking, and radical experimentation, was how to direct the creation of digital properties without stifling the very energy that made the University what it was. OXD proposed a governance approach of “sanctioned decentralization” that balanced the two opposing forces of centralized brand control and independent identity.
Driving digital transformation with facts not hype.
The digital possibilities for reaching new audiences grows every day. They’re all shiny, cheap (often free), and it’s easy for organizations to get caught up in the hype cycle of the Next Big Thing. By clearly identifying Emily Carr University’s audiences and the way that these audiences derive their value from the University, we were able to help focus the organization’s efforts to the areas that mattered.
Sparking organizational change.
OXD’s digital audit of Emily Carr University digital properties wasn’t simply a dry, current state report of what had been done and where things were. Our work told a story—a story that was still in the making, full of possibilities. By working closely with the organization’s staff our work was a renewed call to action that drove the key innovations of the new Emily Carr University website project and future digital considerations.
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