A computer screen showing the coding behind the related links

GOV.UK hosts over 400,000 pieces of content from a multitude of organisations. As well as 45 ministerial and non-ministerial departments, there are hundreds of agencies and public bodies, and dozens of high-profile groups, public information groups, and devolved administrations. Having all this in one place lets users interact with the government without having to know how the government works.

It also means that GOV.UK content can cover anything from helping a user complete a task, like getting a passport, to providing business users with consultations, like Call for evidence: the operation of Insurance Premium Tax.

We know the vast majority of users come to GOV.UK directly from an external search engine. So it’s really important that we help users move on from the information they have landed on easily, and, if appropriate, by providing the right navigational aids.

We’ve already produced step by step navigation to guide users through complex service journeys, and introduced a site-wide taxonomy to categorise all content into topics. This means users can find information about the topic they care about without having to know how the government is structured.

But over the last 6 months, we’ve also tested and released a machine learning algorithm that can generate links of related content.

Machine learning provides computers with the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed. Machine learning algorithms can be trained to perform and automate tasks that have previously been thought of as tasks that only humans can do.

‘Mainstream’ versus ‘Whitehall’

GOV.UK content falls into one of 2 buckets – ‘mainstream’ and ‘Whitehall’.

Mainstream is made up of around 2,000 pieces of high traffic content (57% of all page views until June 2019), like services that a user can complete. This content is managed by a dedicated team at GDS, and totals about 2% of all GOV.UK content. It includes curated related links that have been suggested by people who know the service areas well.

The remaining 98% of GOV.UK content is Whitehall, the vast majority of which didn’t have any related links. It would be difficult for content designers to go through all Whitehall content and suggest related links – their time is better spent making sure the content is well written and user-focused.

We didn’t know if an algorithm would be able to compete with humans with years of experience and understanding of government content. But by measuring the performance of a number of predictive algorithms, we were able to determine if an automated process for adding related links could help our users get the information they need more quickly.

Testing algorithms

We A/B tested 3 algorithms across all our GOV.UK content. Our metrics to determine success were:

  • an increase in clicks on related links
  • a decrease in clicks on navigational elements, like the header, footer, search box and breadcrumbs – these are often signs that a user is lost or restarting their journey

Throughout the process of testing and getting feedback from publishers, we began to see more potential for using an algorithm to create related links. For example:

  • news items only ever suggest other news articles
  • no other document type displays news as related links
  • we don’t display related links on fatality notices

This would allow us to minimise the risk of an algorithm displaying a piece of content that might be insensitive or potentially unrelated.

The algorithm goes live

Once we’d chosen our preferred algorithm, we spent the following quarter working to get it into production.

This involved running all our content through the algorithm and training it using 3 weeks’ worth of user journey data. As some content on GOV.UK is less popular than others, 3 weeks gave us a well-rounded view of user journeys across all our content.

By repeating this process, we’re able to release a new version of the algorithm every 3 weeks.

With many weeks and much hard work from the team, on 3 July 2019, we added related links to over 400,000 pieces of content on GOV.UK.

What happens next

Using the algorithm, we’ll add further related links to Whitehall content, and take some time to monitor performance.

We’ll continue to use the same metrics, but we’ll also check them against journey-level metrics so we can better understand user behaviour and the usefulness of the automated related links. We also expect that we will have to tweak the accuracy threshold as we get more feedback from publishers.

This is the first time that GDS has tested, built and released a machine learning pipeline, and there’s a lot of learning to be shared with the rest of the organisation and wider government. The broader implications for helping to deliver smarter, more efficient public services are substantial.

We have also been able to test new technologies that have been recently introduced to the GOV.UK tech stack like Concourse and Terraform.

This piece of work has helped us to embed data scientists into multi-disciplinary teams and encouraged us to look at tackling larger problems that data science could help with.

If you want to talk to us about this work or have any interesting projects you would like to share with this, please leave a comment.

You can follow Ganesh on Twitter.

