Wall with A4 printouts headed "We are design and user-led"
I’m starting to write this on a sleepy Friday evening train back to Leeds, two and a half years and one day since I started at NHS Digital. I won’t publish it for a week or so now, out of deference to the pre-election period. This morning at Leeds Station I popped my postal vote in the pillar box, just before boarding the 7:15 train to London. Whatever the outcome on 12 December, by the time you read this, public servants all over the UK will be exercising their innate talents for responding to change over following a plan.

I took a bus from King’s Cross to Elephant and Castle so I could stay above ground for a call with Nuremberg-based Global Service Jam legend Markus. He has exciting plans for next year, which I hope I can play a small part in.

At Skipton House, NHS Digital’s London base, I shared a meeting room with Simon from NHS X as we took part in a call with corporate portfolio office colleagues from both our organisations, remotely yet expertly chaired by Iain.

Then I went down to the atrium to chat with a brilliant product lead who I hope will be tempted to join us for an important new piece of work.

On the way back to the station, I took a detour via GDS at Aldgate for a coffee with someone who wanted to know what it’s like to work in digital for health and care. I’m two and a half years in, I told him, and I’m still learning new things every day.

A big part of my learning this year has been through the NHS Leadership Academy’s Nye Bevan Programme. I’m saving that for part 2 of this post. In this one I want to talk about progress in the multi-year mission to grow people-centred strategy, capability, tools, and culture inside NHS Digital and across the wider health and care system.

Scaling out

Revisiting my two-year note, I can see that I was not-so-subtly telegraphing a set of demands to my organisation – for the licence to work across a wider scope of our products and services, and for design and user research to be in the room more often when decisions are made. Six months ago I wrote:

We’re not yet across the whole of the product portfolio, including some of the critical services used by clinicians and health service administrators. That’s something I hope to address in the next 6 months.

I’ve been watching the way colleagues in other parts of government are taking design and user research up a level in their organisations, and am determined to do the same in the NHS.

To my surprise as much as anyone else’s, my leaders agreed.

Back in June, Wendy, the executive director for product development, invited me to create a new model for design and user research, and to present it to her directors’ strategy day.

I told the directors that user-centred design thrives in multi-disciplinary teams. Most of our designers and user researchers are embedded in them – close to where the work is, and helping product managers to make better decisions.

But, as Kristin Skinner and Peter Merholz note in ‘Org Design for Design Orgs’, 100% decentralised doesn’t scale. It means that user-centred design tools and operations are replicated in silos. Duplication costs us more and confuses our users (both patients and staff) when things designed in isolation don’t work well together.

This problem was accentuated in our case because all our most senior user-centred design staff were concentrated in one part of the directorate, working on citizen-facing services, while the organisation’s services for health professionals lacked design oversight.

We’d reached the point in our design maturity where Skinner and Merholz’s “centralised partnership” model looked like a good fit. This is how I drew it:

Diagram showing

The directors agreed. Helen, who was leading on strategy for the directorate, and her business management team provided practical support to make it happen.

Walking the floor

Six months later, Wendy has moved on, leaving me on the product development senior leadership team in the new role of associate director of design and user research. I’ll always be grateful for Wendy’s support, and I’m sad not to have the chance to work with her for longer at NHS Digital. Helen also left around the same time; I’m determined to keep working towards the strategy that she outlined for our directorate.

Rochelle and Tero being promoted – to heads of user research and design respectively – has instantly tripled the number of user-centred design specialists who sit alongside programme and service heads in the directorate extended leadership team. They’re already getting to work across the different sub-directorates to broker earlier involvement of user researchers and designers, at the right levels of seniority, and to set high standards for how we research and talk about user needs.

We’re also creating a small central team to coordinate across the 70 or so user-centred design roles that are starting to spread more consistently through the full range of our products and servicess.

The difference is palpable, spatially, as I walk the length of the 8th floor at Bridgewater Place, where the majority of our Leeds-based product development people work together.

Starting at the north end facing the railway station, is the NHS.UK team, whose user-centred design practices were already well up and running when I joined, coincidentally in the week of the 2017 election. It’s a sign of success that this service is moving to live, with an emphasis on continuous improvement and responding to the changing needs of the health and care system. Not so long ago, this would also have been where our user-centred design tour of Bridgewater Place would have ended.

Now, just across a clattery bridge across the atrium, is the NHS App, with a growing number of permanent staff working in blended teams with our suppliers.

Walking down the west side, with views out over Holbeck to Armley, I pass the small team preparing for discovery on book, refer and manage appointments. The name is a bit of a mouthful, but it’s important not to let it turn into an acronym before we even know what the scope is.

Three of our Digital Services Delivery graduate trainees sit nearby working on a ResearchOps discovery under the watch of senior user researcher Matt. If we get this right, our researchers will be freed up to spend more time understanding our users, supported by the firm foundations of research infrastructure and community.

Tucked around a corner near the kitchen is the accessibility lab space where teams will soon be able to test their products on a range of assistive technologies.

On the wall just before I get to reception are the outputs of the digital urgent and emergency care research, on which we partnered with Futuregov.

Heading south after reception past General Practice Information Technology, I get to the desks now earmarked for the central UCD team to sit together. It’s great to catch up more often with Tero, Rochelle, and Dean, even better when Nancy joins from London on a video call.

Tucked away around a corner is our wall, with A0 plotter-sized posters of Tero’s service taxonomy and system-wide patient experience map of health and care.

And across the way are the growing team working on screening. Rochelle and Shirley’s pioneering work in discovery has led to more designers and researchers joining that team as delivery ramps up.

We also have user-centred design professionals embedded with teams working on NHS login, 111 online, maternity, referrals, and pharmacy among others, as well as over in the Digital Delivery Centre. As profession lead, I’m proud of them all.

Design and user-led

User-centred design at NHS Digital is scaling out and levelling up, but there’s still more to do. As a user-centred design team, we’ve signed up for three missions to help make the whole product development directorate design and user-led. We’ll work to make sure that:

  1. there is user-centred design leadership across product development and all sub-directorates – we now have user-centred design leads for two of the four sub-directorates, and we’re discussing with the leaders of the other two, as their scale and scope of their services is still emerging.
  2. our teams understand principles and approaches of user-centred design and have had access to relevant training – Tero and Rochelle are rolling out a one-day introduction to user-centred design training course for all our colleagues, and we’ve set a target for everyone to have exposure to primary user research and assistive technologies.
  3. our new programmes are established as exemplars; from the start we establish design thinking and agile processes, including governance and funding – we’re focusing first on getting this right for three priority areas – the NHS App and login; screening; and book, refer and manage appointments.

