Of all the things I’ve helped build online the one that has given me most joy is this… a walled garden for public sector comms people.

It’s called the Public Sector Comms Headspace and it’s a Facebook group that’s reached its 5,000th member.

Built through word-of-mouth it makes me smile and teaches me something new daily

There’s no membership fee, no charges and no adverts to watch. Its value is the generosity of those who contribute to it

On the one level, the group can be judged by statistics but it’s more than that.

What the numbers say

The Headspace group insights over the past 28 days show an incredible 400 posts in the last 28 days, an astounding 4,785 comments and a staggering 17,648 interactions.

On any given day over the past 28 days, a minimum of 3,000 people directly engage with it rising to 4,400 on a busy day. That’s 88 per cent.

I’m going to push the boat out and say this is the most engaging and engaged corner of the internet concerned with PR and communications public sector or otherwise.

Group insights are handy

One good thing about Facebook is the piles of insights.

As an admin, I can tell you that Thursday 7pm is the busiest time of the week.

All this points to why we’ve run Zoom chats with topics around that time over the summer. Promote within the group and chat across on the video conferencing platform,.

What the group posts

When I first set-up the group, I thought shared links would work best. Actually that’s not been the case. Navigating across to the group writing this, I can see the topics.

Anybody here from the North East to share lockdown comms assets?

I’m just looking to pick peoples brains about social media scheduling services.

Another accessibility question: footnotes in accessible PDF documents for web. How are you fixing these please?

Hello everyone, seeking some info from anyone who is using WhatsApp groups.

It’s a typical spread and it makes me think of when I first started using social media and found fellow-travellers.

Social PR has changed

The social web of today is a different place to when I started in 2008. Then, Twitter connected PR people to share ideas. That’s evolved. There’s still a PR community there but people are far more guarded, there’s more selling and there’s a lack of new voices.

The drift from public spaces to private isn’t something new. The Headspace group and other Facebook groups are absolutely an example of this shift. Where do I get most value? From closed Facebook and WhatsApp groups.

It would not be an overstatement to say this group makes me a better communicator. And on days when I think I hate my job, this group makes me realise that I don’t, I love it… people in this group just get it.

Sara Hamilton, Headspace member.

Why a Facebook group?

Four years ago, I set the group up as an experiment to learn how groups work. It took two minutes to set up. At first, it was bringing people I liked from Twitter to a safer space. But it quickly became a space for others.

If you want an online community to grow you need to wake up in the morning wondering how you can make it grow that day. Encouraging others and encouraging discussion. This isn’t about the you, it’s about the us.

Have some ground rules. Nothing too overbearing. Chatham House rule. Don’t share outside the group without permission and not to poke fun at the bad because tomorrow it might be you. That’s actually been quite handy. If people are feeling bad because something they’ve been involved with has gone wrong, the last thing you need are your peers mocking you.

Support is the key.

So to is a range of job titles. If you work in the public sector you can come in. So, we have a range from marketing, IT, consultation assistants, officers, managers ands heads of comms.

Not being alone

When I started out in comms I was in a team of one with major imposter syndrome and no time to get formal training. The Headspace group was a lifesaver, allowing me to test ideas and ask questions, borrow concepts, and through that learn the language and develop myself.

In addition it was – and still is – a place where I know I am not alone.

Will Lodge, Public Sector Comms Headspace member

The enduring value has been for people after a bad day or when they’re struggling to come and realise there’s other people.

One early example stays with me.

Without naming names, a member had had a bad day and had been told by someone senior that what was wanted was a logo and not just any old logo. They weanted a logo of a butterfly made with human ears.

Like some Vietnam-era war crime the proposed logo was shared to a gasp of astonishment. But where the value came was in the replies. A set of suggested strategies emerged to deal with the problem without resorting to hard liquor or a handgun. The advice was made. The ear logo was averted.

I knew the group would work.

On adding dog and cat pictures

Style points have evolved. It’s okay to ask a fairly run-of-the-mill question so long as you add a picture of an animal.

Like this pic of Christina Staniforth’s dog Alfie.

Would you just look at that doggo.

‘A professional lifeline’

I love headspace because it’s a truly welcoming, non judgemental space. Very practical, genuinely supportive and a professional lifeline for me, as a sole comms worker in a multi disciplinary team. Seek and you shall find.

– Leanne Hughes, Public Sector Comms Headspace member.

A lot of the questions posed in the group are routine. That’s fine. Asking where the artwork can be found for a national campaign is may not move the innovation dial but if it means saving half an hour of faff then its worthwhile.

In an era of lockdown, remote working being alone together has value and I’m glad that the regular questions get asked as well as the big picture ones.

As an admin get help

As an admin, you’re a gatekeeper. It’s up to you who to let into the group. You set the rules and you have to allow each one in.

Because we limit the group to in-house public sector people we check everyone’s credentials online. A quarter of those who ask don’t get in.

At the height of Cummings going to Barnard Castle things got quite tense. We switched to a process where we had to approve posts. This had the added benefit of allowing us to weed out the duplicate posts.

David Grindlay is also an admin. His enthusiasm and energy has played a massive role.

Over the past three years I am gobsmacked at how helpful, friendly and downright lovely a Facebook group can be (based on the usual mix you get). Now at 5000 connected folk, we are the equivalent of a small town – and the best thing is, you all made it the success it is. Thanks for that (and please use the files section and the search function X)

David Grindlay, Public Sector Comms Headspace co-admin

In the four years of the group, I can count on the fingers of one hand we’ve had to make decisive. Bear in mind the tens of thousands of posts that’s not such a bad return.