Original source – Inside GOV.UK

Conservative Party members are, as we speak, deciding who will be the next Prime Minister. And whilst most will have already decided. I know others are still waiting to hear how the two candidates – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt – respond on some key issues. While Brexit is the topic that is of course getting the most attention, there are many other important issues for our new Prime Minister – and I happen to think that digital inclusion is an important one. So, I’m writing this blog – sending it to both candidates – as I want to put a series of questions to them how they plan to tackle an issue which could see the UK being left behind as the world becomes increasingly digital. So ……

Dear Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt,

I want to ask you both what you would do, if Prime Minister, to address the digital inequalities in the UK. Although Mr Johnson you have committed to deliver better, faster broadband at an accelerated pace, there is also a deep divide between those who have the digital skills and confidence to benefit fully, and those who do not. The latest Ofcom release shows a 17% gap in internet use between adults in high and low socio-economic groups. Of people with zero digital skills, 46% earn less than £17,499 a year, and people with basic digital skills can expect a lifetime increase of their average earnings of 2.8%. 

There are 11.9 million people in the UK who still don’t have essential digital skills; and our research shows that, at current rates of progress, by 2028 there will still be 6.9 million people in the UK – 12% of the population – without these skills. 

1) At Good Things Foundation, we calculated last year that if everyone in the UK had digital skills, it would offer a net present value of £21.9 billion to the UK economy. Would you commit to a 100% fully digitally included UK and how would you do it? (And, Mr Johnson and Mr Hunt, if you’re stuck for ideas – have a look at our Blueprint for a 100% Digitally Included Nation).

2) How will you support microbusinesses and sole traders who are struggling to reap the benefits of digital? For example, one quarter of micro businesses used none of the seven technologies identified as most relevant, and a similar proportion used only one digital technology. The UK e-commerce survey found that only 8.8% of micro businesses were making website sales compared to 46% of large businesses. The microbusinesses owners and sole traders we spoke to in Powering Up: How more people, communities and businesses can participate in a digital economy told us that they face factors like not having the time to learn new skills and the amount it would cost to be suitably trained means that many find it impossible to keep up with bigger, more digitally able, firms. 

3) How will your government alleviate the fears of non-internet users to ensure that the internet is a safe place to be, especially when performing financial transactions online and avoiding the harms the internet can present? One in five non-internet users don’t go online because they don’t trust the internet, or don’t feel it’s online or secure. 

4) How will you support people to get the digital skills they need to get by in the modern economy? People will need to get by at work: we need to talk about how the future of work and automation of jobs will affect people who currently do not possess the basic skills they need at work and to apply for jobs. People will also need to get by in life: a ‘digital first’ approach (which I support) saves Government money and is more convenient for those who can interact with the state online, however more needs to be done to ensure everyone can benefit. Good Things Foundation is offering digital assistance for the 2021 Census and with HMCTS services; yet schemes like Universal Credit, which has a ‘digital first’ approach despite many who are eligible can’t apply online and there’s no official government digital support. Our plan will help you to seize the economic and social benefits of a fully digitally included nation.

5) Finally, we found in our above mentioned Powering Up report that we can only really tackle digital exclusion by all sectors; private, public and third sector, working together. How will your government link up people, companies and organisations, to ensure that digital exclusion is tackled? Such as through schemes like Power Up, which Good Things Foundation are doing in collaboration with J.P. Morgan and SCVO.

Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson, Please feel free to send your response to helen@goodthingsfoundation.org and we will, of course, publish them immediately!

Original source – Helen Milner

A post-it note on a window, saying 'find ways to support our friends'

Through the spend controls process, GDS works with departments to ensure they (and the taxpayer) are getting the best value from anything they’re building or buying. 

As Kevin Cunnington mentioned in his parting words, in his time, we’ve helped save government over £1 billion, including around £353 million in 2018/19.

We’re always working to iterate and improve the spend controls process, and over the past year we’ve been running a new pipeline process for spend controls, which aims to be more collaborative and more beneficial for departments and government as a whole.

We developed the new process with several early-adopter departments and, since April 2018, the majority of central government departments have transitioned onto the approach.