It’s important that we show some tangible outputs for this investment in the central team. These are likely to include:

  • Updates to our design principles, co-created in beta two years ago with a small group of designers from across the system. They’re due a refresh based on everything we’ve learned together since.
  • Ways to make user research insights more visible and actionable across multiple teams.
  • A user-centred list of services, along with prototypes that cut across the historic programme silos, as so many user journeys do. Some say that fences make good neighbours, but user needs run like a river that respects nobody’s territory.
  • Continued development of the NHS.UK Frontend, which proved its worth when the team were asked to build a user-centred, responsive, and accessible launch website for NHS X in just a couple of weeks.

A product mindset

Design and user research leadership is only part of an overall operating model with a much stronger role for product managers, who are also part of the Digital Services Delivery group for which I’m profession lead.

The modern digital product mindset is a trifecta of user-centred design, agile multidisciplinary teamwork, and devops engineering practices. In conversations with colleagues across the directorate and beyond, I’ve been trying to articulate what we mean by all three, and how they fit together.

This has big implications for how we plan and manage our portfolio. This is what I’m currently advocating, informed by some of my Digital Services Delivery profession colleagues:

  • Digital portfolio management should be agile by default. The portfolio itself must be managed in an agile way, and decision-making processes aligned with the values and principles of the agile manifesto. Role definitions for the people involved should follow the Digital, Data, and Technology (DDAT) capability framework.
  • Professional product management is the connective tissue between over-arching NHS Long Term Plan-level commitments and the everyday work of our multidisciplinary teams. It’s the job of service owners and product managers to keep focus on the big picture, even as they work with teams on the detail of delivery. Product management artefacts such as the product vision, roadmap, and backlog exist at multiple levels, and enable more agile, multi-disciplinary decision-making throughout.
  • Not everything will be agile, but discovery should be mandatory regardless of delivery style. Dependencies should be designed out, not only identified and managed, and we should expect our future “buy” processes to be as agile as our “build” ones.
  • We should be clear what it means to “close” a project or programme. While programmes are temporary, planning must cover the whole lifecycle, from live through to the “retire” stage, which only occurs when the service is no longer needed. Because benefits and outcomes are under the leadership of product management throughout, the move to live should be a smooth transition, not a disruptive handoff.

Leading change

A big part of the summer months were taken over by organisation change as I was “proposal for change lead” for my profession group. To lead with care when people’s jobs are at stake requires constant sensitivity and attention to detail.

Content, design, and user research roles were in scope for this wave of change. If you’ve been paying any attention to the series so far, you’ll know by now that these are all roles we need more of for the future. This meant that most people could be immediately “slotted in” to roles in the new structure. Even so, the process was inevitably unsettling for people as they waited to have that confirmed, and a small number of people were put at risk of redundancy due to NHS Digital’s location strategy.

I couldn’t have completed this wave of change without the support of Ian, the profession’s executive sponsor, and the brilliant practice leads, especially Eva, who stepped in when the publication date for the proposal fell right in the middle of my two-week family holiday. The unsung heroes of organisation change are the HR and business management colleagues who keep on top of staff records and spreadsheets to make sure that the data on which decisions are based is correct, and stays correct.

As we worked through this wave, we’ve also been preparing for the next one, when the product and delivery management side of the profession will be in scope.

At times the practical and emotional demands of organisation change have felt like a denial of service attack on my ability get any of my other work done – even though, compared to some other change leads, my task was relatively straightforward. It’s important to keep sight of the purpose of all this: to equip our organisation with digital, data and technology skills for the future, so we can better serve patients, the public, and the wider NHS. Behind every number on a spreadsheet, there’s a real person with skills, experience, and career aspirations.

(Note to future self: never undertake organisation restructuring at the same time as significant house renovations. The new kitchen is lovely, but you need to have stability somewhere!)

The other side of being a profession lead is working with the always inspiring practice leads for each of our roles to develop professional standards and communities of practice. For professional standards, we align as much as possible to the  DDAT framework.

For communities of practice, we’ve stepped up collaboration across the health arms-length bodies. All five of the Digital Services Delivery communities have run events in the last 6 months, all of them self-organised by members of the profession, and all of them with participation from wider health system professionals as well as NHS Digital people. Going back to the beginnings of my time at NHS Digital, I identified “designers talking to each other” as one of the essential foundation stones of joined-up user experiences. This applies at system scale, as much as inside any one organisation.

Looking to the digital skills we need across health and care, I’ve been acting as interim programme head for NHS Digital’s bit of the Building a Digital Ready Workforce Programme. This means I get to talk professionalisation with James at Health Education England, and the blended team across our two organisations (three when we add in NHS England’s Digital Academy). This small, quietly committed group is a model of cross-system working that many others would do well to emulate. I hope I’m able to bring a different perspective as someone still relatively new to health, and having been involved in DDAT since pretty much the beginning of the framework in the GDS Capabilities Team.

A highlight in September was welcoming our new, and biggest ever, cohort of graduate trainees, in two tracks – user-centred design and product & delivery. I’ve been meeting regularly with one of them as a “career mentor.” I reckon I learn as much from Misaki as she does from me. Talking with people at the beginning of their user-centred design careers challenges me to separate core principles of the craft, which they’ll carry with them through their whole working lives, from the specific skills that they need in digital today, but that could be obsolete in just a few years’ time.

Looking outwards

Hours before the start of the pre-election period, Nicola released a draft of new guidance on how teams should involve people (patients, carers, citizens, the public – words matter and all have their place) in all our work. I’m grateful to the many people who have contributed so far – both members of the public and my colleagues from NHS Digital and NHS X.

The NHS Constitution is clear on this, and there are many resources available which we don’t want to duplicate. But we in digital haven’t always done it well enough. As I reflected for Matthew Gould’s blog post, people in national roles can be scared of public engagement, because we don’t always know how to do it well, and we fear that it may derail our existing plans. The guide we’re working on is intended to help teams overcome that.