Share the disasters

Years ago, someone bold at a conference presented all that went wrong with her project rather than the glossy version. It was bold, fun and the audience learned lots. I’ve never seen that approach again in public.

The walled garden of the Headspace group has encouraged people to open up in a more trusting environment.

I really like the way the people generously share good practice, as well as triumphs and disasters. It’s a great space to get advice, support, acknowledgment and a have a wee rant in a safe supportive space. It’s a home of best practice and best pals…Life without Headspace would be a dull, less informed and a more frustrated place.

Jane Stork, Public Sector Comms Headspace member

Get different perspectives

The strength of a team can be people pulling together but its weakness can be everyone does things the same way.

The value of a broad group has been to get diofferent perspectives whether that be from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, the USA or New Zealand.

Or from people who don’t work directly in comms.

What I get from being a member of Headspace? Context and perspective and lots of funny jokes, and grammar pedantry. My role is a strange one, for someone mostly in IT, and it is good to be among people who also have a corporate-wide ambit, an ambition to be recognised as “professional”, but who have to battle to have their contributions valued, accepted and NOT undermined (deliberately or otherwise.

Sweyn Hunter, Public Sector Comms Headspace member

Share to save time

Back when social media was knew there’s a perception that it is a one-way street of timewasting. Sometimes that view persists. But by asking a question of a group it is possible to get an answer that will trim hours and days off your to-do list.

I’ve found it hugely helpful to have access to Devon’s accessibility content, which has saved us a massive amount of work. We’ve been able to re-purpose the content to fit and haven’t needed to re-invent the wheel. It’s helped us come on leaps and bounds with our guidance for staff, which we were struggling to find time for.

John Day, Public Sector Comms Headspace member

The group is one of my go-to places online when I need advice, information and support from fellow public sector comms pros. Whether I’m just looking for sympathy or a fully-fledged strategic response, there’s usually someone in the community of brilliant, dedicated, underappreciated and often very funny people who is more than willing to help.

Mark Roberts, Public Sector Comms Headspace member

Understanding, camaraderie, friendship and excellent advice and information. Feeling good or bad – the group is there for you.

Kate Pratt, Public Sector Comms Headspace member

Thank you to everyone who has posted, shared and liked anything in the group over the last five years. My self and David Grindlay think you are brilliant.

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

“We’re trying to get our heads around TikTok,” someone asked the other day. “Wouldn’t it be far simpler to advertise to reach an audience?

On the face of its a really straight forward potentially bright idea.

TikTok is hot with more than 11 milliuon UK users and mainly from the hard-to-reach U24 demographic.

Can’t you just get your credit card out and magic yourself in front of an audience?

For the purposes of reaching a younger audience in a local lockdown it feels like a magic bullet.

But I wouldn’t for these reasons

Until you’ve got to know your platform you don’t really know what good content looks like. Like chucking cash at a badly designed pdf, anything you did put money behind you may well be wasting.

Not only that, in summer 2020 TikTok advertising is very high level. You can have the UK. You can even have Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland or England. But you can’t select your town, city or borough.

If you’re a national agency that becomes an option. If you’re Birmingham City Council it doesn’t.

For TikTok, get to know the platform

If you are sold on TikTok then spend time with the platform to see how it works so you can create something of value. Then create something of value.

Or you can advertise on YouTube

There is more than one route up the mountain. If you are trying to find a younger demographic you may want to advertise via YouTube instead.

You can select the geographic location.

And you can sort out the demographic.


Picture credit: Flickr / Documerica.

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

“We’re trying to get our heads around TikTok,” someone asked the other day. “Wouldn’t it be far simpler to advertise to reach an audience?

On the face of its a really straight forward potentially bright idea.

TikTok is hot with more than 11 milliuon UK users and mainly from the hard-to-reach U24 demographic.

Can’t you just get your credit card out and magic yourself in front of an audience?

For the purposes of reaching a younger audience in a local lockdown it feels like a magic bullet.

But I wouldn’t for these reasons

Until you’ve got to know your platform you don’t really know what good content looks like. Like chucking cash at a badly designed pdf, anything you did put money behind you may well be wasting.

Not only that, in summer 2020 TikTok advertising is very high level. You can have the UK. You can even have Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland or England. But you can’t select your town, city or borough.

If you’re a national agency that becomes an option. If you’re Birmingham City Council it doesn’t.

For TikTok, get to know the platform

If you are sold on TikTok then spend time with the platform to see how it works so you can create something of value. Then create something of value.

Or you can advertise on YouTube

There is more than one route up the mountain. If you are trying to find a younger demographic you may want to advertise via YouTube instead.

You can select the geographic location.

And you can sort out the demographic.


Picture credit: Flickr / Documerica.

Success! You’re on the list.
Whoops! There was an error and we couldn’t process your subscription. Please reload the page and try again.

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

Do you live in a tower block as a social tenant?

Have you ever had — or are you still having — problems with any of the following?

  • Damp or mould
  • Leaking pipes
  • Cracks in the walls or ceilings
  • Broken windows, doors, lifts, etc
  • Poor repairs, or repairs that never get done
  • Fire risks, such as dangerous cladding or cluttered fire escape routes
  • Pests such as fleas, cockroaches, vermin or moth
  • Unsafe gas or electricity
  • Poor heating
  • Landlords that don’t respond, or don’t fulfil their legal duties

If so, Tower Blocks UK would love to hear from you — and if the problem is ongoing, help to point you in the right direction so that you can take steps to get things resolved.

