I’m just looking through my references for the week of work. My notebook shows two spreads at least for each day of the week. 16 spreads for the week in total, full of lists, notes, scribbles, sketches. But the board we use for work has just one thing against me: The Prototype. And that’s been my focus this week. Last thing yesterday I counted I had done about 60 “tasks” so far this week. Today I did another 22.
Some small things – typos, replace little bits of content – others fell into 1. redesigning stuff and 2. a fair bit of restructuring our service map database and then creating hierarchical rules for using it. If we have information supplied by a service team use that. If we don’t have that and we have information analysed by us, use that. If we don’t have either of those do we have our initial assumptions for what the service is? Use that. That sort of thing.
And then getting that coded in. Lots of that logic and nested within if we have that use it, otherwise don’t do anything – or say we don’t have anything. It’s one of those grinding weeks of lots of little things but The Thing is Getting Made (or remade, feeling a bit Trigger’s broom now): I’m making that code-wise and the team collectively are making it in all sorts of other ways. It’s satisfying, in that it’s-coming-together way. And I am really glad I decided early in to work out how to easily grab a JSON file of the data so we can build a prototype around it. It’s mde our work feel alive a lot sooner – and made the jump to getting into people’s hands easier.
Had some good little sessions with user researcher Jess working through lots of stuff, which was nice. But mainly a week sat on my own, ticking along.
Outside of the department service map I chatted with one designer by Slack a bit this week, see how they’re going. A product owner and I had chats about all sorts of stuff, was. was nice. I had an end of week catch up with another MHCLG designer, Paul, which was, again, nice. I also had catch ups with four people at gov departments that aren’t MHCLG, through my public offering of half hour chats. Nice. I had a really good discussion about the value of exploring concepts, regardless of whether you work in a “design systemed” enviornment or not. Yes, nice. And maybe a separate blog post in that. And another chat, about the shared skills of a designer (interaction, service, UX, content whatever) and a product owner. Which was also nice, helping the PO start to see where they can work closer with a designer. Respectful crossovers and all that.
A couple of things outside of all that:
A couple of weeks back I chatted with Randy and Lily about mapping, on the Mind the Product podcast as part of MtP’s discovery week. Nothing too in depth and tried to keep it “light”. Feel free to listen and let me know what you think.
My son has been isolating the last two days of the week (thanks Covid!), doing his schoolwork from home, logging onto Teams, picking up bits of work that are simply labeled “for those isolating”. Not ideal circumstances but nice to get messages from him asking where he can put his newly built website. Yes, you should have been doing Spanish, son, but…
Pro tip of the week: As tempting as it is to stay up until 2am so you can catch some of the NBA playoffs I advise not to do this in the middle of a working week. You will feel it the next day.
But aside from that, a couple of teeth-gnashing hours aside a reasonably straightforward week with my MHCLG work. Can’t complain on that front.
My dad loved computers. He introduced them into his haberdashery company, Edward E. Lazarus Ltd, in the late 70s, despite his father thinking they were a fad. He bought his first home computer, a BBC, in the 80s and I inherited it when he upgraded to an Acorn, and in turn an Apple when he decided they were the brand for him.
Knowing technology was the future, Dad got me extra IT lessons when I was 10 years old, to help me keep up with all the programs we were learning. Maths wasn’t my strong suit and Dad knew that I might struggle, he so wanted me to enjoy all the capabilities of my computers but mainly I played Zool and Chuck Rock.
Obviously, I inherited Dad’s love of computers and it has played a huge role in my career, even though it’s not been a typically technical one, and it eventually brought me to dxw.
Moving from acting to tech
I shared another love of my Dad’s – acting – and he was very supportive over the years at my attempts to pursue this career. I came to London after studying Drama and English at Aberystwyth University with the intention to get some office jobs and to try and get my break. However by my late 20s, I’d decided it wasn’t for me and that I was enjoying the business world instead.
While I was working as a Team Assistant for Capita Symonds based at the BBC, I knew I wanted something other than a clerical role and became a super user of various business applications. Though I was limited there as a woman and an administrator, it taught me a lot about what I was capable of and I was fortunate to have a mentor that pushed me to move on.
Eventually I landed a job at Skype and decided that working in the tech industry was a better home for me. Dad loved Skype and called me often, sometimes in meetings, as he could now see when I was online! Skype was the first organisation where I could see a path to a more fulfilling career. It also made me realise the importance of having passion in the mission of the company you work for. In this case, to provide such a life changing product that brought people together and to do it for free.
