Nesta’s story migrating from Drupal to Wagtail CMS

Transitioning Nesta's digital presence to a more adaptable and personalised platform to ensure long-term digital resilience and improved user engagement.


4 mins read

Related work categories Wagtail Charity & non-profit
Nesta Lightbulb

The outcome

The background

Before we made the decision to stop working with Drupal we got a brief through the door that made us think twice.

Nesta, the global innovation foundation, wanted to transform their digital presence, building a new on a next generation platform.

The brief

Wagtail or Drupal?

The thing was, the Nesta brief indicated an expectation of Drupal 8 as the platform they wanted to build on. And, while we hadn't formerly dropped Drupal by then, we knew we were headed that way, recognising that it wasn't as good a platform as Wagtail.

Nesta hadn't closed the door on other open source systems (they are committed to open source), so, although we could have pitched D8, we took the risk and pitched Wagtail - we felt it was the right thing to do for Nesta and we were freshly boosted by the high-profile relaunch of on Wagtail.

We were looking for a platform that can do what we need now, but one that can also do much more, to set us up for the future.

Sara Rizk Head of Digital, Nesta

One thing that we felt certain about was that Wagtail was a better platform for the future, so we focused on:

The underlying technologies - Django and Python have an important and growing profile within technology space while PHP by comparison is dwindling. They will allow us to innovate, quickly and effectively. (We also knew that Nesta has a strong pool of in-house data scientists who use Python to produce a range of interactive data visualisations - a key goal of the project was to more tightly integrate these into the main site).

The Incredible Growth of Python - Stack Overflow

The Incredible Growth of Python, September 6, 2017:

Python is fast enough for our site and allows us to produce maintainable features in record times, with a minimum of developers

Cuong Do Software Architect,

  • Personalisation capabilities - personalisation, or customer experience, will trickle down over time to play a more important role in more and more sites. Wagtail already has some exciting personalisation tools that are powerful and free.
  • Creative solutions drawn from insights into their users - we focused on combining personalisation with feature ideas to show how we imagine the next generation Nesta site will work, for example, how we would handle really long, long-form content.

Nesta ruled out a number of agencies with too much of a focus on technology. They wanted a partner that focused on their challenges, their audiences, and that would give pushback where needed. Happily, Nesta chose us and Wagtail.

The challenge

What were the biggest worries?

Nesta's key project concerns were around:

  • A successful, digital implementation of their new brand by Pentagram
  • Content migration (with nearly 5k pages, this is a big site!)
  • Their distributed CMS editor base having to move from D7 to another system

We're delighted that all of these key concerns were successfully met. Nesta love the brand implementation. Nesta product manager, Sara, felt that the migration went "really well, much more smoothly than previous experiences" (346 person pages, 125 users, 467 guest authors, 1616 blogs, 561 reports and 35 toolkits). But, perhaps most pleasing was how easily their editors adopted Wagtail.

More than fifty editors are already using Wagtail at Nesta, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, "it's been very easy for people to pick up". Just as well as some of these editors only use a CMS a couple of times a year so switching might have been annoying. People have loved moving from the world of the big text area style of CMS publishing to something with the flexibility of Wagtail's Streamfield, only one person has missed being able to dump all their content into one text box (with the many associated problems that brings).

Nesta Design Development

From wireframing to developing and evolving the new Nesta brand

Tell me something else about the site?

There's an interesting and unusual information architecture, there are some cool data visualisations, but if you want to check out one thing, I suggest you check out the long form content pieces like Flying High: The future of drone technology in UK cities. It's really long, long-form content, twenty-odd chapters, but it comes together really well as a piece of content that's easily managed within Wagtail. It's actually changing the way that Nesta think about the source material and how to produce it (Nesta produces 60-80 long-form publications every year including reports, policy briefings, landscape reviews and practice guides).

We also built a prototype feature that keeps your place in these long form content docs across multiple visits, so we'd like to add that in too!

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What now?

As Sara says, “it was never our intention that launch would be it. A program of user testing is imminent on the live site and then we’ll be starting with the iterative improvements and innovations.”

We’re looking forward to getting stuck in.

Interested to know more about Wagtail CMS?

Give it a go


Olly Willans

Chief People and Planet Officer