As you may recall, we recently co-launched the FixMyBlock website in partnership with Tower Blocks UK. It is designed to help tenants get problems resolved, whether that takes a letter quoting the relevant laws to your landlord, or escalating the issue to another level. It suggests a range of possible routes, from contacting your local councillor, for example, to getting together with other tenants to form a united action group.

Now, it would be great to hear tenants’ real-life experiences so they can be included on the site. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at the end of the story — you got your problem fixed — or are still trying different methods to solve the issue. Either way, we’d really like to know more.

Sharing experiences can help others who are having a similar problem. It tells them they are not alone, and may give new ideas on how to rectify the issue.

So, if you have a tower block-related problem and you’re happy to tell us all about it, please let us know on this form.

Image: Professor Paul Wenham-Clarke


Original source – mySociety

As you can imagine there’s a lot to do in a design sprint. Last time I wrote about why we would choose a design sprint, who we need to involve, and how I like to shape days. In this part, we’ll look at how I organise a typical week, focusing on the mapping and sketching days.

I’m a big believer in planning and spending the right amount of time on understanding a problem and coming up with ideas as team. These first 2 days are so important because they’ll set the direction for the rest of the week. It’s time for the whole team to influence direction, so prepare to bring a whole load of energy and get everyone involved.

As Gaz, our head of design says, “We’re all custodians of good design.”

Daily themes

Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky came up with different themes for each day of a 5 day design sprint, which help to provide a focus and direction:

  • Monday – map
  • Tuesday – sketch
  • Wednesday – decide
  • Thursday – prototype
  • Friday – test

A lot of people take the vanilla Google Ventures design sprints and quite rightly rework them to fit their needs. It’s not unusual for an organisation to have conducted research, pulled out the findings, and have a lot of context and lessons learned to share with the team. Or you may find that they already have an idea of what they need to do and you need to speak to comparator organisations that have done something similar.

In situations like this, some of the Monday activities may not be required.  You may choose to reframe activities to change their purpose, or shorten them and use them as a way not to find out something new but to share context with team members.

After you have a couple of design sprints under your belt, you’ll be in a good position to understand what you expect to gain from the activities and be able to cherrypick the ones that are of benefit to you. For the purpose of this blog post, we’ll look at the default activities. If in doubt or if you’re new to this, then I’d recommend that you follow this schedule.

Monday – map

Monday is when we become trailblazers and forge a path for the rest of the week. We think about our long term goals, things that can stop us from achieving them, map user journeys and speak to experts, all to find an area that we want to focus on.

Before we can start work, we need to know what the purpose of the design sprint is. So we begin the day by looking into the future and identifying our long term goal.

Defining the long term goal

This is a very optimistic view of the world, so don’t worry about anything that could possibly go wrong or cause the project to fail. Instead, focus on a world where our service is a complete success and try to describe what it does in a sentence.

Sometimes organisations have an idea of what this is before the design sprint begins. Other times you’ll need to review what you already know and the project scope, and try to reconcile the two. This can be done using a number of different techniques like writing problem statements.

It’s important to keep it short. Long goals that span sentences and paragraphs are warning signs that the team may not have a clear understanding of what they’re trying to accomplish. If you can’t articulate your goal in a sentence or 2 then I would strongly suggest that you pause, speak to the team and stakeholders, and get something agreed. It’s better to spend time getting clarity at this stage.

Once you have the long term goal, I like to ask everyone to do following:

  • try to write down why we’re doing this
  • state where we want to be in 5 years’ time when this is a mature and fully formed service, then
  • affinity sort your post-its

I find value in affinity sorting at the end as it gives time to reflect on what others have written and simplifies a board of post-its into a handful of more memorable themes.

Sprint questions

Now that we know where we want to get to, it’s time to flip things on their heads. Try to be pessimistic. Get into the mindset that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, and list your assumptions, blockers, and problems under some question headers:

  1. What has to be true to achieve our long-term goal?
  2. If the website/service was a failure then what may have caused that?
  3. What questions do we want to answer in this design sprint?

Map the journey

We need to map the user journey to capture the complexity and nuance of the service. We’ll use this throughout the week and refine it as we learn more. It’s a prop to see how everything fits together and works as a memory aid.

Start with the users on the left hand side. Remember that this could be members of the public, or staff working in a back office. Then add the end of their transaction/journey on the right. While it’s tempting to want to start filling out the middle straight away, after all, that’s where the fun stuff is, it’s important to agree on an ending or output.

Once we have this in place it becomes easier to fill in the gaps using post-its and arrows. We’re looking for something functional and simple, not a work of art that’s really detailed. The ideal map should be anywhere between 5 and 15 steps.

Ask the experts

Now we can see things taking shape, it’s time to get some more detail. This is traditionally done through a series of discussions with subject matter experts. These discussions will be part discovering new information and part building a foundation of shared knowledge for the team. Don’t be afraid to ask “simple questions”, especially if you know the answers as other people may not.

When speaking to people outside the sprint team it’s important to explain what you’re trying to do. While not a definitive list, these 7 steps will certainly help.