I also felt empowered by the people I worked with there that I could have a career outside of the traditional paths I had felt guided towards by school, my early work experiences, and my gender. I was then headhunted into another tech company as an Office Manager. Unfortunately the majority of the company was made redundant within 9 months but it was a blessing in disguise as following some time with a life coach, I renewed my focus, and found my way to dxw.
Not all tech jobs involve code
My journey of discovery has continued and I’ve done many things that I never thought I would because of dxw and the confidence my dad instilled in me.
I’ve spoken at events about what we do and how we’re trying to make things better. I’ve done a massive variety of work in the Commercial Operations team and had the chance to develop my craft as an HR People Manager. The technical knowledge I’ve learned has made me more effective in that role and in feeling part of the public sector tech community.
I’ve also developed my understanding of and passion for diversity and inclusion, something my dad again instilled in me. He viewed the world from a Jewish man’s perspective with an openness not generally expected of a person of his generation (1920s). I’ve met so many people he would have loved to have spoken to, through inclusive events I’ve been involved in running or attending like 300 seconds, Ada’s List, and UKGovcamp.
I’ve also had the opportunity to learn a bit about WordPress and dipped my toes into it by creating websites for a theatre festival and dog training club. Dad loved to hear about the different things I was trying and he enjoyed the connection we had through our love of tech.
Since he passed away in January, I’ve been looking at all the emails he sent me over the years. So many life events covered (and silly forwarded jokes we shared), it’s a precious gift to have this correspondence.
I’ve been so glad of a chance to share this story in time for Father’s Day. My dad inspired me to keep up with the latest technology and also to be innovative, to try and make things better for others, and to be kind. The best legacy I could ask for and one I’ll now pass to my son.
When the story of the first 12-months of the COVID-19 pandemic is written it will record more than 100,000 dead.
It will also record Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ‘Stay home, save lives, protect the NHS’ address to the nation.
Nothing will record profound sense of shock and alarm in those first few days in what was the beginning of a long trudge to try and find normality.
Without question the death rate would have been far higher but for public sector communicators who were enlisted into the biggest crisis since World War Two.
But what impact has it had on them?
The price paid
Stress, longer hours, a retreat to working from home and a loss of face-to-face office connections have been what fire, police, NHS, local and central government comms teams have faced.
In July 2020, I started a survey of fire, police, NHS, central and local government communicators which has turned into a rolling tracker that’s captured some of the ebb ands flow.
It reveals the secret price paid by those asked to support those on the frontline.
It’s a price paid with a tsunami of mental health problems, deteriorating physical health, increased isolation and stress often in the face of a lack of leadership, information and resources.
In this blog post I run through 12-months of figures that are likely to throw a long shadow across the lives of those involved.
Most say it’s getting easier
At last, in summer 2021 the indicators finally show that working in the pandemic is getting easier. More than 40 per cent gave this positive feedback in the survey. That’s a figure that’s double those who think it is getting harder.
Q: Is working in the pandemic getting easier or harder?
But health continues to suffer
Across the pandemic, mental health and physical health among public sector people has taken a battering.
Worryingly, this isn’t improving.
With physical health, 52 per cent say it has worsened in the most recent survey in April and May 2021. Mental health has also taken a beating with 58 per cent of public sector people reporting deteriorating mental health.
This is the canary in the coalmine for the sector.
Q: Is your mental health getting better or worse?
The positives still hold
Across the pandemic, a consistent three out of four have reported they have felt as though they are working for the common good.
Around half have felt through the last 12-months as though they are part of a team.
Feeling as though you are part of an organisation that has felt valued has been more problematic. In June 2020, 41 per cent reported this but it slipped to a quarter through the remainder of the year rallying again to 40 per cent in May and June 2021.
The negatives remain
The darker side of the coin in working through the pandemic has been the impact on home.
A third have consistently experienced problems with home schooling and a tenth with looking after a loved one.
Stress as spring 2021 turned into summer remains an endemic issue with 74 per cent reporting it as an issue – a four per cent improvement on January 2021.
However, lack of direction has also been a problem.
In April and May 2020, 40 per cent reported this with UK Government and a third reporting the same issue with home governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A lack of leadership from the comms person’s own organisation has improved by five points to 25 per cent.