This is in addition to, not a substitute for, primary user research. Except for the summer holiday period, I’ve kept up my commitment to getting my own 2 hours every 6 weeks, and always learned something new by sitting with teams in the observation room. In an act of public micro-accountability, I note the date that I last observed research on my Mastodon and Twitter profiles.

As I mentioned in my 2-year update, I believe we can all be more effective inside our own organisations by staying connected with the world outside. For me this has included:

  • Catching up with the other government heads of design – several of them also now deputy directors – at the Cross-government Design Meeting in Leeds
  • Being part of the Arms-length Bodies Digital and Tech Leaders group
  • Joining a panel at the Healthcare Excellence Through Technology show to talk about user experience for mobile apps in health and care
  • A visit to Durham University with our CEO, Sarah, and other NHS Digital colleagues, to talk about our graduate programme and other potential collaborations
  • Talks at Camp Digital and IXDA London
  • A speaking engagement alongside Misaki at an NHS Digital industry event to talk with suppliers about standards for user-centred design in health and care.

In one way, counting two and a half years in a job feels superfluous, not even a full anniversary. On the other hand, it’s a quarter of a decade, roughly one tenth of my working life so far spent full-time in health and care. Am I an insider now? And if so, how does that square with my personal mission to change how we do things around here? In part 2 of this post, I want to share some of the learning I’ve achieved as part of the Nye Bevan Programme.

Original source – Matt Edgar writes here

When you woke up this morning to check the election results, you may have visited TheyWorkForYou.

And you’d have found it bang up to date, thanks to the new MP data that was added through the night, as the election results came in. More than a fifth of you have a new MP, and whether you voted for them or not we know you’ll want to keep them accountable.

Donate to help us keep this service going.

We’ve just now added one final MP — for St Ives, since weather conditions prevented ballot boxes coming over from the Isles of Scilly earlier.

We’ll be helping you hold all MPs, new and returning, to account over the next few years, as we publish their debates and votes, expenses, interests and contact details.

We make it as simple as possible for everyone to understand what’s going on in Parliament, and how you can play a part in your own democracy.

Right now, you can get a headstart:

If you’re a developer, researcher or just a good old data junkie, you might additionally like to:

Now we need you to help us

We’re determined to carry on providing these services, but we still need your help to do so.

There are seven days left to run on our crowdfunder. Thanks to the generosity of hundreds of donors, we’ve already raised almost £10,000, for which we are enormously grateful.

But we still need to raise another £15,000 so that we can continue providing these services, as well as adding new features that will improve the site and make Parliament easier for everyone to follow.

Please donate now.

TheyWorkForYou crowdfunder

Image: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/ Stephen Pike (CC by-nc/2.0)

Original source – mySociety


The 2019 General Election was one marked by a series of trends and Facebook groups was amongst them.

I’m a member of several Facebook groups across the country and things ranged from the carefully considered to the hugely fighty.

BBC Trending caught the zeitgeist with this post on how the election was playing out.

Once upon a time people may have filed into town halls or village squares to debate the issues of the day. Now modern technology makes it easier for people to engage in political debate, especially in the depths of a British winter.

But social media can also suck in those who never intended to spend their evenings arguing with strangers about politics.

Unlike the village square, on Facebook you can’t look someone in the eye or read the tone of their voice. That distance means people sometimes suspend their usual social niceties. The job of keeping things on track falls to volunteer moderators.

It’s easy for conversations to get hijacked. Those who come for the hedgehog photos may end up getting sweary rants about politics instead.

The full post is here.

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

You may remember our post back in September, on the research we were carrying out into how a digital tool might help residents of tower blocks.

At that stage, with invaluable input from residents, lawyers, health and safety professionals and especially the Southwark Group of Tenants Organisation, we’d just finished the discovery phase and published a report on our research and prototyping.

We’ve now had the great news that the Legal Education Foundation are funding us to build a beta version of the tool we’d prototyped. It’ll be a simple way for residents of tower blocks to get the information they need to fix a range of problems in their accommodation, from structural and maintenance issues to legal ones.

As we start development, we’ll again be working with Tower Blocks UK, tireless champions of tower block residents and very much experts in this field.

We’ll make sure to keep updating as we progress. The hope is to formally launch the new tool in September next year — so watch this space for further news.

Image: Nirmal Rajendharkumar

Original source – mySociety

me thank you post 2.png

The UnAwards19 was my best work day ever. I’ve been reflecting on why…

by Darren Caveney

There are so many highlights from the UnAwards19, too many for one post, but I wanted to share some reflections post-event.

The UnAwards soak up my time. They are not-for-profit and so as a self-employed team of one it is a pressure at a busy time of the year. But I am very fortunate and very proud to be able to run and host them. And, of course, I don’t run them alone – there are a team of people who put a lot of love and passion into them too, from the sponsors who make it even possible, to the 140 attendees who travel from all parts of the UK to celebrate.

As my friend Georgia Turner said “it’s a true feel-good event which hits you from the moment you walk into the venue”

Thank you, thank you, thank you

The UnAwards are special and for so many reasons. From seeing the joy on the winners’ faces to seeing people connect and have fun at the end of a very busy year.

There are so many people to thank so I made a little video here.

So many highlights…

The aim of UnAwards day is simple – to celebrate the people in our wonderful industry and that whether you win or not you have a fun day with friends old and new. Simple.

But, of course, there have to be some winners too and there many highlights this year.

Jude Tipper picked up best comms pro, and best guest post, for the second year running. She tells me that her home has high ceilings so she has room for a few more winners certificates yet. Can she do the treble in 2020?

Doncaster Council have in my opinion set the bar for best in class social media over the past couple of years so I thought their win in the best social media account category really was deserved. But there are a chasing pack of brilliant accounts after their title next year. Game on.

Two top comms leaders moved into new jobs at exactly the same time – Donna Jordan at Derbyshire Constabulary and Julie Odams at Derbyshire County Council – had to collaborate really early on in the new roles and handle the Whaley Bridge comms. They came out on top and that was great to see. Their award for best crisis comms was testament to good people, working hard together and just simply plying their trade based on years of experience and many skills. Bravo.

The Local Government Association do so much to support the sector in what has been a pretty traumatic last 10-years. Picking up the best collaboration UnAward was a fitting way for them to sign off the decade.

