Two of the hackers from Hack the North 3.0 chat at a desk

Hackers from Hack the North 3.0

Every day in our jobcentres, our frontline teams support people back into work. They see the barriers that people face along the way, particularly those people who are unable to obtain services that we take for granted like a bank account, or access to the internet or even a phone. These issues are common and distract people from focusing on their main goal of finding work.

So I’m really excited to be supporting our next DWP hack which will focus on the issue of financial inclusion. I’ll be bringing a team of colleagues who work on the frontline to support the event. It’s a fantastic opportunity to work with a network of experts to explore solutions that will help to prevent people from becoming financially excluded.

I’m looking forward to taking on a challenge that is without a doubt all-encompassing across society: how can we support people from all walks of life? To firstly recognise that budgeting is an issue and then equip them with the tools they need to make budgeting much easier.

Bringing examples and insights to the hack

Together with some of our work coaches we can provide insight to the real-world problems that our users face every day and help the hackers understand the different issues and barriers. We can provide some real-life examples of the challenges our colleagues face in providing a frontline service to some of our most vulnerable customers.

For example, here in our Manchester office we recently supported someone who was using a friend’s bank account to receive their benefits. When they no longer had access to this account they had no idea what to do. They had an offer of accommodation but needed a payment on the same day to provide a deposit. As they didn’t have access to the internet or a bank account we were able to issue a voucher which prevented them from losing the chance of securing accommodation. However, this was our only option.

So by being part of Hack the North 4.0 we can help the hackers identify what the most common struggles are for people without access to bank accounts and digital channels.

A group of hackers discussing issues

A group of hackers at Hack the North 3.0

Identifying different customer needs

Every customer journey is different, from those people who are having to manage on a smaller budget for the first time, to those who are having to manage on their own.

In many ways, debt – whether big or small – is common place throughout society. At the hack, we need to consider how do people with debt prioritise their debt repayments? How accessible is the right support? What could have helped, if anything, to prevent the debt in the first place? What budgeting tips and advice are available and accessible? How do people recognise that they face a problem before it becomes unmanageable?

There is also the emotional impact on people at certain times of the year, such as birthdays and Christmas and how they can budget for unexpected costs for example a boiler breaking down.

It would be great to develop a digital solution to enhance the support available to people, particularly something that is self-served and encompasses, engagement, life skills and self-assessment for future support. Or to find a way of preventing people from relying on loan companies who charge excessive interest or using advances and other loans. There are a number of services and products available to people that we could look to join up.

Come to the hack

The hack is a fantastic opportunity to make a huge difference on a subject that impacts so many families across Greater Manchester. I look forward to seeing the innovation and creativity from all those attending.

We still have tickets available if you’d like to join us.

Original source – DWP Digital

We’ve been working on affordable housing monitoring with Southwark Council. This is the second of a series of blog posts about why this is a national issue and our approach to tackling it.

There are few issues as emotive in UK politics as the provision and use of affordable housing. House-building rates aren’t keeping up with what’s desperately needed (particularly in London), and the cost of renting or buying continues to outstrip wages. This means that councils face increasing scrutiny and uncertainty:

  • how do councils negotiate so that developers build more affordable homes?
  • do they check that the negotiated affordable homes are actually built?
  • are councils monitoring that homes stay in the affordable housing stock?

In this post, we’ll explore the issues further around monitoring affordable homes. We’ll also talk about how we’ve approached fixing the problem.

What does “affordable housing” mean?

The Mayor of London’s draft London Plan has set out that at least 35% of new developments should be affordable. But let’s take a step back: what do we mean by “affordable housing”?

There are three overarching types within the government’s definition:

  • Social rented housing
    What we would traditionally think of as council housing, managed by either the council or a registered provider.
  • Affordable rented housing
    Rent controlled housing for those who meet specific eligibility criteria.
  • Intermediate housing
    Homes are rented for less than market rent or sold for less than the full market value. Shared ownership falls into this category.

Even within these categories, there’s a growing number of “products” or “tenures”. There’s also no consistency in definitions across local authorities, regional government, central government, and housing associations.

It seems that the term “affordable housing” encompasses two vastly different situations. Those who can barely afford to rent together with those almost ready to buy. This diagram from the Housing in London: 2017 report illustrates this well.

Graph showing the different types of affordable housing and the proportion of households who access the different types

Graph showing the different types of affordable housing and the proportion of households who access the different types

So why should housing that falls into this fuzzy definition be monitored by councils?

Affordable homes in a jam

In 2015, Southwark Council was contacted by a confused tenant in a new housing development who had received a pack through their letterbox that referenced affordable housing. They didn’t understand why they’d been sent affordable housing materials since they rented privately from a landlord. This home was one of several managed by a registered provider that Southwark Council ended up taking to court for putting homes that were secured as “affordable” in the planning process onto the open market.

There are also other ways that affordable homes are not being occupied by the people that need them most. In July, Westminster City Council evicted and fined a tenant for subletting their home on Airbnb.

In both cases, affordable homes had been lost from the borough’s affordable housing stock. The councils weren’t aware because they had no way of checking what was happening with affordable homes in their borough.

These examples may, or may not, be indicative of a relatively isolated problem. We can’t know the scale of the issue unless we start properly monitoring affordable housing.

Committed to the cause

Southwark Council asked dxw digital to run a six week discovery to investigate this problem:

How might we get clear, accurate and live data on affordable housing to track the properties through their entire lifespan, to increase the provision of homes for Southwark residents?