A lack of resources is biting
Enough tools and staff to do the job has remained a consistent problem with 23 per cent reporting a lack of staff sliding to 36 per cent in the most recent study. This was mirrored by a lack of resources to do the job surging from 24 per cent in 2020 to 38 per cent in April and May 2021.
Winter was the hardest period
Each period of the pandemic has had its own challenges and problems. The survey showed winter with lockdown 2.0 was the hardest for 45 per cent of public sector comms people. That beat lockdown 1.0 with 26 per cent. Regional lockdowns in the autumn (11 per cent) was third toughest with just four per cent saying the opening months of 2021 were hardest.
Q: Which period of the pandemic was hardest?
Abuse is rampant
More than 12-months into the pandemic and abuse is worsening.
Those seeing abuse aimed at their fire, council, police, council or government department has risen from 27 per cent seen weekly to 31 per cent. Verbal abuse aimed at individuals has almost doubled from seven to 13 per cent as a weekly incident.
Racist abuse is seen daily by 16 per cent of respondents – that’s up from nine per cent last summer.
The figures are alarming and they paint a picture which can often be toxic for those enduring it. There is a health penalty to be paid and how to respond to support staff is one of the challenges facing people.
In part two, I’ll look at the data country-by-country and also sector by sector.
Does this sound like an opportunity for you? We’ve got some colleagues sharing what they find valuable about being a user researcher, what’s going on in their area, and advice on applications for you.
Why we need user researchers
GDS needs to grow to meet our delivery commitments. We need user researchers to plan, design and carry out research activities with users to help our delivery teams get a deep understanding of the people that use government services.
User research informs policy, proposition, service, content and interaction design so that services work well for users and achieves policy intent. As well as leading user research activities, our researchers work tirelessly to build and sustain our user-centric delivery culture.
What you will be working on
The User Research Leads for each team have more information about what user researchers newly joining us will help to deliver.
Chris Marshall – Lead User Researcher, GOV.UK
It’s a great time to be joining GOV.UK as we have an exciting and ambitious roadmap for 2021. GOV.UK is the best place to find government services and information, and user needs are at the heart of everything we do. Our vision is for GOV.UK to offer users joined-up, trusted and personalised interactions.
GOV.UK user researchers help our delivery teams build a deep understanding of our users and their needs. They also help develop our GOV.UK user research practices, which enables us to carry out high quality and impactful research.
There are currently 11 user researchers on GOV.UK and we are looking to recruit for a number of positions in the coming months, who would join our team and the wider data and insight community.
Pablo Romero – Lead User Researcher, Digital Identity
The vision of the Digital Identity programme is that citizens will be able to use one login for all government services. To do this, we need a high-performing team which is representative of the citizens we serve and motivated to make a real difference for our users.
This is a high profile programme that aims to transform the way people access services and interact with government. Our product has to be inclusive in order to ensure that everyone can access the services they need.
User researchers in the Digital Identity programme are part of interdisciplinary teams building a product that is for everyone, respecting the privacy of users and delivering a great user experience.
Nick Breeze – Lead User Researcher, GaaP
GDS’s GaaP products provide a range of shared services that solve common problems across government, enabling teams to design, build, and host services quickly and cheaply.
We are recruiting for a role on the Design System, which is an integral part of GaaP. The Design System provides teams with the styles, components and patterns to enable services to be consistent with GOV.UK and avoid doing work that’s been done elsewhere.
As a user researcher you’ll be a key part of this multidisciplinary team. Your skills will play a vital role in the team understanding its users, and will also enable informed product decisions to be made so the Design System continues to be an exemplar across government.
How to apply
You can visit the GDS career page to find out more about working here, and there are lots of blog posts about different aspects of working life. Here’s just a few to get you started:
Synthetic data is an area that shows great potential for a department like DWP Digital
In my role as lead data scientist for DWP Digital’s Innovation Lab, I’m always looking for new ways for our department to work. One area in particular that I’ve been looking at recently is synthetic data, and the opportunities it could open up for a government department like ours. With this in mind, we’ve set up the Synthetic data, Applied analytics, Innovation Lab (SAIL) team to explore this area further.
Synthetic data is essentially artificially generated but realistic data. It’s created by funnelling authentic source data through algorithms that are specially designed to anonymise, while keeping the structure of the original information. The new synthetic data set can be used for analytical and modelling purposes, which would bring significant benefits to both our department and the wider data science community. At the moment, synthetic data is very much an emerging tool, and it’s important that we consider the potential benefits and risks to a department like ours before we start to use it.