Seeing the Office of the Public Guardian pick up their first ever comms team award in the best internal comms category was a joyous thing.

Tower Hamlets Council’s comms team and been rebuilt in recent years by director of comms, Andreas Christophorou. The team there picked up an UnAward win for the second year on the trot. That kind of consistency really does point to a high performing team so well done to all.

The most entered category was – no prizes for guessing – was best low-cost comms. 50 entries hit my inbox. Wow. If you hit the shortlist here you did some exceptional work. The winners – Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority – picked up the win, having had an 11-hour journey to even make it to the big day. Two more lovely and deserving winners than Anna MacLean and Joanne Ford you’d struggle to find.

And Jo Bland – huge congratulations on joining a very small band of comms people who have picked up the prestigious Lifetime Achievement UnAward. That’s something to be really proud of.

Health and wellbeing

This year for the first time I launched the ‘best support for health and wellbeing’ UnAward. I won’t lie, I was slightly nervous about the kind of response it might get but I shouldn’t have been. There were 19 entries, which was brilliant to see.

Network Rail claimed the inaugural UnAward in this category and I’m hoping they will come to the UnAwards Winners Masterclass to tell us more. The judges raved about it.

Spare a thought…

Spare a thought for the brilliant small but perfect comms team at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, run by head of comms Alex Mills. Winners in 2018 and 2019 they were shortlisted in no less than four categories. They were so close to another win picking up a highly commended. I’m sure they’ll be back in 2020.

Spare a thought too for people like Sally Northeast – individually and in teams nominated in a mighty four categories, and for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead nominated in three. I genuinely great return, and more wins are surely on the cards next year.

I was impressed with so many of the shortlisted entries. If you made the shortlist for best social media account and best social media campaign you are delivering truly exceptional work.

If you made the shortlist for best low-cost comms work then congratulations. That’s where real creativity shines through. Bravo to you.

And then there was the takeover. Rascals, including Sally Northeast, Georgia Turner, Louisa Dean, Ben Capper, Holly Bremner and many of the Comms Unplugged gang took to the stage to give me an UnAward. Something about being a superstar or something. It was a total shock. I was really chuffed and appreciated it very much – thank you to you all. You’re a lovely lot.

Well done to all of this year’s winners – you can find the full list here.

Get your diaries out

A diary date for you – the #UnAwards20 will take place on Friday 11 December 2020 when we can do it all again and I can spend three month’s worrying about film choices.

The importance of giving

This year the official UnAwards charity was mental health campaigner Jonny Benjamin’s Beyond Shame Beyond Stigma initiative.

You raised over £300 on the day so thank you for that and thanks too to Harriet Small who pulled together some great raffle prizes and to Comms Unplugged for offering up a two-night stay as the top prize. Well done to Kath Middleditch for winning that little treat.

Pulp Fiction – what a film

Choosing a film for 140 people is always tricky. There isn’t a film which everyone will love. In previous years I have chosen movies based on themes but this year I just wanted to treat a room full of brilliant, creative people to a brilliant, creative film. Launched in 1994 wow Pulp Fiction still packs a punch. In my view it’s much copied but still peerless. Many of the room hadn’t seen it before and even more not on the big screen.

2 hours 34 minutes of creative genius.


I’m so grateful to get to run and host the UnAwards but even better than that is the chance to spend the day with a room of amazing people, some who I have come to value as friends. Thank you for making this the best UnAwards yet.

A good friend of mine had some brilliant and important news just hours before the vent and this really was the icing on the cake.

Some final, special mentions…

Luke Williams, Ben Caper, Adrian Stirrup and Nigel Bishop thank you for all of your help. You are a pleasure to work with and a talented bunch.

To the attendees, thank you for giving up a busy Friday in December. I hope you had fun.

To everyone who submitted the 350 entries thank you for allaying my annual fear that one year no one will enter because you’re all so busy.

The UnAwards remains a not for profit event and I am so grateful to the official partner Granicus, and the official sponsors Orlo, CAN, NUJ PRCC, the Local Government Association, Alive With Ideas, Ineo Digital and Perago-Wales – without your kind support the UnAwards would not be possible.

I shall be asking you all very nicely if you’re able to support the UnAwards Winners Masterclass too, which I will make happen in the spring of 2020.

Until next year…

p.s. If you’re interested in being involved a sponsor for the UnAwards Winners Masterclass in the spring and/or the UnAwards20 please shout me – I’m on darrencaveney@gmail.com

Darren Caveney is organiser of the UnAwards, creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd

pic by Nigel Bishop

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

The South Korean delegation and dxw staff

The South Korean delegation and dxw staff

We recently had a visit from a delegation of the South Korean government. In between their visits to the Government Digital Service (GDS), AWS and the Amazon fulfillment centre.

The delegation wanted to meet an organisation that’s had success through the government’s G-Cloud framework. They wanted to talk to us about our experience to help them plan their own version.

The current procurement situation in South Korea

South Korea has world class technology and connectivity.

Interestingly, many of the larger tech organisations are not allowed to bid for public contracts to stimulate the SME market. But despite this, their procurement practices seem pretty risk averse and still appear to favour larger organisations. That’s why they’re interested in frameworks like G-Cloud and the Digital Outcomes and Specialists (DOS) framework, to help buyers access digital products and expertise, quicker.

Their risk aversion may well stem from high profile incidents at the very top of their government, which is entirely reasonable. While the majority of UK buyers are also risk averse and don’t use the digital marketplace as often as they should, we’re moving in the right direction.

We have the digital marketplace which gives SMEs a fair chance of winning work. We also have the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) who promote a buyers’ community to improve capability, and checks and balances to hold both suppliers and buyers to account.

Our public sector procurement of digital and technology isn’t perfect, but it’s still a benchmark for others. dxw digital, our partner company dxw cyber, and many other similar agencies working in the civic/government technology space, owe much to these open procurement frameworks.

London, Leeds, and Seoul?

A few people from dxw met with the delegation. We discussed our history, the part G-Cloud has played in our growth, and what we would change.

The feedback from our guests was great and we spent nearly 90 minutes answering their questions. They said the session was invaluable and that we were the most organised and welcoming businesses they’d encountered. Career achievement – unlocked!