  1. Introduce the sprint, don’t assume any prior knowledge, and say what it’s about
  2. Be clear on time frames. If a person knows how long they have it can help them answer in an appropriate amount of detail
  3. Review your work. Spend a few minutes going over the goal, sprint questions, journey map, and anything else that may be relevant
  4. Now they have the context we can ask them to tell us what they know about the challenge we’re facing
  5. Ask questions, dig deep, get them to fill in the blanks in what you know, and ask them what you’re missing. They might tell you that you’ve misunderstood something and it’s better to know that now, than when user testing
  6. Update your work. Experts might tell you things that change your understanding. Capture this otherwise you’ll forget and that nugget of truth will be lost to the sands of time
  7. Listen for problems they identify and record them as “how might we?” notes

“How might we?” notes

This is a really powerful exercise as it’s a way to change problems into opportunities. It’s also something that’s undeniably awkward when doing it the first few times. That’s not a problem or a reason not to do it, just warn people and ask them to go with it. You’d be surprised at how far that will go to allaying any worries.

Remember that the whole team wants to succeed. It’s helpful for them to know that others may also find aspects of the sprint challenging. I explicitly mention it here, because if you’re doing this remotely it’ll be harder to read the room and track people’s emotions.

The process of creating “how might we?” notes is relatively straightforward. Put HMW on a post-it then listen for a problem. Then rephrase this as a question and save the post-it.

After asking the experts, put all the “how might we?” notes in a single place and affinity sort them. I’d recommend setting a time limit for this. Apps like Miro allow you to set timers so people can work on this activity individually or together. You should see your jumbled mess become a collection of themes.

Now we need to find out what the most important things are. This could be the biggest or riskiest problem or the area where you feel the team can add the most value. Dot voting is a great way to stop this becoming a lengthy debate that’ll drain energy and momentum. Again many apps will allow you to give each person a few votes. When remote these 2 activities provide a much needed break from the video call, people can mute themselves, turn off cameras, and think about the tasks.

The last step is to take the post-its with votes and map them on the journey map you created earlier. This should now provide some indication of where the biggest opportunity is and will segue nicely into the last activity of the day.

Pick a target for the sprint

A post it from design sprint work that we did with the British Library which reads, "Reflect libraries while promoting a national voice"

A post it from design sprint work that we did with the British Library which reads, “Reflect libraries while promoting a national voice”

While this ultimately falls on the decider, they should have some good direction from the last activity. Not everybody is comfortable making this decision especially if it’s their first time in the role. If they would like some help, then run a straw poll.

Get people to vote anonymously by indicating which part of the map they think is most important, discuss any differences in opinion, then your decider should be ready to make a decision. Choose one target user and one target step on the map and this will become the focus of the sprint.

Now we can look back at our sprint questions and we should see one or more line up with the target.

Tuesday – sketch

Tuesday is ideas day. We’ll seek inspiration for solutions, review ideas, remix and improve them. In the afternoon, we’ll produce a solution sketch that’ll inform our prototype and user testing.

Lightning demos

As Picasso said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” So don’t reinvent the wheel here. Review your sprint goal and target and with these 2 things in mind, look to the real world for examples of how people have approached similar problems.

We’re looking for things that can inspire us, and this doesn’t preclude looking at solutions within the same field or industry. I’d normally recommend spending about 25 minutes on desk research for each idea. If people prefer, this can be done beforehand in preparation for the day.

Once everyone has prepared, it’s time to play this information back to the team in quick 3 minute demos. Assign someone to capture the best ideas as you go. A useful technique can be to write a headline that encapsulates the idea, some people like to pair that with a rough sketch if you have time.

It’s useful to get people to share their particular themes in advance, so you don’t end up looking at the same kind of thing. Some people might come back with one idea to demo, others may have several. 3 ideas per person is a good amount to aim for, but it’s not a problem to have less.

At the end of this activity, you’ll probably have 10 to 20 good ideas. Enough to be representative of the best ideas but small enough so that you are not overwhelmed.

Divide or swarm

This is more of a quick chat and decision rather than a full-blown activity. We know what we want to look at, but this could cover a couple of sections of a website/service. Look at the size of your team and work out if you’re all going to focus on the same thing or spread out and look at 2 or more.

If you’re dividing up then there’s no need to get a perfect distribution.


To some people, this is both the most intimidating and fun part of the design sprint. Some people find sketching activities tough. They worry that they can’t produce something that’ll be useful. It’s really important to acknowledge this and that they’re not the first person to feel this way and they won’t be the last.

Fortunately, the Sprint book has a fantastic 4 step sketching process that, in my experience, never fails (you can see the highlights here). I frequently get feedback that the sketching activities turned out to be really rewarding.

Set expectations and try to make people comfortable

A sketch from our work with the British Library showing an example of what their online service could look like

A sketch from our work with the British Library showing an example of what their online service could look like

Dedicate some time to talk to people through what we’ll be doing. Explain that the sketches we’ll make are not pieces of art, they’re a functional representation of our abstract ideas. If you have examples of sketches from previous design sprints, then show them. Showing what good looks like gives people something tangible to aim for.

4 step sketch

Sketching is an independent activity to allow for some deep thinking, but it’s important to offer people help if they need it. If you’re facilitating, make it clear how someone can ask for help, be it via Slack, video call, or another way.

Step 1 – review what we learned

This is a simple first step and a great confidence booster. Explore the Miro board, look at whiteboards, post-its, notes, doodles. These are all the notable things we’ve learned and didn’t want to forget. Use these to refresh your memory.

Copy the sprint goal, questions, map, “how might we?” notes, lightning demos, and anything else that speaks to you. We’re not looking to draw insights or form ideas at this stage, or to sketch. This is to cement your knowledge. I like to copy the main points to paper, then highlight the most important bits.