One of the key benefits that synthetic data could provide is in progressing data testing and sharing capabilities, both internally and externally with other government departments, academia and other sectors. Minimum friction across services will aid collaboration, which will ultimately help us to improve services for our users.
Also, synthetic data could provide an opportunity to enable better analysis. The larger a data set, the more it can be interrogated, and synthetic data could help to generate reliable data sets that will help us to analyse and improve our services. Real world data can be fragile and difficult to work with from an analysis point of view; synthetic data can provide a more robust data set that will be easier to work with.
Opportunities for sharing and collaboration
Synthetic data will also help to promote data literacy and understanding. As of now data is locked behind closed doors which is accessible only to data scientists and analysts. Synthetic data will help to build quick dashboards that can be built on this realistic replica. This data literacy can then help businesses to make more informed decisions.
Further, it could also open doors to further data sharing and cross collaboration, leveraging the benefits of crowd-sourcing innovation, working with industries and academic institutions. In the current landscape these opportunities can be very limited, and require a lot of effort to materialise.
Currently, anonymisation of data takes place across the department in order to keep it secure and private when sharing with other departments. This can be a costly and time-consuming process, which synthetic data could help to reduce.
However, synthetic data is only useful for a department like DWP if it can meet a number of strict criteria. First of all, the quality of the synthetic data needs to be assessed. How close does it match the format of the original source data? If the core characteristics and statistical properties are not retained, then the usefulness of the data is lost.
Similarly, the robustness of the data produced needs to be considered. We need to be confident that there are no missing or incomplete values in the data, and that once formatted is consistent with the original.
Perhaps most importantly, as a government department we have to be particularly cautious when it comes to the security and privacy of people’s data. We need to be confident that the synthetic data produced doesn’t contain any information that is sensitive or could identify one of our users.
How we’ve been exploring synthetic data
With all of this in mind, the Innovation Lab team has been exploring the possibilities of synthetic data in order to report our findings back into the department. Earlier this year, we identified three industry leaders of synthetic data and then conducted a 3-day ‘hackathon’ using open data representative of our department’s actual user cases.
Each of the vendors was tasked with producing 10 million records from approximately 5 million in the source dataset. We then tested each of the different synthetic data vendors for quality, accuracy, robustness, security and privacy, with privacy given particular weighting in our assessment, given its importance for the department. The hackathon results showed that one vendor in particular produced the most accurate data, and also the highest levels of security and privacy.
From here, we wanted to subject our results to further academic rigor, in order to challenge our findings. So, we have partnered with the Alan Turing Institute (ATI) for a data study group challenge. The ATI are scrutinising our results and developing privacy and utility metrics for synthetic data that could help us to validate its use for data sharing.
That’s not the end of the journey though. Alongside this academic consideration, we have proposed establishing a tech challenge on DWP datasets to further test our findings. The tech challenge will involve giving fully anonymised data that is representative of authentic DWP data to external participants, and tasking those involved to crowd-solve a specific task.
This will allow us to assess whether the generated synthetic data can be used to conduct analysis to the extent we would require in a real-world scenario. It’s a further layer of robust testing of synthetic data to advance our understanding of its usefulness to our department.
From there, our hope would be that we can move closer to proposing the use of synthetic data as part of our data sharing toolkit across the department. However, that can only happen when we’re fully confident that it provides us with the security, accuracy and privacy we require as a government department.
There are 2 types of website performance testing: synthetic and Real User Monitoring (RUM). Synthetic testing is when parameters are set, such as browser or device used, and then the test is run continually. For example, these tests are run daily on GOV.UK. In contrast, RUM measures the actual performance of a page from actual user devices.
While synthetic is helpful for spotting performance regressions and then verifying they are fixed, unless we have a user who specifically matches the parameters we set out, the results are just estimates as to how the site performs for them.
From today (16 June 2021) we are starting RUM and here’s why it will improve GOV.UK for everyone.
How this data is used
Although anonymous performance data from a user can be helpful in terms of how they experienced GOV.UK and any problems they faced while accessing the content they needed, the real power of this data comes from its aggregate form.
A large dataset gives us direct insight into how the site is performing for everyone. This is a great thing because every user is visiting GOV.UK for different reasons. Some may be looking to complete an important life task like registering a birth, marriage or death, while others are looking for guidance on buying a fishing licence.