We’ve already seen evidence that this process is saving departments even more time, money and resources. Excitingly, we now see that the new process gives GDS opportunities to help improve projects at an early stage.

Since publishing the guidance last year, departments have been adopting the pipeline approach and talking about it positively. For example, the Department of Health and Social Care recently blogged about their journey

Here are some of the things we’ve achieved over the past 12 months:

Lower costs, more time

We’ve written previously about how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was an early adopter of the pipeline process, and how this saved thousands of hours which would have previously been spent in governance reviews and could now be spent delivering services to users.

DWP now estimates that the pipeline process has saved 60% in staff costs (the number of times people have to review, assure or question activity) and 40% in hours. This is time and money that has, in effect, been given back to DWP project teams to focus on improving services for users rather than on process, without any increase in the level of risk or failure.

Other departments report similar benefits and outcomes. 

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) estimates that the pipeline process has saved 60% in people costs and 35% in time, while the Ministry of Justice says the cost of governance in running the pipeline process compared to the previous controls mechanism has been reduced by around 27%.

These headline figures are obviously great to see. But what’s equally encouraging is evidence of how the pipeline process helps GDS and departments work closely together to improve the process and to make better services as a result.

Clear support and close collaboration

two people sitting at a table with their laptops

When we worked with departments to design the pipeline approach, the intention was to help services meet government standards earlier or provide intervention and support where departments needed it. 

Rather than looking at individual services or technology projects, the pipeline process means we work with departments to develop a 15 to 18-month forward look at all their commercial, digital and technology spend.

This forward look means GDS and departments can work more collaboratively at an earlier stage to improve projects and services.

One example of where this has been effective is where GDS worked with BEIS on the Business Verification and Identity Assurance project.

This work started with a discovery project at BEIS to look at how to address the risk of fraud against government services, as well as errors affecting completion rates and, therefore, users’ ability to achieve their end goals.

After the initial work, it became clear that the project would benefit from some support and oversight in the areas of service design and user research. 

Through a series of open conversations and engagement, assurance teams in BEIS and GDS were able to help reshape the approach and focus of the project, while GDS was able to offer a package of support. 

In a recent interview, BEIS chief digital and information officer Karl Hoods said: "We’ve had nothing but positive experiences so far [with GDS], they’ve been able to offer us resource and advice, and help us to deliver some of our projects."

Working together as one government

a big group of people posing for a picture, facing the camera and holding a sign that says 'standards assurance'

As this example shows, having early oversight makes it easier for GDS to support departments.

The pipeline approach – which encourages ongoing conversations – has made it easier to scrutinise and provide more constructive feedback for projects. It has also made it easier to build up departmental context and understanding in order to provide approvals in a much more efficient way. 

This approach helps GDS to look more holistically at central government to identify where there might be opportunities to reuse technology, adopt best practice approaches and align to central government strategy. 

These examples are – we hope – the initial positive steps in working better together as one government.

Subscribe to this blog to get email updates whenever we publish new blog posts.

Original source – Government Digital Service

User-centred practices rightly demand that we make sure the user (person!) using a service is considered throughout design and development. We ask user researchers to find out more about what people are doing and thinking, and what contexts they would be using our services in.

Our challenge is then how we share what we’ve learned in an engaging and tangible way. The default for many projects tends to be personas. I’d like to talk about some other tools that can do the job instead.

Think about what you need to communicate

There is a place for personas, but we’ve used other methods that we found more useful in different circumstances. This includes things like:

1) User cards

With the Government Digital Service and the Small Business Commissioner, we created user cards. Each card represented one type of user, supported with a quote and a list of core user needs. The benefit of these is that they were quick to produce, and they gave a snapshot of the most important things we needed to consider for each user type.

The user cards were printed for our research walls in one project and used as part of a handover for another. They focused on validated user needs across a unique group of users. We ensured insights were memorable and human through the use of composite quotes. Generally, the cards were kept at quite a high level, as the rest of the information typically included with personas would only add noise and quickly become dated. 