What next? Well, we’re not opening an office in Seoul any time soon(!) but it was an honour to have been asked to help the delegation. It’s nice to know that dxw is recognised for our subject matter expertise, whether in the field of delivery, design or policy, and that people want to hear from us. Hopefully, this will be something we can do more of as we grow the company into 2020 and beyond.

The post South Korean delegates visit dxw appeared first on dxw digital.

Original source – dxw digital


It’s the last few days of the 2019 General Election and I’m mapping the trends and techniques of the past few weeks.

Remember the Barack Obama ‘Hope‘ image from 2008? or ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It‘ frontpage? Or the Saatchi ‘Labour isn’t Working‘ poster of 1979? All winning images that reflect the prevailing influence of the shareable image, the newsstand or the roadside poster ad.

A General Election is a petri dish for comms where ideas are tried out. Successful ones are adopted more widely by the comms profession.

But what of the crop 2019?

In a word: depressing.

There’s enough here to be quietly terrified at the state of democracy and of comms in general.

A disclaimer

First, this is an apolitical post looking at techniques and ethics.

Second, not all political comms, PR and digital people indulge in unethical behaviour. Some of this year’s hot trends don’t appear to have come direct from the party political machine. Not every party is blameless.

Thirdly, paid, earned and owned. That’s a mix that plays out online just as it would a comms plan.

Calling out the unethical

Former CIPR President Stephen Waddington has blogged to call out some of the behaviours. He’s right to do so. My great worry in the shake-down of all this is the damage to the profession and the pressure on comms people to knock-up that quick sock puppet account. Stephen is dead right when he says we need to hold the line.

Responsible bodies such as the CIPR, LGComms and the Government Communications Service need to re-state their commitment to ethical comms the day after the election if not before. As a profession, we need resources to help people deflect requests for unethical behaviour. We need to know where the line is so we can hold it.

Techniques during the election

Of course, it’s worth remembering that so much of electioneering in Britain is envelope stuffing, doorstepping and leaflet pushing. In 2019, online campaigning is having a direct influence but so is the army of volunteers pounding pavements.

In 1983, Margaret Thatcher would look for the two TV news cameramen from the BBC and ITV. The 24-hour news cycle hadn’t kicked in and the landscape was dominated by the newspaper frontpage, BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and the 1 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 9 o’lock and 10 o’clock news.

That 24-hour news cycle feels more like 24-minutes. Journalists on Twitter break news. But so do the public. The passer-by captures the heckle then posts it online. The journalist rips the video and shares it.

Misinformation? Some say that we all need to get clued-up on how accurate what drops into our timeline is. We probably do. But we won’t. Not if that video chimes with what we think. Besides, its far quicker to share it and move on than to spend five minutes researching provenance.

Facebook advertising

From a small base, the 2019 election has seen Facebook ads embedded as a campaign tool. According to the Finanacial Times. The Conservative Party launched a staggering 2,600 ads in a single day with spending projected at reaching almost £3 million outspending their rivals with deeper pockets.

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Facebook has prepared and tweaked for the 2019 election but the decision not to take down Facebook ads that lie is baffling.

The days of a single image campaign are over. That’s the double whammy bombshell.

Status: Legal but content is unregulated.

Single issue websites from campaign groups where it’s not immediately clear who the campaign is from

In the week before the election, social media was flooded with tailored content that compared the three main parties’ education spending. What is particular about it is that you can search for your school and find out relative spending plans. So, its’ personalised content.


The schoolcuts.org.uk can create content for more than 20,000 schools that delivers a personal message. Who is it from? It’s a site maintained by the Education Union and supported by four other unions. It even awards itself a blue tick.

Status: Legal but hard to verify.

Fake local newspapers delivering a political message

It’s an interesting take on trust that a newspaper is recreated in this approach. Trust has rebounded for newspapers, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer so parties have gravitated towards this technique.


While its on the right side of the law, media companies are unhappy and it feels like this approach has a shelf life.

Status: legal but owned media posing as paid is questionable.

Content is created outside of the party machine

I’d love to see research that shows how much content comes from parties and how much from voters. Like this instagram post.


Status: Ethical.

Real fact checking websites

It comes to something when the truth rather than coming from the media or the politicians themselves now needs to come from a fact checked source.

Fact checking websites such as fullfact.org are running a checking service that seeks to correct mistruths.


While they’re diligent they’re also niche and are unlikely to have a popular reach.

Status: Legal and a higher level of verified trust.

Misleading fact checking websites

Twitter described as ‘misleading’ the Conservative Party rebranding of their main account as a ‘fact checking’ service.

cchq Of course, rather than an independent fact checking service the account was a partisan spin on the Opposition. There is a school of thought that the ploy was a deliberate attempt at controversy in order to get commented upon and shared thereby blocking the light for any debate around opposition policy.

Status: Legal but questionable.

Shit posting for the RTs

Shit posting is the deliberate tactic of posting poor content with a message to get it to stand out.

This New Statesman piece describes the early Conservative campaign strategy of comic sans to spread a message.


It’s also a technique I’ve seen in one or two other places. Harmless. Sometimes fun. But not something everyone can do not least all the time.

Status: Legal.

Emails to the converted with clear fundraising calls to action

In the 2017 election, Labour were particularly effective at fundraising through targeted emails to supporters but its a technique all parties use.

Governed by GDPR this form of owned political comms is that rare thing… something governed by legislation.


Status: Legal and regulated.

Poster sites now just mock by reminding of past statements

One striking thing in the 2019 election is the almost complete absence of billboard posters. Once a striking feature of a campaign they now seem to have been relegated to the fringes of the toolbox.

Even in 2010, the David Cameron-focussed ‘We can’t go on like this‘ were a mainstay. But once the internet got to work debunking them all of a sudden they started to unravel.

By 2019, the art form has been fully subverted by campaign groups like the non-party political Led by Donkeys who play back statements and comments that come to haunt.


As an advert, they are governed by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Status: Legal and regulated.

Heckling by reminding of past statements

Back in the olden days politicians would tour the market towns armed with a soapbox and a megaphone to address the willing and win over the doubters.

In 2019, the big hitters were kept well away from real people. But when they were let out the heckling was curiously fact based. It’s less ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out, out, out’ and more ‘Where’ve you been? You took your time’ or ‘Racism has gone right up since you’ve been here.’