It is simply impossible to test a website of GOV.UK’s size (it hosts half a million pages) using all possible device, browser, and connection combinations. By effectively crowdsourcing this performance data, one user’s poor experience gives us the information we need to understand the reasons why that happened, and thereby improve future experiences for all users. It is very important that we keep striving for better performance in the government service space. Here’s why it matters.
But what often isn’t considered is how web performance is also a barrier to entry for users. It is in fact a type of accessibility if you take the word at face value: the ability to ‘access’ data. The quality and optimisation of frontend code is an important factor in the overall experience a user has on a service. That’s why I’ve written about ‘Why we focus on frontend performance’ previously.
It would be wrong for us to assume that all users have access to a high-specification device, an unlimited data plan and a stable connection. There are many users in the UK that are on older devices, or on a limited data plan. There’s also data that shows that some people may even struggle to get a connection at all in some rural areas in the UK.
This means some users could be in a position where they can no longer access government services online because they have run out of data.
Reducing user stress
One of the major impacts of poor web performance on a user is stress. Research from Glasgow Caledonian University found participants had to concentrate 50% more when trying to complete a simple task on a badly performing website.
Imagine the impact this would have on a user trying to complete an important (potentially complex) task that has a real world impact on their life, for example, arranging child maintenance, registering a death, or applying for a Blue Badge. Especially under these conditions the service needs to be there to support them in this process, not hinder them.
Answering fundamental questions about our users’ experience
We realise that users need to access the important information and guidance that is available on GOV.UK, but there are fundamental questions that we have about users that we’d like to answer to help us iterate and improve our services in the future. These questions include:
what devices do users actually use to access government content, and how do they perform?
what is the experience of users in rural areas and with flaky WiFi connections (such as commuters)?
if our services are performing badly, why is this and how can it be rectified?
how are our design and technology choices impacting our users’ experience of GOV.UK?
Ultimately, using RUM analysis will allow us to understand ‘what good looks like’ for a government service hosted on GOV.UK. Aggregate user data showing that a high percentage of users have minimal difficulties accessing our content from anywhere in the world, on any device they choose, points to the fact that we are focussing on the correct areas of delivery.
Gathering this data will prove invaluable in the future, allowing us to make more informed decisions and improve performance for some of the most vulnerable, least digitally-advanced users in society.
Over the next 3 to 6 months the data will give us a clear insight into where GOV.UK needs to improve, and inform updates to our roadmap as we move through this financial year. This anonymous aggregated data can be used to facilitate discussions with other government departments and service teams, making sure that all users visiting GOV.UK and related services receive the best experience possible.
You’ve probably heard that “Customer Experience” (CX) is the next big thing. Wherever you go there are adverts for CX platforms, CX jobs and CX consultants. CX is red hot in the commercial sector with many organisations extolling the virtues (and rightly so) that improved customer understanding can deliver to a business. It increases revenue, aids customer retention and improves satisfaction. What’s not to like?
by Dave Worsell
What can the public sector learn from customer experience as a concept? Is it even relevant when you don’t have “customers” in the traditional sense? Many public services have a monopoly where citizens often have little or no choice about how, when and where they access them. Use of some services is mandatory and may even be exercised against the will of the citizen. So, does the quality of the individual’s experience really matter and therefore is CX an unwelcome distraction or just a passing fad?
First, a quick definition. Customer Experience is a general term that defines how businesses engage with their customers across every point in their buying journey. CX data can be used to inform and improve functions from marketing to sales, to customer service and pretty much everywhere in-between. However, CX is so much more than recording interactions with an organisation, it can also capture feelings and sentiment to understand how customers feel about your brand throughout their journey.
To put it another way, CX is a way of describing the sum-total of all interactions someone has with your organisation and how they feel about you at each touchpoint. The insight provided by CX tools and the rich datasets they create allows organisations to make important decisions at each stage, and those decisions directly influence how successful you’ll be as a result.
“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – Teddy Roosevelt
Hopefully the reasons why this concept – and also a technological solution – is relevant for the public sector are now obvious. CX can be used to reduce costs, generate revenue and improve reputation. As a public sector entity, try thinking of it as “Citizen Experience” rather than Customer Experience and it all makes sense. For many public sector organisations it’s time to take the CitX plunge.
Citizen experience (CitX) needs to be different from the Customer experience (CX) because the relationship between public sector organisations and citizens is fundamentally different to that between a business and its customers.