Step 2 – create ideas

Next, we take this information and create some rough ideas. The output of this step is normally very different for each individual. Some people will doodle, others will write down a sentence or headline that captures an idea. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, as long as you’re collecting ideas then you’re on the right track.

It’s important to remember that no-one else will see this step. It’s fine if you’ve drawn something that’s part finished as long as it makes sense to you. Once I’ve completed this step I like to spend a minute quickly prioritising my ideas. The objective here is to identify the best ideas so that we can explore them more in step 3.

Step 3 – crazy 8s

If you’ve ever played a game like Pictionary then you have an idea what to expect in this activity. Take your strongest idea and sketch 8 different versions of it in 8 minutes. The goal is to push past the obvious initial solutions and consider alternatives that could make the idea better. Push yourself to think of as many different versions as possible.

When you’ve finished, you might have unearthed a gem or an exciting new direction for an idea. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, and occasionally that first idea really was the best. Don’t worry if this is the case, it’s still a valuable activity. At the very least you’ll have broken through the initial awkwardness we sometimes feel when sketching.

Step 4 – the solution sketch

This is what we’ve been leading up to, now’s the time to sketch your best idea. Throughout this process, we’ve been reviewing what we’ve learned and trying to turn abstract ideas into concrete sketches. Our solution sketch will be shared with the team to help us solve the challenge we’re grappling with.

A good solution sketch will be opinionated, detailed, well thought out, easy to understand, and anonymous. Someone should be able to look at the sketch and understand what it is and what it’s trying to do without being biased by personal relationships and feelings.

Throughout the sketching process, we’re aiming for functional drawing, not fine art. This is still true for solutions sketches. If a sketch shows the whole idea and is sufficiently detailed, then that’s the right amount of art. At this point, you may want to think about words. This doesn’t mean that you need to write all the content for a page but you can think about titles, buttons, and other pieces of text.

The format of your solution sketch could be a short 3 or 4 step storyboard, or if it’s a more focused problem, an in-depth look at a page, interaction, or transaction. Pick what works for you and the solution you’re proposing. Lastly, give it a catchy title. It will help everyone when we get to discussing the different solution sketches. ‘The big cheese’ is a lot less ambiguous than solution sketch 4a.

The next part of this series will look at the deciding, prototyping, and testing stages.

The post How we do design sprints – mapping and sketching days (part 2) appeared first on dxw.

Original source – dxw

Jude Robinson in her home office

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be part of a discovery sprint, you’ll know how insanely intense they can be, yet equally fun and rewarding. Everyone is in it together, face to face in a large room, surrounded by Post-It notes and Sharpies, understanding the problem to address, identifying the pain points, proposing and validating solutions.

So being asked to lead a rapid discovery in the middle of a pandemic, with everyone scattered around the country and only a Skype connection to join us together was challenging.

With a few simple steps we’ve amazed ourselves with how much we’ve achieved and the extremely positive feedback from participants – one colleague commented that it was the “best discovery ever”! It wasn’t always easy, so by sharing our experiences, the positives and the pitfalls, we hope to inspire others to run remote rapid discoveries.  Here are our top tips.

1: Find the right tools

 Once we had our clear purpose, finding ways to communicate and collaborate remotely was the first challenge. How might we run the discovery sessions if we weren’t all together, capture the conversation and create a repository for all to see?

After some trial and error with audio quality in Teams, we compromised on a combination of Teams for the visual sharing and organising of content offline, with Skype for the audio / video communication. and presenting the content in Teams online.

Whilst Skype was proven and accessible to all, Teams was new territory. Top tip – ask for the help of experts setting up and test, test, test! We quickly learnt how to create an online team environment, to work collaboratively and organise a tonne of content in one space, but we couldn’t have done it as effectively without help and making sure it all worked upfront!

We also created a WhatsApp group for our own internal core team communications. This was handy for asking a quick question, or sharing a problem when in sessions without all the attendees knowing – priceless!

The biggest miss from our traditional discovery sessions was a sketching tool to express ideas and concepts. This allows us to mock-up scenarios, storyboards and validate customer journeys or navigation flows – we’re still working on this for our remote sessions.

2: Plan, plan & plan

 Whilst you can overthink this part of the process, never under-estimate the importance of planning! Having a clear agenda, with sessions planned and calendar invites sent to previously identified stakeholders, is essential.  Briefing sessions beforehand to manage expectations so you can get a good start on day one, having ironed out any questions, are invaluable.

Another top tip – If you’re not ready, don’t start!  We made the difficult decision to delay by two weeks. It was the best outcome as we were far more effective executing the discovery as a result, simply because it allowed us to ensure that everything was set up correctly in Teams

3: Involve the right people in the right way

 Conducting the discovery was about getting a common understanding of the problems and ensuring any recommendations would be right for the users. We needed to rely heavily on the end users and customers, so identifying all the areas and roles impacted and who our best people are was crucial. We then invested the time in getting the buy-in to have them involved, being clear on what, why and when.

Top tip – it’s better to involve less people! Having the right person represent each area was far more productive that inviting a cast of thousands when working remotely. We still get a representative view, whilst also allowing those representatives to go back to their areas and gather more feedback and bring it back to later sessions. Encouraging everyone’s engagement and participation is much easier in small groups.

Some of the team that worked on the remote discovery session

4: Create an engaging environment

 It’s always harder creating that engaging environment remotely. We used ice breakers and personal profiles to help us get to know each other better at the start, hand-held people through the technology and signposted lots so everyone felt at ease. Teams also played a big part as it was set up to be really open, collaborative and transparent whether in sessions or not.

