Hello all,
I hope this sunny Monday finds you well!

By now, I think that everyone is aware that we’re planning on changing the forum in the near future. After months of research we’re pleased to tell you that we’re planning not only a new forum but a whole new website and both will be brought in together. We’re aiming to complete this larger project in the next 12 months.

The new plan for the website puts the community at the heart of the site which, in our opinion, is right where it belongs. The new site will also respond much better to the needs of people with Parkinson’s.

The background
Late last year we told you that the forum was creaking at the seams and would need to be replaced (If you missed that post, you can find it here: http://bit.ly/GC9Z6 ) Indeed many noticed that the forum was quite slow and was taking a long time to load pages.

We had hoped initially to replace the forum on its own separately from the website project. But after a lot of research (more on this below) we’ve now realised that it makes more sense to bring in the new community at the same time as our new website.

Doing things this way allows us to better respond to what people affected by Parkinson’s told us that they need online.

In order to keep the current forum running well in the meantime, we’ve moved to a new server which should improve performance while we work on the new website.

Our research
We’ve done a huge amount of research over the past few months including a survey, an online exercise, interviews and a card sort. The aim of this was to find out what was working well with our current site, where we could improve and what people affected by Parkinson’s need from our online services.

Liz, our Head of Digital gave more details about this in her recent post: http://bit.ly/GBjuEW

We were very excited by the responses we got to these activities and more than 2500 people participated! These participants included the newly diagnosed, those who have had Parkinson’s for years, carers, researchers, fundraisers, campaigners and healthcare professionals.

At the same time, we’ve been asking current community members how they feel about certain issues and what kind of change you’d like the see in the culture of the community.

What we learned
We were happy to have it confirmed both on the forum and in our testing that people really find the forum an important source of support and information.

A huge number of people found information about day to day life with the condition and learning how others cope invaluable and this is one of the forum’s strengths.

Indeed 83% of those who used the forum said that valued the experience. That’s an impressive place to start.

But there were a number of areas for improvement:

Almost 78% of those who took the survey have never used the forum and we were surprised at the number of people who were not even aware that the forum existed.

Many of these same people thought that they could benefit from hearing personal experiences of Parkinson’s.

There is not enough interaction between the forum and the rest of the website. Sometimes member of our forum community don’t benefit from information on the rest of the site and people who might come to the website in other ways, are not aware of the forum.

We also have some work to do on making this a more welcoming environment and ensuring that community staff are properly supporting members.

We also need to do a better job of letting everyone know that the forum is here for them especially those who are newly-diagnosed.

What next?
We’ll continue to make improvements to how we moderate and the general culture of the community in response to comments you’ve made here. A big part of this will be putting together a group of community champions as we mentioned here: http://bit.ly/GAFpd9

We’ve opened this thread to keep you updated on what is happening with the project and we’ll post opportunities for getting involved as they become available. If you have any questions or comments about the project, this is also the place to post them.