Treating citizens as consumers risks misunderstanding and undermining the wider role of public service in building strong communities. While businesses serve the need of the individual; knowing that consumers will vote with their feet, and their wallets, they deploy customer experience management as a means to an end, building competitive advantage in the form of customer loyalty. Public service isn’t only about meeting individual demands, it also requires delicately balancing the diverse needs of a wider community.
During my time as Managing Director (MD) for Granicus UK, we’d partnered with hundreds of public sector organisations to help build their audience, grow engagement and ultimately drive behaviour change. It is the final part of this puzzle –behaviour change — where CitX was the crucial missing ingredient that would have significantly magnified the impact we achieved. We just didn’t know enough about our audience, and how they really felt, to implement meaningful change.
Effective behaviour change requires deep understanding of your service users — citizens — and in turn helps you build and deliver services that they’ll use and hopefully enjoy using. It’s hardly rocket science and there have been ways of identifying these outcomes for years. However, CitX finally provides a way of automating what was once a slow and laborious manual process.
I’ve watched the CX space with interest for years, long before CX became a thing. In the early Granicus days we had partnered with UK-based GovMetric as a way to better understand sentiment in the messages that were being sent to subscribers. At the time it seemed like a sensible integration but the market didn’t respond quite the way we hoped and I never fully understood why.
“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” – Steve Jobs
It was clear to me that GovMetric was ahead of its time and clearly understood the nuanced distinction between CX and CitX. However, the market wasn’t ready for this disruptive technology and didn’t appreciate why citizen experience was important when they already had a captive audience. GovMetric saw things differently and knew the impact good citizen experience would have on an organisation and the people they serve. Those organisations “in the know” agreed and this allowed GovMetric to carve out a small CitX niche while the rest of the world slowly caught-up.
At the same time, everyone else was busy building “a single view of the customer” in CRM systems like MS Dynamics and SalesForce, which only give a one dimensional view of the citizen relationship without truly understanding the all-important emotional connection. Clearly the CRM-first approach has been a great stepping-stone towards a full CitX solution, but the lack of detailed insight is now holding these systems back. These tools lack the sophisticated data mining and data science functionality that unlocks the value in the data collected.
While Local Government has dragged its heels, the UK housing sector has really started to get its CX act together and is looking to implement cross-sector benchmarks and robust mechanisms for capturing, interpreting and reporting tenant satisfaction.
While tenant surveys such as the HouseMark Star (Survey of Tenants and Resident) and StarT (Survey of Tenants and Resident Transactions) have been around for years, for the first time a consistent approach will be mandated as part of a new strategy outlined by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) in their updated policy paper “The charter for social housing residents: social housing white paper (January 2021)”.
This regulatory requirement will undoubtedly challenge the housing sector to adopt a consistent approach to data collection and drive the adoption of specialist CX solutions to help support and automate traditional labour intensive survey methods. Overtime, this technology will drive towards a digital-first approach and enable real-time collection of data, empower data-led decision making and ensure housing associations are far more responsive to tenants’ needs.
The exact format and mechanism for collecting tenant satisfaction data is still to be defined but the legal requirement certainly validates the approach adopted by GovMetric, who have been advocating this stuff for years. Unsurprisingly GovMetric are now heavily involved in supporting the Housing Sector through the forthcoming changes.
I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before local government is forced into maintaining similar metrics and benchmarks across a multitude of services areas. If you’re working in communications (or any other service area for that matter) understanding CitX and the value it can bring to your targeted outreach is essential. Make sure CitX learning is part of your future professional development because it’s something you’ll need to know and apply in the very near future. Anyway, when has knowing your audience ever been a bad idea?
Dave Worsell is founder of @IneoDigital and @digikind, and an investor at @hellolamppost_ He’s also helping @TarmacDev grow in Europe. You can say hello on Twitter at @dworsell
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Beth shares her views on the course which was delivered by Chloe and Shivangi.
Beth Lambert-Matthews: “After only 6 minutes, we started coding!”
I’m training to be a software engineer as part of the DWP Digital apprenticeship programme. Alongside computer courses and technical training, I get to work on real projects so I can put my new skills straight into practice.
Then, only 6 minutes into the course, we starting coding! Using a free online resource called JSFiddle.net, we followed Chloe’s instructions to write words in a specific pattern. These words were then ‘decoded’ or understood by the computer to make certain outcomes happen.