It quickly became clear through interviews with council officers that data on affordable housing was needed by a full range of teams, for a wide range of purposes:

  1. To inform housing policy
    Every council has to annually submit data about housing to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) (and in London to the Greater London Authority), and government creates policy based on this data.
  2. To make sure that agreements are met
    During planning negotiations, councils and developers agree how many affordable homes will be built on each development. They need to be sure that any commitments made are kept.
  3. To make sure that they have the right occupants
    Councils need to know that the affordable homes aren’t occupied by ineligible tenants. They also need to know if they’re being misused in any other way. For example through short-term lets.
  4. To act on breaches
    Legal and enforcement teams, with the right data, could identify people and organisations who breach their contracts.
  5. To respond to information requests and communicate to the public
    Working in the open is truly valued in local government, and Southwark Council want their data to be as open as possible.

Why is it so difficult to get clear and accurate live data on affordable housing?

As affordable homes move from negotiation to occupation, teams in the Council need to watch for different things at different stages.

This presents the first issue. There’s no automatic way of tracking an individual affordable home through the entire journey. When a development is planned, it exists only as a plot description (for example, “land to the rear of…”) and a series of coordinates. If there are multiple developments on a site, they inherit coordinates from the plot. But it isn’t until after they’re “completed” (built), that they receive their own street address.

Of the many systems that councils use throughout the planning process, none of them are able to track exactly which housing “unit” is affordable. Currently, there’s no process where developers share that information back to the council.

Imagine that a developer has promised 10 affordable units on a development of 28 homes. When these homes are built, the council will add 10 units to their running total of affordable housing in the borough. However they’ll never actually link the addresses of the affordable homes to the original planning permission where they agreed 10 affordable homes with the developer.

If, a year later, the person managing or occupying one of those affordable homes chooses to abuse the system, the council would never know.

When homes are purchased or sold, conveyancing solicitors make enquiries to the council about whether or not a home is designated as affordable. Both parties then go through a protracted conversation. The result of which being that the council won’t be able to determine the status of a home with 100% confidence.

We need to be tracking individual homes all the way through from the planning stage

It should be a requirement that developers share the exact addresses of the negotiated affordable units with the council once they are built.

This would make it easier to check that the affordable homes that are being negotiated are actually making it from plans into the housing stock. Opening the door to better monitoring for fraudulent activity. At the moment, planning and legal teams are manual havens of paper and signed, scanned PDFs, with little digitised or machine readable information available.

Building a tracking service

Screens showing the software that tracks affordable housing

The software that tracks affordable housing

Having interviewed people who are part of various stages of the affordable homes journey, dxw started forming an idea of how a tracking service might look. During discovery, we prototyped a service for identifying and tracking individual homes from the point of agreement.

While the provision of affordable homes is a policy issue, we discovered that the monitoring of affordable homes is a data one.

Data isn’t digital

Planning documents are not digital and the information is not machine-readable.

Data isn’t standardised

There’s no common structure or data schema for plans and planning applications.

Data isn’t in order

The multiple PDFs generated by variations and changes to legal agreements mean it’s not always clear what was agreed and how that might have changed over time.

Data may not exist

Address level data for units doesn’t exist until the build of homes is completed. The address is not then linked to the agreement to provide affordable homes.

Data is subject to changing policies

The policy landscape is constantly shifting. Products considered “affordable” vary in different contexts, and different organisations use their own vocabularies.

In October, we started an alpha phase of this work. Because we’d prototyped in discovery, we used alpha to design and build a minimum viable product in code, testing with users and iterating as we went. Because code is cheap, it was the perfect tool in alpha.

We’ve built a working service that fits in the gap between ‘systems that manage planning applications’ and ‘systems that manage built homes’. Because this is a gap that’s unsupported by existing technology, we’ve been able to design and build a service in a space with no legacy systems.

We’ve also designed the service so that it uses the minimum amount of information required to track a home from the point it’s agreed to the point it exists, without needing any integration to existing council systems. This means it can be easily used by other councils.

We’ve worked with a housing association to make sure that the design allows for an easy transfer and reconciliation of data to aid the ongoing monitoring of homes.

You can view our discovery and alpha outputs and please get in touch if you’d like to discuss. Our next blog post will be about the significant opportunities that come from this new way of tracking homes.

The post Monitoring Southwark Council’s affordable homes appeared first on dxw digital.

Original source – dxw digital

This blog post is part of a series investigating different demographics and uses of mySociety services. You can read more about this series here

Just as there is interesting information to gain from where people make reports, there are also interesting things to discover from when an issue was reported. 

There are four interesting times in the life of a FixMyStreet report:

  1. When a problem happened
  2. When a problem was noticed
  3. When it was reported
  4. When it was fixed

In the FixMyStreet dataset we have lots of information for when a problem is reported, but less about the other times. A follow-up survey gives us some idea if a problem was fixed inside a month –but this isn’t universally responded to. 

Reka Solymosi, Kate Bowers and Taku Fujiyama (2018) examined FixMyStreet data and found some signs that enough reports are made close enough to the time of time a problem is noticed that they show a statistical difference. Using reports of broken streetlights (which should be more noticeable when it’s dark), they showed that more reports were made at night compared to other kinds of reports. 