2) Switching forces framework

With the Crown Commercial Service we used the switching forces framework to map our user data.  This focuses more on how an organisation can use the insights you have. User needs, motivations and behaviours are organised around questions:

  • how do we encourage people to use a new product/service (remove pains, create gains)?
  • how do we reduce blockers to using a new product/service (break habits, remove anxieties)?

The switching forces framework

 Maintaining a spotlight on underlying user needs 

We recently completed a project with Ofsted where we were asked to focus on parents (and guardians) to understand how and why they contact Ofsted. The audience was broad. It included parents of pre-school, primary and secondary school age children across the country and the full range of socio-economic backgrounds, ages, use of technology and so on. 

We interviewed 16 parents in 2 sprints to find out what they thought Ofsted was for, and how they would prefer to contact them in different scenarios. When we shared our findings, we focused on the goal that parents were trying to achieve first. These goals were supported by insights through journey maps, regular show and tells and engaging research findings using quotes and videos to back up our analysis.

Using a matrix to establish the extremes of behaviour

We presented the user needs using 2 axes; motivation, and the urgency of the issue. Depending on these factors, parents would act in different ways and have different expectations of what Ofsted could do for them.

Grid of user needs mapped by urgency and motivation

The grid enabled us to keep underlying user needs at the centre of decisions. And by providing solutions that covered the extremes, we also covered everything in between. When we presented this to the Ofsted team, it reflected activities and behaviours they had experienced with parents themselves. It immediately gave them faith in the research, and the simple structure was easy to understand and share. 

Underlying needs won’t change

One of the reasons this approach worked so well was because we were working on a discovery. We hadn’t yet established what the problems were that needed to be solved, and we definitely didn’t know what the solutions needed to be yet. 

As with the “jobs to be done” theory, these user needs will largely remain the same, but the ways in which they are provided for will develop over time. The matrix keeps the focus on user goals and provides space for teams to identify knowledge gaps to keep their services up to date and fit for purpose. 

Evolving our methods with the product or service

Evolving the use of the grid

It’s only right that as a product or service evolves, the methods we use do too. Taking our 2×2 grid as a starting point, there are a few ways this could develop as we learn more. Some ideas include:

1) Establishing priorities for the organisation

Which of these needs is causing the most difficulty to users of the organisation? Which is currently costing the most to support? Which is the easiest to implement change for?

2) Developing archetypes of behaviour

Archetypes represent how someone might behave, which could help humanise the grid and make them more memorable e.g. “The activist” becomes frustrated when they don’t feel their issue is being resolved quickly. We used this approach with GDS, where each archetype was developed into handy cards that highlight key user needs. 


Archetypes of behaviour: activist, conformist, whistle-blower, doubter

3) Using the grid to evaluate solutions 

Sense check our ideas to make sure they are addressing user needs before they get developed further i.e. is this actually something we need to provide? Is there a need we haven’t addressed at all?

There is a place for personas

I’m not ruling out the use of personas altogether. In some cases, teams may find value in a more detailed persona to help make decisions on how to implement a solution. This should go hand in hand with more focused research to support the exploration of the idea. It’s important to remember that personas should be an evolving tool that keeps being updated as we learn more.

If you’d like to find out more, or have ideas you’d like to discuss, please get in touch.


The post Some alternatives to using personas appeared first on dxw digital.

Original source – dxw digital

Our recent Women in Digital event

By signing up to the Tech Talent Charter (TTC) we’re pledging to do better to reflect the diversity of the population in our tech workforce.

The TTC is an initiative, supported in the government’s policy paper on the UK Digital Strategy, to redress the gender balance in tech roles. By signing up, we’re joining a number of other government departments as well as some of the biggest leaders in the tech industry such as KPMG, PWC and Sky.

DWP Digital is at the forefront of changing the services DWP offers customers. And diversity and inclusion are at the heart of how we do this. DWP is the largest government employer of women with over two thirds of our workforce female. But we know that in tech roles women are still under-represented: it’s estimated that only 27% of digital roles are held by women. So we’re committed to redressing the gender balance. We have an ambitious goal to achieve a 50% increase in female representation across the organisation by 2020.