Status: Legal and traditional.

Complaining about empty chairing

As politicians are more reluctant to submit to scrutiny from journalists the trend of empty chairing has emerged. This strategy is placing an empty chair in a studio where the invited politician would have sat.

As a campaigning tool, complaining about empty chairing has become a strategy.


The intention is to create some noise for the 24-minute news cycle and draw attention from the fact that the politician is ducking answers.

Status: Legal.

Ducking interviews

The request for interview feels like its gone from a must-do to a maybe. So when Boris Johnson refused to be grilled by Andrew Neil on the BBC opinion was divided. Some comms people thought he’d lose by appearing to run. Others thought he may put his foot in it.


Status: Legal but there’s a question about transparency.

Shaky video on the hoof

I’ve banged on for the past five years about the emerging trend that’s now mainstream. Your smartphone has a video camera. So, press record and use it.

Jess Phillips here uses selfie mode to say she’s at the Little Explorer’s Nursery in Sheldon, Birmingham with noise and activity in the background. It has a re-elect Jess Phillips logo and is subtitled. Two big ticks.


Status: Legal. 

The death of the set-piece party political broadcast

Ten years ago, the words: ‘There now follows a party political broadcast on behalf of…’ was about as far as most people got. The formal introduction at allotted times pointed out the fact that what was following was propaganda.

The internet has made the formal film dead while the informal social media video is very much alive and well. Take the Conservative’s faux-walk and talk fish and chips or a Sunday roast questioning.


Status: Legal.

Unattributed false briefings translated into instant news headlines

On the day when Boris Johnson caused a storm when he refused to look at the image of a four-year-old sleeping on the floor of a hospital the health secretary Matt Hancock was despatched to the hospital.

When the visiting politician left protestors gave him a send off. Within minutes the media had been briefed that a Tory aide had been punched in the face. Within hours this was shown to be false by video shot by a bystander.

The allegation is that this accusation was planted to distract from the PM’s blunder. Whatever the ins and outs of this, false briefings to journalists are a really bad idea.


Status: False briefings are unethical.

Sock puppet accounts

Sock puppet accounts are accounts set-up to share and amplify a point of view.

In this thread on Twitter Marc Owen Jones traces the origins of content that seeks to undermine the account of the four-year-old boy sleeping in the hospital floor.

‘Very interesting,’ the text starts. ‘A good friend of mine is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital – the boy shown on the floor by the media was in fact put there by his mother who then took photos on her mobile phone and uploaded it to media outlets before he climbed back onto his trolley.’  


The thread traces the two-hour window where the version was shared unchallenged. Two things are wrong with the post. Firstly. Leeds Hospital is called Leeds General Infirmary and secondly, senior staff had accepted the version of events and apologised.

There is no suggestion these misleading tweets came from a political party.

Status: Unethical and terrifying.

Facebook groups being the new frontline of political campaigning

I’ve blogged before about the reach of Facebook groups in small communities. They are the digital Parish pumps and they play a part in an election.

The four-year-old sleeping on the hospital floor debunking was pushed through Facebook and through groups. The same text was used that started ‘Very interesting. A good friend of mine is a senior nursing sister at Leeds Hospital…’

The contrary message follows some hours later.


Twitchfork mobs of supporters accusing journalists / Jews / People who don’t believe in the project enough

Journalism is said to be the first draft of history so the first tweet is the first doodle in the margin.

Journalist’s Twitter accounts are seen as the new front page. There is a race to break news that sometimes leaves verification behind. If ‘a source’ claims something the reporter posts to Twitter and that something then takes a turn on the news cycle.

There’s something really troubling about the mob in action and in 2019 there’s been plenty of it in the run-up to the campaign and during it.


Laura Keunssberg of the BBC and Robert Peston of ITV come in for fierce criticism, often unwarranted.

Status: Fair debate ranging to the illegal and unethical.

Misleading stories going viral

Liberal Democrat leader was the subject of a misleading piece of information as this detailed BBC piece shows.

The allegation starts on one site, is shared by another and then before you know it is halfway around the globe before the truth has got its pants on. The BBC piece here is well worth the read.


Status: At best unethical.

Microphones are everywhere #1: The Tory MP and the planted door knock

The MP who briefed his friend on what to say had forgotten that he had a microphone on. So, when accompanied by reporter Michael Crick he appeared not quite as straight as he could have.


Status: Unethical.

Microphones are everywhere #2: When you go to be interviewed take your own film crew so you can get your pre-buttal in

When Boris Johnson refused to appear on the Channel 4 Leader’s debate he sent Michael Gove instead. His film crew then filmed the response of Channel 4 staff.

While legal this exerts pressure on the journalist to comply and justify on the spot.


Status: Legal but you’ll probably burn your relationship with the journalist.

The sharable parody

Cassetteboy is an artist who cuts and pastes political interview and speeches into mock pop videos.

In 2019, a parody of ‘You Can’t Touch This‘ attacks Boris Johnson for his perceived lack of trust. It wracked up 260,000 views in five days against 90,000 in 16 hours for the Conservative Party’s own ‘Love Actually’ parody.  If they are a parody legally you’re covered.


Status: Legal.

At a glance, it feels as though ethics have gone through the window at times during the 2019 General Election. It doesn’t matter if you lie because the pace of the internet moves it on and besides, no-one watches the news. We’re also all over the place consuming information in different ways on different channels.

But there will be greater pressure to to bend the rules.


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

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An #UnAwards19 reflection

by Sally Northeast

The words in the title of my post may look like they’re in the wrong order but stick with me – there’s a reason for it…


I was in the privileged position of being shortlisted – either individually or as part of a team – for four Unawards in 2019. In a total field of 350 entries that’s no mean feat. But as each relevant category came and went there were no wins for me, the Comms Unplugged team or my Dorset HealthCare team.