This analysis is replicated on the Explorer minisite, which shows that more problems with street lights are reported during the winter months; and also that they are disproportionately likely to be reported during darker times of day than other reports as a broken streetlight is more noticeable at night (while other kinds of problems become less obvious). The below graph shows when street light problems were reported. While a fair number of reports are made during daylight (reflecting that not all issues are reported close to when they were observed), compared to the dataset as a whole the nighttime reports for this category stand out.

Potholes are reported at the start of the year, and disproportionately in the afternoon. Dog fouling is also reported more at the start of the year, but this is more of an early morning report, with a peak as people arrive at work towards 9:00 am:

Some patterns reflect how people’s activity changes when not working. Issues in parks and open spaces are reported more at the weekend, while potholes are reported more during the week

While some problems are driven by physical processes that raises their occurrence at certain times of year and their report at certain times of day,other reports result from the activity of other people. Rubbish is reported in the morning, but also has peaks on Sunday (following Saturday night) and Monday, as regular commuters return. 

Similar to the idea that more 311 reports are made in spaces that are contested between different communities [link to prev blog post 2], Solymosi and colleagues suggest that reports can also be driven by the handover of the same space between different groups: “The narrative descriptions included with [FixMyStreet] reports reveal that these reports are made by people who are waking up to go to work, and encountering signs of activity that took place in the same location, but at a different time. They see signs of another activity in the space their routine activity pattern takes them through but is incongruent with their current use of this space, and interpret these as a signal disorder, attributing meaning which can result in heightened fear or anxiety.”

For people writing to their representatives on WriteToThem, there are similarly differences in when people write to different kinds of representatives. These might be times people are exposed to something that makes them want to write to their representative, or when they have the time to write.  Compared to all messages sent through WriteToThem, people writing to MPs are more likely to be writing before work and in the late afternoon, while Councillors are sent more messages  between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm

While few people write during the night, compared to other types of representative messages are written to Lords more often at night. Looking at the gender of people writing to MPs, the data shows that men are disproportionately likely to be writing at night compared to women (although again, most messages by men are still sent during the day).

Examining the time people make reports helps to create a better picture of when people encounter an issue that a mySociety service might be helpful for, as well as when people have time to do something about it. This suggests possible ways a service could be differently reactive at different times of day and helps sharpen potential research questions.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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Original source – mySociety


Camera frame viewfinder screen of video recorder digital display interface. Camera viewfinder. Recording. Vector Illustration.

I’ve blogged optimum lengths of video for the past few years and things have evolved over time.

TikTok is a video and music platform beloved of young people.

Frustratingly, there’s no data on what makes an optimum length for a video.

So I went out and did my own research.

I watched the top 100 TikTok videos in 2019 selected by the platform themselves and these are the results.

The optimum length of a TikTok video is 16 seconds.

What’s TikTok?

It’s a music-themed short form video app.   It’s come to the fore in that last 18-months with 800 million users in late 2019. Data is hard to come by and in particular UK data is almost impossible to get hold of. I’ve blogged an explainer here.

Optimum TikTok video length is 16 seconds

I watched and timed TikTok’s best 100 videos for 2019.

TikTok used to be a maximim of 15 seconds but has increased to 60 seconds.

The results?

The average length of the top 100 was just over 15.6 seconds – rounded up to 16 seconds.

While creators are able to make longer video the optimum length would appear to be shorter.

tiktok video

Creators using the full 60 seconds available were in a minority.

80 per cent of videos in the top 100 were 20 seconds or less and two per cent ran to the maximum length.

It’ll be interesting in 2019 to see how people use it.

What’s striking is that one size fits all video is over and won’t be back. In a fractured landscape a portrait video for younger people works on TikTok. A landscape film that’s three minutes works on YouTube.

The challenge for a communicator is to understand the landscape and then educate.

Picture credit: istock.

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


I‘ve always been slightly dubious of new platforms since Google Wave promised to revolutionise the internet.

Google Wave, Dear Reader, died 10 years ago 12-months after it was launched to great fanfare.

So, to TikTok, the portrait video app with 800 million users. At the start of 2020, there’s no reliable UK data but its safe to guess there’s an upward trajectory.

But there’s also a health warning with TikTok that I’ve blogged about before.

The Information Commissioner is investigating the platform amid fears its to easy for users to send uninvited messages to its younger user base. So, it’s not all good news. TikTok have been trying to tackle this issue with advice to parents as well as adding a version of TikTok for younger users.

That said, how can the public sector use it?

What the hell is TikTok?

Hootsuite summarises TikTok as ‘Real Short Videos.’ That’s a good description.

These are videos that are created specifically for the platform.

The ingredients are portrait video, text, effects and music create quick to burn bright and then fade away. They’re short so you can get through lots of them and 60 seconds at most.

TikTok is a video app that’s best friends with music. You view the videos in portrait mode. Switch on the app and you’re served with videos selected for you. Or you can switch to videos from those you’re following.

Through the discover button, you can search TikTok for videos. It’s hashtags rather than users that really drive TikTok. You’ll find on-topic videos through a list of what the trending hashtags are. Trending on TikTok isn’t the same as trending on Twitter. While Twitter is news, events and what’s happening TikTok is more ways to escape and amuse. So #seeya has attracted 600 million views around the theme of when you say ‘see ya’. Click the hashtag and you can scroll through hundreds of videos of a similar theme.

One thing to like is that its easy to make video on TikTok. There’s a powerful editor that allows you to experiment. Alternatively, you can upload your own portrait videos that have been edited elsewhere.

Adding music is also really easy as there’s millions of licensed tracks.