For stakeholders we shared up front how and when we’d share back, with weekly show and tells, access to Teams to see what we were up to and a dial in for 30 minutes at the end of every day for anyone who wanted an update or to share feedback. This level of transparency was really well received given how remote we were.

Top tip – use visuals as people tend to get lost without them, and ensure there’s a facilitator and assistant to guide the session. It’s also important to be flexible with timings if you’re having good, relevant conversations, and split sessions up with lots of breaks!

 5: Give yourselves enough time

 Finally, we learnt quickly that we needed more time for everything when working remotely. Be ready to flex the agenda as you go through the discovery. A rapid discovery in four weeks for such a big topic was always going to be a challenge.  I’d suggest allowing a minimum two weeks prep time, six weeks discovery and two weeks to summarise for any governance forums.

Final top tip – say no, put Do Not Disturb on Skype and switch off emails! Whilst remote you are still online and potentially accessible compared to being hidden away in a room during a normal discovery session. It’s easy to get distracted, so it’s important to remove the temptations and focus.

A remote discovery comes packed with challenges but also has benefits, the obvious one being that people are more efficient with their use of time, costs and resources. In addition, they can be easier to coordinate and perform in small impactful iterations.  Agendas don’t have to be blocked for the full period, allowing more key stakeholders to join.

Whilst you can never take away the value of being together face to face, remote sessions can be as efficient and effective as being the in the same room. Perhaps a hybrid approach of both could work in the future.

Original source – DWP Digital

A sign that says "DDaT Profession"

The UK government’s rapid digital response to coronavirus (COVID-19) was a result of 10 years of investment in people, governance and technology. The ability to respond quickly and effectively was a result of the existing digital leadership and processes that already existed thanks to the work of the Government Digital Service (GDS).

A function is a priority area across government that requires central leadership, for example human resources, legal, and project management. Our position as function leaders meant GDS had a central role in coordinating the digital response to coronavirus. GDS’s work on the pandemic demonstrated that one of the benefits of agile digital government is the ability to respond rapidly and flexibly to meet urgent needs.

Here’s what we did, how we were able to do it and what we’ve learned so far.

Coordinating the DDaT response

In March, GDS set up the DDaT COVID-19 Working Group. It is a single, high-tempo forum to articulate needs, risks and issues. It met twice a week from March to May, and weekly since then. Members are from the devolved administrations, all departments and the Parliamentary Digital Service.

So what did it help solve? Interoperability was a challenge faced across the public sector. Different remote organisations could not talk to one another due to inconsistent rules on video conferencing software. The Working Group solved this through Project Unblock. GDS worked with the Government Security Group (GSG) and National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), to publish guidance on secure video collaboration and tested how the most widely used tools work across different departments. As well as helping civil servants, our work helped facilitate the first ever virtual Cabinet meeting.

Another shared obstacle was the increase in remote working. To tackle this, the Working Group shared GSG and NCSC approved Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies. The group also facilitated hardware supplies making sure laptops were available to those in government that needed them most.

Alongside the Working Group, GDS created the COVID-19 Resource Hub. The hub dealt with more than 300 requests for assistance and provided information or deployed experts where they were needed most. The hub placed 250 DDaT specialists into critical roles, many who created services to help some of the most vulnerable in society.

Without GDS, we would have needed to rely more heavily on contract support in key roles. As a relatively new unit, we are still building our DDaT capability so the Resourcing Hub was able to support us at a crucial time. I particularly valued their in-depth understanding of the DDaT Profession which meant our needs did not require translation and that in turn led to better matching.

– Nayeema Chowdhury, Head of Digital Transformation at NHSX

GDS also made and ran the DDaT COVID-19 services dashboard. This provided a detailed live picture of what was happening across government in its digital, operational and user-facing activities. We used this information to help collaboration, avoid duplication of work and identify any blockers.

Welsh Government has been an active member of the COVID-19 DDaT working group established by GDS and was instrumental in helping establish the devolved administrations/GDS/Cabinet Office comms collaboration group. We have found both groups an invaluable source of help during the current pandemic. Establishing these groups has set the groundwork for more effective intergovernmental collaboration.

– Caren Fullerton, Former Chief Digital Officer, Welsh Government

The collective power of the DDaT teams

The DDaT Function built more than 150 new and augmented COVID-19-related services, to date. Teams created high profile services at pace that met security, data and design standards, stood up to record traffic and that required cross-functional collaboration.

One example is the Vulnerable People Service. The service enabled the delivery of over 4 million food boxes to clinically extremely vulnerable people by early August. It required collaboration between central government, local authorities and the private sector. Taking a function-wide approach meant the right people were in the right place to make decisions, set up data sharing agreements and make sure help reached the people it needed to.

Another prominent service was the Business Support Tool. It let private sector companies offer support to the government, and took just 4 days to establish and recruited 40,000 offers of support.

The DDaT COVID-19 Working Group’s efforts facilitated the creation of these services by making sure DDaT experts had the right tools to build the services, the right channels to talk to one another and access to the right information. 

Our digital response was 10 years in the making

Digital is at the heart of the government’s response to coronavirus because of our existing strong digital foundations. Since 2011, GDS has created digital tools, products and policies, and developed DDaT capability – all infrastructure and talent that was leveraged during this crisis.

For instance, the GOV.UK Design System – a library of GOV.UK styles, components and patterns – meant accessible services were designed rapidly.