I also hold the role of gender champion for DWP and I’m committed to creating a workplace where everyone feels included and able to be themselves. In an evolving workplace, diversity allows challenge to ‘traditional’ ways of working. We’ve signed the charter to demonstrate our commitment to achieving diversity in the digital ecosystem.

The charter outlines a number of pledges – here’s what we are doing to meet those promises:

Inclusive recruitment processes

Women taking part in the Women in Digital event

Attendees taking part in the Women in Digital event

So many factors influence a woman’s career decisions: from gendered toys in childhood to subtle messaging through education that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects are for boys.

We’re using research and insights about recruitment with the aim of removing bias from hiring. For example, we know that including certain words in job descriptions can put women off applying for roles. And we’re constantly improving our processes to remove gender bias. Right now we’re trailing new software that uses behavioural science to remove bias and improve predictive validity in hiring – to make it fairer for everybody.

Employment policies and practices that support the development and retention of an inclusive and diverse workforce

We also have a number of networks for people with minority characteristics with the aim of developing these colleagues in their careers. They provide excellent networking and training opportunities that help build confidence and engagement skills.

We know the value of having female role models in the workplace. So we’re leading the way as pioneers of a Digital Voices programme; a ground-breaking, 5-month agenda of activities to help women develop their digital skills and knowledge, while building the confidence to be more vocal – whether that’s on social media or through speaker opportunities.

Lin, one of our Digital Voices

DWP is the biggest government department and we’re on an exciting digital transformation journey. The opportunities to develop a career here and build new skills are huge. We’ve got excellent career pathways and professional communities where you can share knowledge and best practice.

 Sharing best practice  

We already work collaboratively across industry, but we’ll be working collectively with other signatories to further develop and share best practice. For example, our annual Women in Digital event brings together a range of voices from across the digital sector and digital government – and it keeps getting bigger and better! It’s a chance for women to network, collaborate and take away knowledge and tools to help them in their digital role.

Discussing gender issues

Contributing employment diversity data 

We’ll work with colleagues across the Civil Service to collect robust data so that we can begin to understand any tech specific issues. We’re using our annual People Survey to collect data on diversity and we’re collecting data on application and recruitment activity. We’re also encouraging individuals to safely and anonymously share their diversity characteristics.

By collecting better qualitative and quantitative data, we can better understand the specific issues that affect our professions and work out where we need to improve to build a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

Every person matters

Research shows employees are more productive when they feel engaged and engagement increases when employees feel valued. A more inclusive digital service will allow our employees to feel more valued. Working together we’re taking steps to ensure everyone has equal opportunity to participate in developing themselves regardless of their characteristics providing equal opportunities for everyone.

Join an organisation that values diversity, we’re recruiting now, take a look at our Careers website.

Original source – DWP Digital

cricket england.jpg

On my consultancy and training travels around the UK I get to learn so much from other people. Plus, there are comms lessons all around us if we look closely enough. And so, I thought I would begin sharing these lessons more regularly via the somewhat obvious blog post title of ’Things I learned this week’ 😊

I hope you enjoy volume 07

by Darren Caveney

1. Data and insight really is king

I enjoyed the chance to co-host Orlo’s first Digital Masterclass in London last Monday. It was a fascinating day and a chance to hear many brand-new case studies from across the sectors in front of over 70 communicators from around the UK.

Smart use of data and insight really was the key theme running through almost every presentation. From Ali Neyle telling the story of embedding a new strategic communications approach at the Nursing, and Midwifery Council and Michael Clarke on post-Grenfell communications, and lessons learned about going where your audiences are, through to the National Policing Digital team who were able to point towards Facebook insights which highlighted that 97% of their audience trust a post where there is a response but that this drops to 89% when there is no response. Further proof on the impact of two-way engagement on social media.

The BEIS digital communications team told us how their own generated research insight was used to convince a minister that a video of him speaking would be less successful than an animated film. It worked and he even got involved from start in creating his own avatar. The campaign was successful.

My learning?

The Diabetes UK case study highlighted that still images outperformed video on social media on their new national campaign. But that 500 people a week die prematurely of diabetes in the UK. A really worrying statistic.