In summary, TikTok is a video timesuck where wit and humour works and attention quickly moves onto the next thing. If outrage drives Facebook then what drives TikTok is entertainment. Dancing, singing, clothes, humour and fashion all work. It’s here today and gone in an hour let alone by tomorrow.

Who the hell is using TikTok?

With stats hard to come by there’s lots of guesswork. The app says you have to be 13 and over to use TikTok so the audience is younger.

A leaked deck gives 800 million users in late 2019 with 50 per cent under 30 and 26 per cent aged 18 and 24. But until Ofcom catch up and include it in their annual stats review its hard to pin down UK users.

5 ways the public sector can use TikTok

All that said, the platform is large enough to take it seriously.

Firstly, the public sector needs to remember that this isn’t their party and these are not their songs. Nobody is waiting for them to join. The flip side of this is that the platform isn’t filled with trolls who can’t wait to talk about potholes. That in itself is a relief.

Human comms: Staff deliver the message with their own profile

One of the most striking examples of a TikTok video is an NHS GP warning about the dangers of not immunising. This isn’t a black and white six minute public information film. It’s a clued-up GP pointing to text she’s added by the app while dancing in time to a track.

It’s a brilliant video. It can be watched without sound as well as with. It delivers a message in a fun way. It’s also delivered by a real human rather than a faceless logo.

Aside from being good content, the author and regular blogger Dr Nicole Baldwin has added the hashtags such as #vaccinate  to reach a wider audience.

Create a corporate account

Having the corporate voice is fine but I’d probably argue that on TikTok it’s not as effective as having the engaged staff contribute to the channel as themselves. Public sector corporate accounts are few and far between and there’s the odd third sector account.

Create or join in with a challenge

Tiktok has challenges that you can find with a hashtag. They can be asking you to join in a dance or complete a challenge. Like the chair challenge. Film it then post it with the hashtag.

Create an advice video

Because TikTok is so ephemeral a quick how to video is do-able so longs as its a simple thing.

As this video shows, a video to demonstrate the difference between paper straws and straw ones can make a point visually and supported with text really quickly.

Create content on other users’ accounts

The number of people who want to follow the council TikTok? Pretty small, to be quite honest. Sixty seconds of raw footage from finance scrutiny isn’t going to fly anyone’s boats.

But there’s things the public sector does that is of interest to the sub-34-year-old demographic. On first view things like recycling and leisure really would lend themselves to TikTok. But rather than the organisation creating content encouraging users to create it feels far within the spirit of the platform.

I once heard a healthwatch group working with young healthwatch members to encourage them to share health messages in their own voice using their own accounts. On the face of it, it makes sense. It’s young people talking to young people. But you will be giving up message control. But, frankly, that’s not such a bad thing.

Create a duet

TikTok has the functionality of letting you create a video in response to a video. The original video runs in half of the screen while your new video is in the other half.

As with anything, its the audience. TikTok is a younger demographic and if you’re not using the platform as users are using it there’s no point using it.



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

3 gives 2.jpg

Boy, 2019 was some year, huh? Whilst I may be left perplexed and dismayed by the outcome of Brexit, the final post-election weeks of 2019 actually saw me switching off from the political news. Listening in to the arguments, news and – let’s face it – lies coming out of Westminster had become an unhealthy daily routine for me.

by Darren Caveney

When you find yourself watching live voting in Parliament you know that something has gone awry.

So, whilst I can’t change the outcome, I can change my own behaviours and make the move to less politics in my life.

I am giving myself a break from it, and I have to say it’s been pleasant and positive.

Instead, I’m filling my ears with music and podcasts and that can be inspiring, and provide a real boost to my creativity.

Here are my three more ‘gives’ to contribute towards a happy, healthy 2020.

1. Give to: Others

I set up comms2point0 almost nine years ago to try to help to fly a flag for communicators and communications and, in my own little way, give back to our industry.

As my own career has evolved I am now able to give more personally, be it not-for-profit events like Comms Unplugged or the UnAwards and UnAwards Winners Masterclass, or connecting people I think can help each other, signposting comms pros to help elsewhere, mentoring, a supportive chat over a coffee, or sharing some thoughts with someone thinking of going freelance.

comms2point0 wouldn’t be the beautiful thing it is without so many others giving it love and support over the years. So, now it is payback time and if I can give someone a little bit of help in 2020 I will. Hit me up, as the kids say.

On the theme of giving to others I’ve signed up to do the Munro Challenge in June to raise money for Water Aid. This is a triple whammy of giving: I get to raise some money for an important charity, I give myself the chance to see some wonderful scenery, and thirdly I get a stack of exercise and health benefits. That’s my kind of giving.

2. Give to: Health and wellbeing

I know I can be better in this area. For example, supporting my kids through the pressures of growing up, navigating school exam factories or the inevitable spats with friends.

And, in my professional life, it’s to prepare me to be better able to spot warning signs and offer more knowledgeable and credible advice to friends, colleagues, customers and mentorees in terms of mental health.

To help me, I have paid to do a two-day NHS accredited mental health first aiders training course at the end of January. I have lots to learn so I am looking forward to it and the skills I’ll hopefully gain will benefit me, my family, and hopefully some of the people I work closely with.

It was great to see health and wellbeing appearing on the agendas of more industry events in 2019 but we still have a long, long way to go to genuinely improve the situation. We can all play a part in helping our industry improve upon the sobering statistics we keep on seeing when it comes to stress and mental ill health.

3. Give to yourself: Take a break

It’s vital that we all take breaks from screens, social media, fake news and the media.

