Working with Mind – our first development partnership with a charity

The passion behind the project really shone through and we navigated a few bumps in the road to get the service live in August

Back in May last year we started working with the charity, Mind. Initially we helped them make their newly built community platform live called Side by Side. We now support the application and are helping them make ongoing iterations to it.

Side by Side was replacing a well established and long running site called Elefriends. This was high profile and a big investment from Mind. It was, and continues to be, really exciting for us as we diversify into a new sector, and in turn, help the people that Mind helps.

I’ve put together some reflections looking back at working with Mind, dxw’s first development partnership with a charity.

The Mind team

There’s a small team dedicated to supporting Side by Side at Mind. They’re always calm, positive, and thoughtful, as well as being very open and flexible to new ways of doing things. This has made working together very smooth, which is something we should all be very proud of. We love working with them.

Side by Side and going live

In Mind’s own words, Side by Side is:

A supportive online community where you can feel at home talking about your mental health and connect with others who understand what you are going through

We’re really excited to be collaborating in helping make this safe space for the Side by Side community.

Another company built Side by Side with Mind and we came in to make it live and support it after launch. It’s often tricky to take on a completely new code base that we aren’t familiar with. Side by Side is a custom frontend (React) built on top of Discourse’s API (Ruby on Rails). This has presented some challenges as the service has diverged from default Discourse behaviour.

The passion behind the project really shone through from everybody involved. It helped us navigate a few bumps in the road to get the service live in August.

Seeing how we’re helping people

We’ve been able to see users’ response to the service and new features in real time, which is a great experience for us. The service is a minimal viable product (MVP), and we have lots of plans to keep improving in the future, but the impact it’s having is already evident:

I’d like to thank everybody who worked to put this platform up. To make a safe place for people who need love and support, to form friendship and to heal from any illnesses or trauma they may be going through.

Side by Side user

Post launch challenges

I mentioned how tricky it can be to take on new code. This continues with supporting Side by Side post launch. A good example is a recent problem with messaging.

Discourse has a wide range of mechanisms for users to communicate with each other, but Side by Side only uses a couple. The biggest set of issues we’ve had improving the service has been in cases where Discourse has quietly started a different kind of message between users that isn’t handled by the custom frontend. We’ve learned to be extra careful when interfacing with default Discourse functionality to check for unexpected side effects, but also that trying to do things outside of Discourse’s way of doing things is more pain than gain.

Shaping what’s next

Ahead of getting the service live we were all engrossed in the work. Now we’re live, we have some time to take a step back and strategise what’s next.

We ran a product thinking workshop together to take it back to the “why” – what’s the problem we’re solving and how does Side by Side do this?

Next we have plans to run a product roadmap workshop where we’ll prioritise all the thoughts for iterations we’ve put together over the last 6 months. We’d also really like to plan some user research sprints to help our thinking about what there is to do.

In the meantime, we’ll continue with small bits of improvement work.

Finally, and most importantly, we have to thank everyone that has given their time to Side by Side, from Mind and dxw. The progress we’ve made is because of you.