Thanks to Orlo for this first masterclass and to the comms team at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for hosting us. Look out for the second masterclass coming to a town near you soon.


2. My plea sparked a response

In my ‘3 things I learned this week’ post from last week I made a plea for better support for managers having to lead and manage cuts and restructures.

It sparked one anonymous comms manager to share their experiences of having to lead on a team restructure and of the personal impacts. That post, in turn, prompted lots of debate on Twitter, a hell of a lot of web traffic to the post, and a number of direct messages to me from people in a similar position and battling with similar responsibilities create.

I set up comms2point0 eight years ago for this very purpose – to be a space where the communications community can feel supported and get support. If it has helped in even a tiny work then my work is done.

My learning?

If there is more I can do for individuals and teams through this platform please do shout. Never feel you are alone and make sure to talk about these issues with your friends, your colleagues and your peers. Cuts aren’t your decision, always remember that – they are the decisions of others so you stay strong and proud.


3. Summer drinks

I put out a note on Twitter last week that a few Birmingham/West Midlands based folks had been talking about getting together for informal drinks one evening in Birmingham for a chinwag or a Shandy Bass. 30 folks have so far said yes so we’re on. Brilliant. I’ll be in touch with a date.

My learning?

Many of you have asked about other regional events too – absolutely. You name the venue and I’ll jump on the train. Remember, it’s not a selly thing, it’s a chinwag amongst comms pals, old and new.


And finally…

Someone once said that football is the beautiful game. It isn’t, it’s cricket. Cor blimey that will go down as the greatest one-day game of all time. Maybe the greatest game of all time, even. So, so tough on New Zealand but England you beauties.

See you at the Ashes.

Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd and you can reach me on darrencaveney@gmail.com


*Pssssst – A BRAND NEW eMag you might like*

I’ve just launched a brand new comms2point0 eMag which replaces what was the old comms2point0 weekly email and which stopped a while back. The new eMag will be bursting with new content, free give-aways, special offers, first dibs on new events and much, much more.  

Sound good? You can sign up to it right here.


image via The State Library of Queensland

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

Inside of boardroom

A different weeknote format because I spent most of the week on the NHS Leadership Academy Nye Bevan Programme – a 3-day residential followed by a 1-day learning set meeting.

I’m learning loads, from the course directors Naomi and Majid, the guest faculty, our learning set facilitator Caroline, and of course all my peers in the learning set and wider cohort. This note is also my first go at structuring what I learned, and what I’m going to do differently starting next week.

What did I learn?

  • I work in a complex multi-layered system – spanning national policy to individual interactions, with local service in between. (I knew that much already.) It’s a “web of interdependence.” But complex systems can have simple rules.
  • Leaders, boards, and organisations can approach this complexity as “policy victims” or as “policy entrepreneurs”. I know which of those I want to be, and what kind of organisation I need to work in.
  • The characteristics commonly associated with success in whole systems [King’s Fund PDF link]:
    • Go out of your way to make new connections.
    • Adopt an open, enquiring mindset, refusing to be constrained by current horizons.
    • Embrace uncertainty and be positive about change – adopt an entrepreneurial attitude.
    • Draw on as many different perspectives as possible; diversity is non-optional.
    • Ensure leadership and decision-making are distributed throughout all levels and functions.
    • Establish a compelling vision which is shared by all partners in the whole system.

Shorter version: be curious, clear and courageous, which reminded me a lot of the #OneTeamGov principles too.

  • Definitions of co-production and co-design are muddled everywhere. In my drafts folder I have a set of definitions of my own. Maybe it’s better that we drop the jargon and talk specifically about what we’re going to do differently to involve people high on Arnstein’s ladder of participation.
  • To work in partnership with a community, we have to cede some power. We heard powerfully about this in the example of Millom.
  • A metaphor I like: “The sunlit part of the garden” is what you see when getting only reassurance, as opposed to true assurance.
  • One I’m not so sure about: the “burning platform”. Everyone has one, it seems.
  • The Happenstance Learning Theory of John D. Krumboltz:

“What-you-should-be-when-you-grow-up need not and should not be planned in advance. Instead career counselors should teach their clients the importance of engaging in a variety of interesting and beneficial activities, ascertaining their reactions, remaining alert to alternative opportunities, and learning skills for succeeding in each new activity.”