It can be as simple as the lunchtime walk or, my favourite, a solo coffee break for half an hour at least once a week in your favourite independent purveyor of fine caffeine. Some ‘you’ time. Block it out in your diary every week for 2020. Call it something important if others can access your work diary and protect if fiercely. It isn’t selfish, it’s giving yourself some space to think, plan or just simply relax a little.

Take a break from social media too. I aim for social media-free Sundays and try to come off at 9pm at night – that blue light too late at night will hamper our sleep, we know. It does to me.

If we don’t look after ourselves we can’t look after our families, friends and colleagues. It’s that simple.

Life can throw any of us a curve ball

So, it’s so important for us to be self-aware and to give to ourselves.

As a bloke of a certain age some of this stuff doesn’t necessarily come naturally and so I have to work on it and listen to others who are better qualified in health and wellbeing.

And, that’s an extra ‘give’ – we shouldn’t be slow to ask for others to give us help. It is a flaw I have, I know. But we work in a very giving and supportive industry in public sector comms so don’t ever be alone with stuff. If I can help, shout me. If you think you can help me, also shout me. And if you are worried about a friend or colleague and their wellbeing in 2020 make sure you check in on them and ask if you can give them a hand or simply a listening ear.

Because it really is better to give than receive.

Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of specialist consultancy creative communicators ltd

Sign up for the official comms2point0 eMag HERE – it’s packed with exclusive free resources and content that you won’t find anywhere else.

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

Andrew Greenway, product manager for the original government service manual and standard, points approvingly at the NHS digital service manual

How did I uphold the NHS Constitution?

“view the services you provide from the standpoint of a patient” – Staff responsibilities in the NHS Constitution for England

  • I topped up my 2 hours every 6 weeks of exposure to primary user research by listening in on some calls with patients about their experiences of getting referred, making and managing appointments. There’s no substitute for listening to patients talking about their experiences in their own words. If we don’t, we end up making faulty assumptions based on our own experiences, or on what might work most conveniently for the system.
  • Depending on their condition and what else is going on for them in life, people make different trade-offs between how urgently they want to be seen, how far they can travel, and whether it’s a particular care professional that they need to see.
  • One phrase in particular struck me, when a participant said he thought the current system was “patient-driven” – but not in a good way. He meant we were offloading the burden of administration onto people who are not best-placed to make decisions.
  • A common theme in our user research is that people forgive the NHS a lot of inconvenience because of the quality of clinical care they receive, and what they’ve heard about our resources. They have the highest trust in our staff, but also the lowest expectations of NHS admin. It’s down to those of us who work in the system to hold ourselves to account for the quality of the whole service, clinical and non-clinical, even when many people say that they’re satisfied with it.

What inspired me this week?

  • I spent Wednesday afternoon with the brilliant Topol Digital Fellows. Their show-and-tells were first class and showed the value in the programme’s model of freeing up digitally-minded health professionals to spend time working on projects in their own organisations and beyond. Also lovely to see Andrew and Jamie from Public Digital telling the story of public sector digital transformation, and sharing lessons that the fellows can put into practice in their own projects.
  • At the same event, Rochelle, our head of user research, told the story of the new national work on screening services. It’s great to see this team growing and making an unloved corner of our NHS IT infrastructure fit for the 2020s.
  • With our user-centred design leaders and the graduate trainees who work with the central team, we did a “manual for me” session, in which everyone shared their preferences for how they like to work. We borrowed the format from this brilliant write-up by Cassie Robinson.
  • Tero published a blog post about the user-centred design training that he and Rochelle have developed. The many responses to the post from people wanting to get onto the training were also inspiring.

What feedback did I give?

  • I talked with a senior colleague about transparency in work, and how to think about it as a team quality, not an admin overhead or a means of hierarchical control by line managers. If colleagues know what you’re working on, they can come forward and help you. If you keep it to yourself, you’re on your own! There are lots of ways of doing this, and everyone needs to find a way that works for them.

What connections did I make?

  • Matt, our new Communications Director, spent some time with my team and me at Bridgewater Place. We showed him some of the work the teams are doing here, and talked about ways to help him with the digital services that are within his directorate’s scope.
  • Thursday was a meeting of NHS Digital’s senior leadership community, always a good time to catch up with colleagues I don’t see very often, and understand what’s going on for them.

What leadership teamwork did I see?

  • The executive management team at the senior leadership community event. Sarah, our CEO, talked about trust, how we earn it and how we keep it. It’s no coincidence that “design for trust” is one of our NHS digital design principles.
  • Product and delivery managers from three of our teams enthusiastically got behind the idea of a cross-team show and tell. We’re doing the first one next week.
  • I’m working with colleagues who sometimes see things differently on setting up a new piece of work, but I hope we’re coming across as a collaborative team.

What do I need to take care of?

  • There are various things to do as part of our corporate re-organisation in the coming weeks. I need to make sure we do these thoughtfully. We must consider the needs of the people in my profession, and the people who aren’t yet in it but might be in the future.
  • Ben, our new interim executive director, starts next week. I need to make sure he’s happy with the things my team and I are doing, and get to know what he wants to achieve so that we can support him.

Original source – Matt Edgar writes here

This weeknote doesn’t carry much about the work I am doing. I was finding my weeknotes about work probably worked better as their own standalone blog posts. If I write any work related blog posts I will link out to them from my weeknotes.