Does that make us losers? Hell, no! Because actually the most valuable thing about putting in an award submission is the chance to reflect on and relive the fab work you’ve done. In comms – and certainly in my world – we’re often racing onto the next thing before we’ve even put the last thing to bed. So setting it all out in a award entry gives you the chance to really congratulate yourself and your team – and to learn for the future. What would you do differently? What would make it even better? How did you feel about it all? This is crucial in your journey to be a better comms person. I’m incredibly proud to have been in those shortlists and delighted to have been there to see all the winners enjoying their success. In the end it all paled into insignificance because of what happened at the end…


A group of cunning plotters – including myself, my partner-in-crime Georgia Turner, the excellent Ben Capper, the lovely Louisa Dean and our favourite Comms Unplugged music man Tom Clements, among others – had a take-over planned. Yes, we did an actual take-over of the Unawards to recognise the amazing contribution the wonderful Darren Caveney makes to our industry and, for some of us, to our lives in general. Creator of the epic community that is comms2point0, chief Creative Communicator, Unawards organiser and all-round superstar – this is a man who deserved an award more than anyone else. So we created one for him – the award for Working Hard and Being Nice to People (his mantra, handed down by his dad).

His gobsmacked face when we presented him with a hand-painted certificate, beautiful framed photograph, plush new velvet jacket, engraved glass and of course the inevitable bottle of Mr Malbec was absolutely priceless. And I’m pretty certain he was having an emotional wobble when we played a little clip of our Tom serenading him on film with a Comms Unplugged 2019 anthem.

This meant more than the awards not won. Giving truly is better than receiving. Which leads me on to…


Our take-over was definitely a win. And there were many more wins in the Everyman Cinema – you can see them here: http://www.comms2point0unawards.co.uk/the-winners.

What I really love about the Unawards is the genuine support in the room for everyone – winners, nominees, colleagues, friends. Darren has the wonderful knack of gathering good people around him who value spending time together.

While the chosen film, Pulp Fiction, was (controversially) not for me, I had a major win by being involved in a fascinating conversation about diversity with three awesome women who shared their experiences and insights with passion and candour – Harriet Small, Katrina Marshall and Shayoni Lynn. Thank you particularly to Harriet for saying that she has always felt completely welcomed and included in the CU community. This is so important to me and my #unplugged team-mates. You three are bad-asses!

Being grateful

Well over a year ago one of our original unpluggers, Josephine Graham, recommended a book called the Gratitude Diaries. Look it up – it’ll give you all the warm and fuzzies and also remind you that being grateful is a thing that changes your life. So after devouring the book on holiday, I keep reminding myself of the power and gratitude. For that reason, in relation to the Unawards, I’m grateful for:

· Darren – the man is life-changing. I’m so proud to call him my friend and teamie.

· Georgia – a whirlwind with as much energy as me who put heart and soul into the award nomination she did for me and the campaign that followed it. I’m so glad to have you in my life.

· The unpluggers – there is no better community of wondrous creatures than you lot. Bringing you together was the best thing we’ve done.

· #teamtakeover – wicked!

· Birmingham – you sparkly, buzzy, funky old thing, you!

· My Dorset HealthCare team – you lot are EPIC! I’m fortunate to be in a position to lead such a fab bunch.

· The comms community – you are talented, resilient, hard-working, creative, supportive, kind and funny. Keep up the good work!

Sally Northeast is assistant director of OD, participation and communications in the NHS and co-creator and partner in Comms Unplugged LLP. You can say hello on Twitter at @Salsazal

Image by Nigel Bishop

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

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This is the tale of being fallen and fixed in 48 hrs. It’s the story of a service I care deeply about and am now experiencing first hand. It’s a note of thanks to the NHS team for their care in overwhelming circumstances. And a reflection on how we need to start nurturing better a service that is so dear.

by Claire Burroughs

Thursday, three weeks ago, started no differently to normal. I lead the comms and policy function for a medical royal college and the morning task was our annual budgetary meeting. Emerging not only unscathed but with a buoyant sense of pride at colleagues who presented so engagingly, I headed out for celebration doughnuts. There was a reason for cakes – although the only non-viewer, I’d entered the office GBBO sweepstake and won.

Fast forward 5 minutes and I was flat on my face outside Great Portland Street tube, excruciating pain in my right arm. Krispy Kreme doughnuts under arm (my undamaged one. Name check the kind sales assistant in Tesco who put them in a bag and extracted the Bake Off winnings from my purse), I limped back to the office to be promptly put in a cab, destination Euston Road’s UCH’s emergency department.

Twenty five years of working in NHS and related comms roles still didn’t prepare me for the picture in A&E. It was 2pm in the afternoon and there was barely any seating space left for me and my chaperone PA (thank you, Claire).

And the people kept coming. The receptionists quietly checking them in, two nurses on foot at computers triaging.

I was almost immediately given painkillers and it took about an hour to be sent for X-Ray. The verdict followed from a doctor: “It isn’t good. We need the trauma team to see you but they are flat out.”

Sent back to the waiting room where the volume of people had again swelled there was a lot of time to think. This was the experience of these emergency care staff day in day out now, one reflecting, “there is no winter crisis any more, it’s been like this all year. And last.”

I thought about my job and that overwhelmed feeling of a bulging Monday email inbox. But this was a tsunami of people, all with their own stories, their own pain.

The UCH staff were amazing. I was eventually called to see the trauma senior registrar who explained that they were recommending surgery for my fractured wrist which could happen tomorrow. In the meantime I needed bloods, a CT, and plastering.

The next few hours were bewildering with some confusion over the order of events and whether my fracture needed reducing before surgery. I was 100 miles from home, phone about to die, and scared. I’ll never forget the kindness of a return to practice nurse who took my phone off to charge and got me some food, sitting and putting the cheese roll together when he realised I was going to struggle left handed. The charge nurse who gently plastered my arm but had to dash off mid task when a panic alarm sounded, “to make sure my colleagues are ok.”

Twenty five years of working with the NHS has been a privilege. As American actor Rob Delaney put it last week it’s “the pinnacle of human achievement.” As a patient it doesn’t care about your background, it doesn’t yield to privilege or wealth. It’s a model community of diversity and multiculturalism – from the receptionist through to the nurses, radiographers, anaesthetists, doctors, therapists and porters I was cared for by London’s University College Hospital, few were white British.

But it’s devastating to see the NHS’ capacity to cope decline as recent years of under investment bite. Its treatment over the last nine years has been less than kind, including a brutal diet of nine years of the lowest cash increases in its 71-year history.

