Secure interactive eMentoring and white-label projects platform for education charity

The Brightside Trust is an education charity that specialises in creating, developing and managing online mentoring projects, and other online tools and resources. Its core system is an eMentoring platform, which provides a secure interactive online space where young people are connected with volunteer mentors from universities and from a range of professional backgrounds who can support them into further or higher education or the world of work.

This platform offers a wide range of functionality, content and security features to ensure that all participants are safe, supported and engaged. The platform has also been designed to be white-labelled; project sites can be set up for particular organisations and branded (and administered) specifically for that client. There are currently approximately 80 such project sites.


In 2010 Brightside commissioned Netsight to rebuild their platform, using the Plone CMS as its core technology. This would be for Brightside the third iteration of their platform.  Working closely with the Brightside project team, Netsight planned and executed a ground-up rebuild (learning from the experiences of the first two versions) and also introduced a significant number of new and enhanced features.

Since its relaunch in 2010, the system has been very successful and has been under almost continual development to add additional features and functionality. Although usage levels fluctuate in line with school calendars and as participants enter and leave their programmes, as a general overview the system currently supports somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 users per year. During an average month around approximately 5,000 unique users will log in and use the platform (of which a significant proportion of these will use the platform weekly if not daily).

Because of the rapid throughput of users (especially mentees), the system has been designed to be as easy and intuitive as possible so that new users can get orientated as quickly as possible. This was achieved through a process of consultation and testing with a variety of real users during the development of the system (and this process is still ongoing as new features are added).

Netsight provides dedicated managed hosting and ongoing maintenance and 24/7 support for the live and staging Brightside platform, hosted within its ISO 27001 certified data centre.

Highlights of Netsight’s redevelopment of the Brightside platform include:

Signup and bulk-import

New users can sign up online (for some project sites) and are taken through a review process before being given full access to the system: new Mentors, for instance, need to pass a criminal background check. There is also a powerful bulk import process for organisations who wish to sign up an entire user base at once (this automates a significant portion of the signup process, using data supplied in a spreadsheet).

Automated matching and managing of users

The system includes a set of bespoke functions to match mentors and mentees based on their qualifications, career interests and other factors. There is also another set of functions to allow coordinators to monitor and assist the mentor/mentee relationships to ensure effectiveness and safety. The powerful role-based permissions system within the Plone CMS has been extended to provide the necessary security and functionality whilst still keeping user administration simple.

Secure messaging, with automated flagging and moderation to keep communications safe

Netsight developed an integral secure-messaging system with moderation and auto-blacklist functionality on certain trigger words/phrases (including, for example, any attempts to make personal contact outside of the system). There are a variety of settings to control messaging permissions /restrictions, which can be set for particular project requirements.

e-Learning activities

A variety of e-learning courses designed specifically for young mentees (14 to 18 year olds) are fully integrated into the platform. These consist of course materials (text, images and multimedia) tied to questions and exercises (in the form of multiple-choice questions, free-text questions, and interactive exercises). Multiple-choice questions and some exercises are automatically marked by the system; other types of activity are marked by the mentor. In all cases, the mentor can review their mentees’ progress through the activities and provide feedback. Results are stored in a personal activity record.

Interactive resource library

The system holds a significant library of content created by the Brightside Trust, including editorial items, news stories, and course materials /resources. All items are tagged with metadata and presented to relevant users. The whole library can also be browsed. The system also integrates with the ‘iCould’ video resource library, mapping its metadata to iCould categories and using this to identify and embed relevant videos.

Dynamic progress tracking

The platform provides a number of ways in which the progress of participants can be tracked and reviewed. In addition to the marking and feedback recorded for activity courses, there is a site-wide notion of a user’s ‘activity rating’, which reflects how much the user is using the platform (this includes messaging, activities and browsing resources). There is also a significant additional feature available on some projects, called the ‘skills tracker’: this feature allows mentees to evaluate themselves on a number of topics (which may be specific to a particular project), and then regularly review their progress on those topics with the assistance of their mentors over a defined period of time.

Surveys and forms

The platform includes a comprehensive form-building tool allowing coordinators and site administrators to create and manage surveys or feedback forms, and to make these available to participants in particular locations on the site.


All user activity (sign-ups, logins, communication, resources accessed, etc.) is logged. Reports are made available to coordinators, who can run them based on various criteria (date ranges, different user types, etc.) and export the results as CSV files. Top-level reports (covering the whole platform) are made available to site administrators.