  • A rarity: Caught some live top flight football, and in the pub. Jamie Carragher interviewing is… just the same thing as everyone is a designer innit. We could all do it, just a question of how well.
  • I saw out last weekend climbing, which I’ve not done enough the last month or so. I’ve got to the point I go and supervise others. But I managed to grab half an hour last weekend. Half an hour more than planned. And just great to be working my way up a reverse angle and hanging once I got onto the vertical! Also a reminder my arms are strong, but they’d appreciate me losing another stone. Noted.
  • On Monday I deleted Twitter from my phone. Slack went months ago. Instagram went about a month ago. Maybe less about less screen time, more what I do with my screen time. Haven’t missed Twitter tbh. No, say, stood in the kitchen scrolling through my timelines while the kettle boils. Leafed through a few magazines instead. Is that any better? At the mercy of what others have written in both situations.
  • Carrying on finishing things I’ve started I fitted in the last episodes of BBC’s Dracula. The first two episodes were excellent. The third felt… like it was from another show, maybe even this is where the idea for the show started and they worked backwards from there. It wasn’t awful, but felt a massive step change after the first two episodes. Good to see Paul McGuigan keeping busy though.
  • There’s a Google Home in my kitchen, hooked up to my Spotify account. Making dinner, listening to tunes. Sometimes I ask it what the basketball scores were. It’s slightly less_ screen time. Wonder too much if I have a voice listening speaker should it be something not Google or Amazon? Anyway anyway on Sunday Spotify cuts off a couple of times while I am listening. “Your Spotify account is being used on another device.” Huh. Ask the fam. No one else is using it. I play again. Lasts a beat before cutting off. I log into my Spotify account. I find the home address on my account isn’t mine any more, somewhere in Dallas, Texas. 🤔 I change my password, correct the address — and here’s the thing. I receive no supporting form of comms to say “you have changed your password” or “you have changed your address”, a common pattern with other services. If I had I would’ve noticed this address change sooner. But when we say what does good look like? Some sort of good patterns across the internet manual would be nice.
  • Anyway, twenty six years in from when I first heard it Ill Communication is still so so delicious, like a one band mix tape, weaving in and out of musical and lyrical styles. Oh boy, yes.
  • Delicious is a great way to describe something, yeah? And deliciousness is a good way of measuring things.
  • Reminded this week that the reviews on Yelp — y’know probably the thing that set Yelp apart when it launched, gave it that momentum, arguable actually what the product is in the way YouTube is basically a massive recommendation engine — were added as v late in the day feature.
  • “needless to say”. A good editor would make sure you didn’t need to use that. What you are saying would be needed. Remember that before you say needless to say.
  • Talking of editors, what does a good content designer make of birthday cards where everyone — and I mean everyone — uses the name of the person the card is for?
  • The Atari arcade font — the one used in Pacland and Klax and all that, not the chunk-o-rama from their early days — was quite the thing wannit.
  • I remembered I have quite a few activities logged in Runkeeper, which I used from 2011 through to 2016. In 2016 I got an Apple Watch, swapped the tracking service for my runs, and my Runkeeper has remained dormant — and forgotten it seems. And that’s something I used quite a bit (it pretty much logged my garden leave periods!). Should a service, do services have a commitment, legally or ethically, to remind you a few years down the line “You’ve not used this for a while. Do you to keep or delete your data/account?”
  • Related: I got an email from Zwift today titled “Your activity for 2019”. That’d be the one time I used Zwift to track something because I was curious how wearables had moved on in the four years since I really had a good poke at them.
  • 2020 has started with so many chats revolving around the obsession to one common interface irrespective of audience/user differentiation. It started to bubble in my work this week too. Not sure the chats swayed me in that direction, but it’s a pattern.
  • Nice to have a mo this week to take in how we skim lists of content and blocks with several lists of content, and how line height rhythm helps us take them in.
  • In a week of a few catch ups, it was so so good to catch up with the NHS digital service manual team earlier this week. It seems a long time since the first goes at the NHS digital service manual was hung up in the shed. It’s come a long way and from the time with the team they’re not resting on their laurels. Keep going.
  • You can now get a place for Leeds gov design meet number 13. As usual: If you fancy doing a session or there’s something you want to see, drop me a line.
  • Too many rappers, and there’s still not enough MCs. Truth.

Decent reads

Fast projects

Dave Cunningham’s [openly honest take on his first six months as the DesignOps manager at Co-op][]

Spaced is 21 years old. What?!

Ocean’s 14 plot right here etc etc

Putting the serve into service

Jack Sheppard’s neat take on process-first design systems

Everyone should know a little bit about user-centred service design. Well, at least those working at NHS Digital. So great to see Tero and Rochelle making this happen.

Know your market and look for adopters that can build a user base is one of a few good takeaways from this Guardian piece on Strava

The very smart (in all senses) James Johnson on why “breaking down silos” misses the point

Did you like these weeknotes? Maybe looking for some that are better? Give these a try: Mark Boulton, Mark Hurrell, Matthew Solle, Chris Thomas.

Original source – Simon Wilson

Emotion, empathy and ethnography in policy-making

The last decade has been marked by a significant shift in the debate about the relationship between the citizen and the state. Around the world, in order to remain relevant, organisations have undertaken significant transformation to become more ‘human-centred’. 

But what does this mean for policy-making? Beyond the headlines of populism, long after election campaigns are over, how might policymakers better understand citizens’ perspectives when designing policy? Put another way, how should we improve and innovate the way policy is made to ensure it becomes more human-centred?