Everything’s affected, especially the workforce on which the whole structure hangs. The only nation to strip out the nursing bursary, England’s seen student nursing numbers dwindle (while Scotland and Wales’ continue to rise…). A pensions mess that is seeing senior doctors stepping into the breach to cover extra sessions being rewarded with huge tax bills. ‘Unsafe’ areas in hospitals closing because there’s been no money to maintain estates or equipment (Hillingdon. Boris’ seat). Our cancer survival rates now lagging behind other developed countries as waits continue to lengthen for diagnostics.

The recent ‘cash boosts’, panicked pensions patch up, shouts of extra staff (where from?) feel too little, and very late. 100,000 NHS staff posts are now unfilled, many vacated by tired and burnt out healthcare professionals, driven from jobs they love by the overwhelming pressure I observed that Thursday afternoon in A&E.

The NHS’ performance is at its worst since records began. 95% of emergency patients being seen, discharged, or admitted in a 4 hour window a distant dream. And do performance standards matter? Yes they do. My experience in A&E totalled a bewildering 8 hrs, watching overworked staff make their way through the wave of patients who kept coming. They matter to the 79 year woman in the bed opposite me waiting for surgery, who burst into tears when told her operation may be cancelled for the 2nd day in a row as the surgical list kept growing. She’d already been nil by mouth for 24 hours.

I cannot praise enough the service and care I’ve received. That older lady did get her surgery on day 2, too. Two days after the accident my wrist had been fixed and I’m slowly on the mend thanks to ongoing physiotherapy and review by the UCH surgical team.

But now feels like a milestone moment for the NHS in terms of how much longer it can go on coping without some TLC itself. Research shows that it’s not inefficient, but in fact one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world according to the OECD. But that what we spend on as a percentage of GDP is starting to lag far behind other developed countries.

Voted again in Ipsos Mori’s annual Veracity Index as the most trusted professions, it’s hardworking doctors, nurses (and all the other professions that make up the healthcare team) who above all deserve better treatment than that of the last decade. And I truly believe we would all be a healthier society for that.

So as 12 December approaches my advice would be to think very carefully about who you trust to give the NHS a future and to care about your health. I fell and was fixed in 48 hours. I was lucky. I fear the NHS will need a lot more than that to bring it back from the brink.

Claire Burroughs is director of communications, policy and research for the Royal College of Physicians. You can say hello on Twitter at @BurroughsClaire

Image via Jim

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

The author, Steph Marsh, outside the Canadian Digital Service building with 5 members of the CDS team.

After 2 and a half years at the Government Digital Service (GDS), I’m leaving to be UX Research Operations Manager at the publisher Springer Nature. I wanted to share what I’ve learned during my time here. 

A diverse and inclusive community is stronger, healthier and more productive.

I am proud of the user research and analysis community at GDS, which is really diverse and inclusive. I wrote about the importance of diverse communities when I reflected on my visit to the Canadian Digital Service

I feel I have personally benefited from a supportive Civil Service that embraces different kinds of people and supports their learning, development and progression. This has not always been the case in my career. 

I realised that I can be a leader in the Civil Service. I still have a lot to learn about leadership, but I know I am capable of it and that other people believe me capable of it.

Before I became a civil servant, I learnt to be a practitioner but no one encouraged me to be a leader. In fact, I was often actively discouraged – I did not fit the mould, I did not fit people’s vision of what a leader is. 

A softly-spoken, mild-mannered, shy, anxious introvert may not be an obvious fit but that’s the great thing about a supportive, inclusive workplace – they can be. 

Insights matter

We can’t be complacent about user-centred design. Good practices must be embedded in the delivery and running of services, this is something that we all have to constantly work at. We must support each other to continue learning. 

An example of the user-centred work I got to do – when it was first announced that we would be iterating the Service Standard, I was a senior user researcher on what was the Service Manual, Patterns and Tools team. It was clear that updating the standard would have an impact on the Service Manual and other guidance, and we needed to understand what the impact would be. 

First, I made a service map of building a service; it was clear from this that all roads were leading back to the foundational question of ‘what is a service’. So I got to do some really interesting research, which led to an updated service definition, reflecting how we think of services now. 

Prompting good work and learning 

As a lead user researcher on the Service Design, Standards and Assurance programme, I led on the user-centric, evidence-based approach to iterating the Service Standard, making sure that we took a collaborative approach across government.

It’s important that the standards ensure that the services government delivers meet user needs. To help government do this, we also improved the assessment process.  

Working on the Service Design and Assurance programme and in the role of Head of User Research and Analysis, I have got to meet and see a lot of great work that is happening across government as well as support those who need it. 

Particularly, as head of community, it was part of my role to champion combining quantitative and qualitative data, including mixing methods, research and performance analysts working together for better outcomes, using A/B testing to improve HMRC services and using data in user research when you have no web analytics.

How to build capability  

GDS thinks about and does a lot in the area of capability building – both internally and externally. As a programme lead and head of community, I have learnt a lot about and implemented and supported learning and development at lots of different levels. 

You can build individual capability through reading both on topics and off topic, attending meetups, workshops and conferences, on-the-job learning and  shadowing.

There are lots of ways to improve team capability, too. Last month, Tingting Zhao (former lead user researcher at GDS) and I wrote about training our teams to better understand the various aspects of user research so that team members can be engage in research as a team sport. 

It’s also possible to build capability within programmes. It’s possible to do this through planning research and testing guide crits, and sharing methodology experience to name but 3.

Something that I started to do and support is to pilot workshop exercises and structures. 

Internal to GDS, we have regular community show and tells to share things we are working on and to reflect on what we have learnt. We also have ‘user insight studios’ on a monthly basis, where we have 3 hours to learn together. 

Researchers take it in turns to run these, and sometimes we invite guest speakers. For example, we’ve previously hosted City University, who ran a workshop about working with users with aphasia, and Amy Everett, who did a talk on contextual research

We have already covered a wide range of topics and learned a lot from each other. But the studios serve another purpose as well – they are important for community building and allowing researchers to socialise and spend time together. 

It’s all about the people in the community 

And finally, the cross-government user research community is a strong, active community. I have learnt a lot from the online conversations and meetups. Sharing and collaborating with other government departments is an important part of the user research experience in government and will become more important as more teams work towards the current service standard. Providing training for the wider community is integral to GDS vision and purpose.

I will take what I’ve learned with me as I embark on the next step of my career. 

Original source – User research in government