Already in place were GDS’s suite of Government as a Platform (GaaP) products. These tackle common challenges that service teams face – like how to communicate with users or take payment. GOV.UK Notify, the government’s communication tool, saw a 700% increase in usage, with organisations like NHS Business Services Authority using it to send 17 million text messages to vulnerable people in its initial coronavirus response. Another GaaP tool – GOV.UK Verify, which lets people prove they are who they say they are – saw a 900% increase in demand. And, GOV.UK Pay let some local authorities set up services the same day in order to securely take donations for crisis funds and food banks.

The UK government has had a single trusted domain since 2012: GOV.UK. It became the centrepiece of the government’s communication campaign for coronavirus. It held up to record traffic – peaking at 132 million page views in a single week – cementing the importance of having one canonical source of information. This figure is only counting users who accept cookies that measure website use, so the true figures would be even higher. The UK’s digital policies and governance were also already in place to enable this rapid scaling.

And, all of this response would not have been possible without the huge effort of the people who made it happen. The response relied on digital capability and expertise to make policy into reality quickly – often going from concept to live in just a few days. Like the GOV.UK coronavirus landing page, a page that received 750,000 views in its first 24 hours of going live, and was set up in under 5 days. 

What we learned

Coronavirus has not disappeared and our digital response continues.

We can look back on our initial work to see what we’ve learned. GDS’s position in the Cabinet Office lets it take a holistic and systems approach to digital transformation and means it can enable interoperability, let services be set up quicker and solve common problems.

It’s important to continue to build digital capability, work in the open and share learnings to make sure this is addressed. What is shared across organisations – the digitally mature to those at the start of their transformation journey – is this desire to share experiences and learn from others.

The importance of user-centred design (UCD) should not be underestimated. Our users need clear, simple and trusted services to help them in hugely challenging times. It’s value is recognised across the Working Group and it’s clear the difference it has made.

We want to retain the collaboration that happens when everyone is working together towards one all encompassing issue. It makes government work better for users when conversations happen across different teams, organisations and sectors to continuously refine our shared understanding of the user needs we must meet.

We’ll keep working hard to make sure digital teams across the public sector can deliver and improve the critical services needed and relied upon by millions of people during coronavirus.

Original source – Government Digital Service

I compiled a list of the most common metonyms used in UK Defence, with some help from Twitter. This list arose from a need to help User Researchers who are new to UK defence to get a quick handle on some of the words we use to describe the main organisations and groupings – and…

Original source – Blog – Robin Riley

Coffee: I’ve been limiting my drinking to no more than two mugs a day, none after lunchtime. Knock on effect: I’ve been drinking more tea. I went right off black tea a few years ago and went right on to green tea. But green tea after green tea after green tea can get a little monotonous, so I’ve been exploring the world of teas more. I got a sample box from Mission a month or so back. Their energise tea has given me a little lift when I’ve needed it. Anyway. Hit me with your favourite teas.

With a few gaps in my diary I opened it up wider for half hour slots to have catch ups. I’m so glad I did. The last 12 months I’ve not really connected with any sense of a wider network, really gone into my shell. I’ve started popping back to meet-ups (which lockdown has helped with because they’re all remote) and having remote chats. The deluge from opening my calendar was unexpected, lots of sessions, talking with people from contrasting ends of spectrums: people in our “digital industry” to people who aren’t; people early in their career to people who’ve been at it a while; “employees” to “business owners”; some were just catch up chats, others more of a focus. I am doing it again this coming week and every week going forward. If you fancy a hello, a catch up or talking about something see what’s free here.

I like videogames. I try to play them here and there when I can. Even really playing one game at a time this means it takes me a while to get through anything. I’ve recently been focused on Control on the PS4. I’d hit a point coming into the week where I just couldn’t get past a big bad and was tempted to give it up. You know that point when you hit a point in anything that is just a time sink? No matter what you do, you’re just spending time making no progress, then you become aware there’s other things to do elsewhere, life’s too short and all that? I didn’t want to give up, I was quite enjoying following the story. And all that brutalist architecture is quite my thing. I gave it just one more go, one last go and a-ha got past the big bad. The rest of the game was relatively straightforward. By the end of the week I had finished playing through the story of Control. Glad I had. The story was worth it.

Assemble with Care was downloaded onto the iPad over the weekend, and I got an hour on it, and coooooo-eeeee that’s a sweet sweet little game, softly softly introducing you to how things are made by taking them apart and fixing them. Taking my time with it as it seems short and I don’t want that experience to be over too soon.

I enjoyed listening to Badly Drawn Boy’s recent album, Banana Skin Shoes, a couple of times — and by listen I mean listen not just passively have it on in the background. When was the last time you focused on an album like that?

The plan was for this week to be a softer start back working after my first weeks off in 2020. I’ve been a bit picky about what I do, making sure whatever I do has some level of interestingness for me. My attempts to get a full time job elsewhere didn’t work out so I had a good think about if I keep doing “my own thing” why am I doing that? which helps form what is that?. This means I say “no” a lot more than I might have done previously. It’s been good to get back working doing some work with a group of good people at a place with a strong idea of product, who all treat each other and their work with mutual respect. It’s very grown up. Also seeds for more work were laid. Not as soft a week back as I planned but still nothing strenuous.