Over the last four years the Policy Lab has been exploring the use of ethnography as a tool for policy-making. Ethnography offers an approach to deeply understand peoples’ lives. This can contribute to a body of evidence that informs future policies, which can be tested at a later stage. This blog looks at how to best involve citizens’ ‘lived-experiences’ in the policy-making process and how to combine it with other forms of data. 

Ethnography in policy-making

The term ethnography comes from latin, with ‘ethno’ meaning people and ‘graphy’ meaning writing. In the early days of the field, anthropologists would visit communities and write down their observations in journals, spending months and sometimes years in a place to become deeply connected to its people and their ways of life. Historically, the most important methodological principle of ethnography is participant-observation fieldwork. This means our Policy Lab ethnographers spend a lot of time out around the country with the people affected by government policies.

Since the 1980s, the corporate world has embraced ethnographic techniques and adapted them to their practical objectives.  Companies like Red Associates in Copenhagen and Ipsos MORI in the UK use ethnography with large corporations to help them better understand customers. However, governments around the world have been slower to integrate these techniques into their policy-making toolkit.     

Kyna Gourley joined the Policy Lab as the UK Government’s first in-house film ethnographer in 2015 and since then has spent hundreds of hours with different people documenting and sharing their experiences.  She’s attended job centres in partnership with DWP and visited national parks for our work on Defra’s Independent Landscapes Review. This kind of data, using rich visual film, helps policy-makers understand individual human behaviours, revealing not just what is happening but also why it is happening.  

This is an image of one of Policy Lab's film ethnographer at work on research visit

A Policy Lab film ethnographer out in the field

Ethnographic research also helps individuals and communities have more agency when sharing their experience of a policy issue, because ‘ethnographic interviews’ are by definition open and offer research participants the platform to say what is important to them, in their own words. Through the ethnographer’s camera, they can show policy-makers the reality they live in, deciding what policy-makers should know about them or their experience.  

Over time the Lab has expanded its ethnography team and now regularly involves the public in shaping future government policies using a variety of techniques. We have found ethnography to be particularly valuable when working with under-represented groups, but it also adds value to many others – even policies that don’t have obvious services or traditional ‘user needs’.

How is ethnography different to other qualitative research methods?

As a tool for policy-making, ethnography is different to traditional qualitative research techniques like consultation. It generally involves smaller numbers of people and provides much deeper insights in a way that is more open-ended and doesn’t have to preempt particular lines of enquiry. Our participatory policy design ladder (below) shows how ethnography fits into the shifting power dynamics towards the citizen. 

This is an image of Policy Lab’s participatory policy design ladder model.

Policy Lab’s ‘participatory policy design ladder’ (2019)

Big data and ‘thick’ data

Compared with quantitative data, ethnography creates different forms of data – what anthropologists call ‘thick data’. Complex social problems benefit from insights beyond linear, standardised evidence and this is where thick data shows its worth. In Policy Lab we have generated ethnographic films and analysis to sit alongside quantitative data, helping policy-makers to build a rich picture of current circumstances. 

On the other hand, much has been written about big data – data generated through digital interactions – whether it be traditional ledgers and spreadsheets or emerging use of artificial intelligence and the internet of things.  The ever-growing zettabytes of data can reveal a lot, providing a (sometimes real time) digital trail capturing and aggregating our individual choices, preferences, behaviours and actions.  

Much hyped, this quantitative data has great potential to inform future policy, but must be handled ethically, and also requires careful preparation and analysis to avoid biases and false assumptions creeping in. Three issues we have seen in our projects relate to:

  • partial data, for example not having data on people who are not digitally active, biasing the sample
  • the time-consuming challenge of cleaning up data, in a political context where time is often of the essence
  • the lack of data interoperability, where different localities/organisations capture different metrics

Through a number of Policy Lab projects we have used big data to see the big picture before then using thick data to zoom in to the detail of people’s lived experience.  Whereas big data can give us cumulative evidence at a macro, often systemic level, thick data provides insights at an individual or group level.  We have found the blending of ‘big data’ and ‘thick data’ – to be the sweet spot. 

This is a diagram of Policy Lab's model for combining big data and thick data.

Policy Lab’s model for combining big data and thick data (2020)

Policy Lab’s work develops data and insights into ideas for potential policy intervention which we can start to test as prototypes with real people. These operate at the ‘meso’ level (in the middle of the diagram above), informed by both the thick data from individual experiences and the big data at a population or national level. We have written a lot about prototyping for policy and are continuing to explore how you prototype a policy compared to say a digital service.

Emotion as a source of evidence

Having gathered ‘thick data’, how might policy-makers handle the emotional perspectives captured in data from individuals? How for example, can policy-makers be sure this isn’t just anecdotal? 

In each project, Policy Lab’s ethnographers review the existing evidence and then use ethnography to understand the more complex narrative behind the big data and statistics. It is the job of the ethnographers to guide policy-makers through the analysis stage so that they too are included in this process. To do this, our ethnographers use storytelling techniques to summarise often complex research findings into thematic films.  These can be shared easily with the policy team and are available to be shown again within the department and with ministers.  

Our project on the future of rail is one example where including emotional responses in the research narrative revealed a fresh perspective to policy team and service providers, beyond the usual performance data such as train punctuality. By shadowing rail passengers, we revealed individual’s anxieties about travelling, for example getting pushchairs on and off trains in a short time. To many people, this experiential approach is simply common sense. However, finding effective ways to marry this data with the rigorous, objective standards of evidence needed to inform policy requires careful consideration.