  • The role of the chair in NHS organisations – something I now want to explore further in my learning.

What does this mean for me?

  • I reflected on how it feels to work across a network: social, rewarding, but fragile.
  • I’m trading some of my “new power” (the social, open, collaborative kind) for some “old power” (seats on programme boards, and the authority to shape national standards). I need to be comfortable with that and use one to amplify the other.
  • I need to dig deeper into the assumptions beneath quality improvement and service redesign in health and care. I’ve said I’ll do this in a spirit of humble enquiry.

What will I do or do differently?

  • Cultivate my curiousity about people as well as ideas.
  • Keep thinking and talking about my own organisation’s role in system leadership.
  • Talk further with my team about how we keep each other in touch with what each of us is focusing on.
  • Read HSJ.
  • Think about who I look to for coaching and as a mentor.

What else inspired me this week?

Original source – Matt Edgar writes here


It’s long been a hunch the public sector would collapse if it wasn’t for good will and free overtime.

None more so than in comms teams.

That extra comms plan? Take it home, stay a little longer, work through lunch, just do a bit on Sunday night to make the week easier. It’s all been done.

But how much of it takes place?

The NHS recently hit the headlines when consultants were working to rule rather than take on paid overtime that landed them with eye-watering tax bills.

It made me think about unpaid time public sector communicators put in. In an unscientific survey, I asked the members of the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group and more than 250 responded.

Extra hours are almost universal

The results were not surprising.

Working over or out-of-hours is nearly universal.

Far from being an occasional thing out-of-hours or extra working has become so mainstream its not hard to see teams failing to deliver without it.

  • 99 per cent of public sector communicators surveyed work over their allotted hours.
  • Almost half work ad hoc extra hours
  • A third work up to five hours extra a week
  • 13 per cent work more than 10 hours extra every week.

meta-chart (12)

Of course, the extra odd hour here and there isn’t a problem. It can take team through peaks and troughs.

But is it the odd hour?

Or have we reached a point where public sector comms wouldn’t operate without that extra freely given time?

One in ten work more than 10 extra hours

This for me is one of the eye-catching numbers. If the standard working week is just less than 40 hours, 10 extra hours a week is a big chunk of time. It’s 25 per cent extra. It’s two hours extra every working day.  That’s 12 extra full working weeks a year just to stand still.

That doesn’t feel healthy.

The situation isn’t healthy

A cursory glance at the health risks of long hours at work shows a higher risk of strokes with a third greater risk.

The Japanese have a work for death by overwork. Karoshi is a problem that affects salarymen whose long hours and poor diets.

The reality is that some comms people in that number are quite literally working themselves into the ground. Ironically, one area where working out-of-hours or extra time seems bad is the NHS itself.

The on-call rota

One place where it has a serious impact is emergency planning. It’s funny how things very often kick-off outside office hours. Grenfell was in the small hours and the MEN Arena explosion was late at night.

Without proper cover the organisation is ill-placed to respond but anecdotally, proper cover is often rare. ‘It’s a risk they think is worth taking,’ one group member complained.

What’s the way round it? Spanish practices

One communicator, who wanted to remain anonymous, has travel in her remit but can’t claim the hours spent in cars and trains back as flexi-time. Her boss turns a blind eye at her informally claiming some time back. But HR would have had kittens if they knew, she was privately warned.

This leads on to the wider point of decent management. I’ve had decent managers and I’ve had absolute eye-watering shockers. I’m sure we all have. I worked in one team where we would have gone over the top into enemy fire for each other because we knew we all had each others back. Looking back I see how rare that was. One key ingredient was the Spanish practice of extra time off here and there.

Flexi time

One thing the straw poll didn’t ask in any detail was how easy it was to recover lost hours through flexi-time. Anecdotally, this is often a grey area. Over a certain amount and it can get lost. Sometimes its easy to take. Sometimes its not.