After a couple of shorter runs earlier in the week it became a frustrating week of running, niggles throughout the week making me think twice about going out. By Saturday I felt OK and went for a run while the boy was at basketball but 4km in my right calf started playing up. Slowing up I still got in a 10km session round north-west Leeds, but it wiped out my chances of doing a virtual half marathon the next day. I felt a bit mopey that I hadn’t managed to hit the 300 miles mark for the Great North Run Solo “gold”. But then I realised I’d run 422km in 2 months and 2 weeks and still on track to run 2000km in 2020, even after a big injury. To make up for No Running On Sunday I got on my bike, still hooked up to the turbo trainer, and had an hour pedalling. I keep saying I’ll do a bit more cycling — and by “a bit more” I mean even doing a bit — but I will I will do two or three sessions this coming week.

Seeing out the weekend watching game 6 of Western Conference semi-final between the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets was just the ticket. The Nuggets, needing to win to stay in the playoffs, were 19 points down early in the third quarter and were 13 points up by the end of a super game of basketball. There’s a lot of social media talk about Steve Kerr’s player coaching, but the Nuggets’ Michael Malone doesn’t anything near as much praise. He should.

My reading wasn’t that great this week and I’ve still to finish off season 2 of Luke Cage. Goals for the coming week.

Original source – Simon Wilson

Claire Oldham, operations manager at Hackney Council and Scott Shirbin, delivery manager at FutureGov

We’ve been working with Hackney Council and MadeTech, collaboratively redesigning their Benefits and Housing Needs. We’re inviting you to follow our work through shared sprint notes as we design a service which is easily understood, fair, accessible and beneficial to Hackney residents. These sprint notes were first published by Hackney. You can follow our process on HackIT, and the other great work happening at Hackney Council.

A few weeks have passed since our last entry, and a lot has happened. Really, a lot.

The project team has now come to the end of our year-long project, so here’s a recap of the impact over the last phase, and what you can expect to see next in Hackney.

Understanding Vulnerability Snapshot

Yes, we’ve changed the name from ‘Understanding Vulnerability’ to ‘Snapshot’. If you haven’t been following the Snapshot allows staff to build a bigger picture of the resident’s situation when they contact any part of the service.

Last time we showed you some feedback we had from testing. As designers do, we started to iterate the tool and ensure a smooth transition from ‘Alpha’ to ‘Beta’. We also ran 1–1 interviews and feedback surveys to understand if staff can learn more about a resident, and if they can recommend additional resources during a conversation when using Snapshot:

  • 63% agreed they learnt something new or unexpected about the resident
  • 64% recommended a resource or useful service to the resident during the interaction

Above you’ll see our hypothesis and the outcomes we hoped to achieve. At the moment we believe we’re on our way to start achieving some of our short-term and medium-term outcomes, with staff reporting:

As further development is now paused on the Snapshot tool, we’re looking to set up an 8–10 week pilot that goes deeper into user research. Once these weeks are over, we should have enough information to help inform our beta backlog, and know what to do next.

Evidence Store

Over the last month, we’ve been building the API for the Evidence Store to work across other tools such as Single View. All that good work is now finished and the API is ready to go. We’ll be making sure the new API:

  • saves time
  • reduces duplication
  • is easier for staff and residents to use

The API has now launched, allowing staff to request documents from Single View. This means staff can prepare for a conversation with a resident by reading all their case notes, mark any vulnerabilities and strengths and then request supporting documents needed for a benefit claim (and more) from one place.

This will save staff a lot of time, and we’ll be doing further benchmarking to make sure we’re delivering the impact we’re aiming for.

Self-Service Tools and Shared Plan

Why are these things together? After the last few weeks, some of the work has blended and we’ve found that having a ‘pre-assessment plan’ to give to a resident with easy to follow steps has proved extremely valuable.

The pre-assessment plan
The pre-assessment plan is taking the shared plan we’ve created and allowing it to be created before initial contact with a resident; either at the assessment stage or the first conversation. It helps residents understand their housing options and what they can do to prevent their own situation getting worse.

After some initial testing:

  • shared plans were created and sent to 12 residents
  • 7 out of 12 residents completed actions in their plans (58%)
  • of these 7, they completed 52 out of 67 actions set (78%)
  • overall, 52 out of 100 actions set were completed (52%)

This shows great success through helping manage expectations and allowing us to understand how residents engage with these tools.

Multidisciplinary shared plan
Another use of the shared plan has been one that’s created with different teams and professionals across the council. By breaking down silos the council can offer a resident better outcomes and a consistent approach. We now have four of these plans, owned by the benefits and housing needs service and working with partners.

Over the next eight weeks, the council is running an experiment to see if using the Shared Plan with residents who are in the most complex situations will save staff time and result in better outcomes.

  • does this save staff time in casework (moving from email chains, responding to enquiries)?
  • does this improve the experience for staff (working together to solve a problem, making progress towards an outcome)?
  • does this improve the experience for residents (transparency, clarity, sense of ownership)?
  • does this result in better outcomes for residents (case resolved sooner, staff confidence in the outcome)?

What does it all mean?

What do all of these things mean together and how do they help a resident on their journey?

Over the last year, we’ve been working with the benefits and housing needs service to design and build a service that we’re proud of. A service which is easily understood, fair, accessible and beneficial to Hackney residents.

A service that’s joined-up, can expand the good work already happening and delivers the best outcome for a resident. Over the last week, we’ve been capturing stories of how these tools work together, to achieve our vision.

There’s a lot more work to do, but this past year we’ve seen staff change the way they work and build the future they want to see.

That’s all folks. Want to know more?

Our most recent Show & Share Session 03/09/20. Feel free to get in touch with Claire or Scott if you’d like to chat through any of the work.

Sprint notes 12: a recap was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original source – FutureGov