This is a screenshot from Policy Lab's film ethnography for the Department for Transport's future of rail project, showing someone boarding a train with a pushchair.

Policy Lab’s film ethnography for the Department for Transport’s future of rail project

Future policy-making will continue to require strong quantitative evidence (including big data). This will become more readily available at scale and in real time, but we think there is also a really important role for qualitative insights (thick data) from ethnography to add into the mix. And whilst it is early days for the application of ethnography in policy-making the early signs from the Policy Lab are positive. We are therefore reaching out across government to share experience though a recently established anthropologist network. If you are interested in learning more do get in touch by emailing us:

Original source – Policy Lab

Jacinta Mellinger, DWP service designer discusses ideas with four colleagues at a table full of materials at GovJam Blackpool

Jacinta Mellinger (centre), DWP service designer at GovJam Blackpool (photo credit: Lisa Jeffery)

Take 30 participants, a pile of creative supplies, some service design techniques and a secret theme. Mix them together in a Victorian ballroom and give them 48 hours to infuse. What’s the result? 4 amazing ideas to transform public services and a load of new friendships.

That was the recipe for the first-ever Blackpool GovJam, on 23–24 October 2019.

What’s GovJam? And why Blackpool?

GovJam is an independent, volunteer-run free event that uses design thinking and service design techniques to improve public services in different cities or towns across the world.

GovJam is unique for its global scale and its focus on public services and user needs. All GovJam events take place in the same week, using a common theme. The Blackpool event was the first GovJam outside of a city in the UK.

Blackpool has 8 of the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK but there is so much more to this historic town and its people.

We wanted to put Blackpool in lights (get it?) to see if there was an appetite for ‘jamming’ and for this sort of event in the town. It was an experiment, but a great opportunity to galvanise local interest in public services and build a digital community in Blackpool at the same time.

A number of other DWP colleagues were up for this challenge and helped organise and facilitate the event, including content designers Anne Ramsden and Dan Howarth. We teamed up with colleagues from outside DWP including Lisa Jeffery from GDS and Liz Whitehead from Hippo Digital, one of the sponsors.

What happened?

On the first day, we set everything up at the Winter Gardens and waited for people to arrive. And they did, 30 of them!

People from Blackpool Council, the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA), Santander, HeadStart, Blackpool Tech Hub and our very-own DWP, amongst others came along to jam. It was a really good mix of local and national government, as well as small businesses and social enterprises.

First, the organisers of Global GovJam announced the secret theme in a video, and we affinity-sorted our interpretations and self-organised into 4 teams. We went through the five stages of a design sprint—empathise, define, ideate, prototype, test— with the help of some expert facilitation. Jacinta introduced us to service design and prototyping techniques, and Fern Williams from Hippo gave us an overview of user research.

Fortified by pizza, soup and sandwiches, we got to work. We went out into Blackpool to carry out user research, then came back to define the problem. We created prototypes and iterated them, based on further research and testing with members of the public.

A collection of Blackpool GovJam stickers on a table

Blackpool GovJam stickers (photo credit: Lisa Jeffery)

The results

At the end of the 2 days, we presented our prototypes. It’s amazing how much the teams managed to achieve in such a short time.

‘On the Edge of Brilliance’ looked at the process of claiming compensation as a veteran. They removed the worry and complicated steps from the process so that veterans could do it themselves, without the support of a solicitor, and keep all of their money.

‘The Includers’ looked at the loneliness and isolation that comes from a life event such as losing your driving licence, and how this could be overcome through a directory of services.

‘Team Decibel’ looked at helping people with sound sensitivities to access events they are currently excluded from, and how they can find a quiet space. ‘Team Greta’ looked at how people can assess their own personal impact on climate change, and identify micro actions to make improvements.

You can see some of their work on the Global GovJam gallery.

What we learnt

There’s a big community of people in Blackpool who are passionate about improving public services, and we barely scratched the surface at GovJam. It’s just a matter of framing problems in the right way.

From going out and doing user research around Winter Gardens and Blackpool town centre, we found people who really care about mental health, inclusivity and climate change. It reiterated the need to leave our boardrooms and design studios, and work collaboratively with everyday people to understand problems and come up with solutions.

Jamming teaches us to be comfortable with ambiguity. But it’s hard to break free from the safety of being told what to do. If we can support each other through a collaborative design process and build on each other’s ideas, we can create something valuable out of nothing. We can use prototypes to test our ideas quickly and cheaply with users, fail fast, learn and iterate.

GovJam is a really inclusive format. Unlike hackathons, you do not need to have technical skills. Unlike conferences, you’re not there just to talk or listen. GovJam only asks you to bring an open mind and a willingness to work with other people to start something that could solve real problems.

The Blackpool GovJam Team stood on a staircase in the Winter Gardens, Blackpool

The Blackpool GovJam Team (photo credit: Lisa Jeffery)

As for the experiment? The response to the first Blackpool GovJam was phenomenal. The sheer number of people who took part and the support we received showed that service design is happening here in Blackpool. One of the attendees, PhD student Laura Wareing said "there was a real energy in the room and it was great an event like this took place in Blackpool and not just in bigger cities."

The majority of our attendees said they would come again, and over half of them said they want to help organise next year. So it looks like it’s going to be even bigger. Come and join us in 2020!

Find out more about Blackpool GovJam on the website.

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Original source – DWP Digital