So what happens next?

Before you head back to your to-do list spare a moment.

This idea of overwork ironically needs more work. This quick poll I think doesn’t give definitive view but has exposed a serious issue.

Nobody’s agenda other than yours will dominated if you die early or go off with stress.

It’s not clock-watching, its ensuring you are healthy enough to do a good job and see your children grow up.

It may be one for an organisation that looks after the interests of public sector communicators but its also absolutely something for you to think about as an individual and for your manager to reflect on.

 Picture credit: istock

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

A tweet from Dave reminded me how hard it is to actually work out loud.

For a start, you need the time to write something for yourself which nobody is probably asking for, unless you’re in a very enlightened workplace.

Next, you need to be able to talk about what you’re doing. That’s tough if it’s client work or controversial subjects or you live in a land of FOI or hostile online media (or you have hostile press office colleagues).

And then you worry about making it interesting or understandable for others to read. A lot of people worry about this, and I think they shouldn’t. I try not to.

A lot of the ‘working out loud’ I see blogged or tweeted isn’t all that interesting. There are some fine weeknoters, for sure, but there’s a lot of case studies wrapped up as working out loud, or thinly-veiled self-promotion, and frankly life’s too short for that. We’ll all be queuing for tomatoes by Christmas, so let’s at least be honest about what’s working and what’s not in our day jobs.

Journeys over destinations, honesty over happytalk

The posts I enjoy are the ones that describe what someone’s tried, what went wrong and what they did next. The least useful ones skip to the happy end result or imply like getting there was easy. Even if it was, hearing about your pain makes me feel better about my own. If you’re not allowed to tell a warts and all story (without breaching confidences, natch) then you’re not really being allowed to work out loud.

Building blocks and stepping stones

Linked to that, the best posts give away ideas or code or templates or something I can use for myself. Musings are fine, but if there’s something you can offer to give others a leg-up or a shortcut, that’s better.

It’s not them, it’s you

The most important audience for blogging isn’t the people reading, it’s the person writing.

Working out loud involves reflecting, and thinking and trying to make sense of something. So by all means explain and be helpful, but above all remember working out loud and writing it down is helping the future you. It it helps the present others, that’s a bonus.

So in the hierarchy of “working out loud”:

Perfectly OK = where you started from, what you’ve tried, frustrations, feelings
Even better = how you did it, what you’ve learned, what you’d do differently
Amazingly best = how people can adapt what you’ve done

Original source – Helpful Technology

Last year the growing team of user researchers at dxw digital came together to document a more consistent way of working. We set out 10 principles to guide the way we approach, do, and talk about research. We also drafted a workflow that describes the types of things that user researchers usually do on projects.

Reflecting on our principles

Over the last year and a half, we’ve been living with the principles and workflow. Using them to guide our work, help new team members, keep improving as a team, and working with, not for, our clients.

We got a lot of inspiration from our first set of principles, but we knew we could do better.

Some of the principles overlapped, and some could be clearer and simpler. We also realised that the descriptions were too long and too descriptive, making them hard to remember and follow.

Bolder titles and shorter, clearer descriptions

So, this year we spent some time revisiting our principles and workflow as a team – extracting, regrouping and refining the most important points.

We now have 8 principles with bolder titles and shorter, clearer descriptions:

  • Help teams understand people
  • Find the truth. Tell the truth (Credit to the great Dana Chisnell and the United States Digital Service for this one)
  • Take ethics seriously
  • Be methodical, but not rigid
  • Learn, share and adapt
  • Make research inclusive
  • Build on existing evidence
  • Accept and admit constraints

Building our practice

You’ll find the updated user research principles and their supporting descriptions in our Playbook. We love them, and we regularly reference them in our work.

We’re also creating a more detailed guide on how we do research at dxw, which includes the updated workflow. We’re finding this invaluable as our user research practice continues to grow, based from both our Leeds and London offices, and working across more and larger projects around the country.

The post Updating our user research principles  appeared first on dxw digital.

Original source – dxw digital