Shivangi Das: “Representation matters.”
Representation matters because if you can see it, you can be it. That’s why I’m so keen to do what I can to encourage more women into tech careers.
I’ve been part of so many women in tech communities over the 6 years I’ve worked in tech, and they’ve offered the welcoming, encouraging and supportive environment that I needed to keep loving to code.
I hope that by delivering the course with Code First Girls I’ve been able to inspire more women into considering a digital role.
Chloe Williams: “You don’t need a Computing degree to be a software engineer.”
Having worked with Code First Girls in the past, I was really excited to be involved with the community again. I think it’s really important that companies like DWP Digital offer these kind of taster sessions, as they provide a window into an industry many young women may not have experienced before.
Three years ago, my journey to becoming a Software Engineer started with something very similar and I hope this course highlights that you don’t necessarily need a Computing degree to be a software engineer.
Diane led deep dives on four initiatives in the Urgent and Emergency Care digital portfolio. I think I’m allowed to play the new kid card for a little while longer, and as an introduction to the key issues in each piece of work, I found all the sessions really helpful. I saw lots of good evidence of teams collaborating well. Where they’re not yet, at least we know we have work to do to close the gap. I’m looking forward to these sessions chaired by Diane on a monthly basis in future.
Collaborating across teams
A catch-up with an agency team working on a patient-facing channel strategy from a self-care, prevention, and non-urgent care point of view. Hopefully we were able to join some dots between that and the national strategies in the world of urgent and emergency care.
A couple of sessions on bookings and referrals, including a well-presented and well-attended show and tell by our NHS Digital colleagues. It was great to see user research presented, and I’m looking forward to seeing the patient experience being explored more fully as this work moves forward.
As I mentioned in last week’s note, I’m becoming clearer on the role of the digital team for urgent and emergency care, and why we’re part of the NHSX Digital Transformation Directorate. There’s so much value to gain from working as a single directorate with Simon and Nayeema’s teams.
Looking to the world
On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons, I Zoomed into Harvard Kennedy School and Public Digital’s annual Digital Services Convening with more than 90 digital government participants from 30+ countries. It was lovely to see some familiar faces and to be inspired by people transforming citizens’ and public servants’ experiences of digital government around the world. Pure luxury!
Getting my 2 hours every 6 weeks
On Friday, I made a plea for help: to ask if anyone on my team was going to some user research in the next week. If so, please could I tag along? I firmly believe that everyone on a team should hear the direct voice of their users on a regular basis. In particular, there’s good evidence that teams are more user-centred when everyone gets at least 2 hours every 6 weeks of exposure to primary user research. To hold myself publicly accountable on this, I keep a note on my Twitter bio of the date I last observed primary research. My last occasion was 6 May, which means the clock is running dangerously low. Thanks to team members who came back to me quickly, I’m looking foward to observing research this week.
The development of the service map prototype trundles along: Some fixes; Pulling through some new types of data the team has put into our database; A little tidying up some messy code and files to make it easier to update latest info in the future. I want to get this nice and neat by the middle of next week to review as “pretty much done”. And I need to stop calling it the prototype. It’s a working website.
Earlier in the week, I was adding into the service map the freshly provided information for a service from a body at arm’s length from MHCLG (get your breath back). It felt satisfying simultaneously gathering service info (will people get what we are asking for? will they need help from us? what’s the process at their end?) with info from people wanting to help further our understanding of the services around the department.
Later in the week it was drawing into the prototype the revised approach to users and user needs which user researcher Jess grafted through.
Side note: Having a couple of stretches where I had several hours to just focus on coding felt way more productive than fitting in an hour here and there. You know those tasks where you get warmed up a little slower than some other things, but when you get going you just motor through?
I had a chance to review the service patterns we’ve distilled over the last couple of weeks, looking through some services and noting which patterns I observed in those services. The list won’t be done but it feels right at this moment in time. I’d love to dig a little more into the variants within those patterns, how is applying in that service the same or different to that service? What other services have the same process for asking for something. It’s nice to be looking at services too, not just the web bit.
As the service map team is operating as a service to its own users we made some handy progress shaping the feedback journey for our own service, again using prototypes to sketch our thoughts after some virtual board work and then start to hone the journeys, as well as looking at other tools that can help (like Office 365’s Word and web form services). Still some work to do, but it’s always easier to talk from made things than referring to abstracts. (Shout out to Jess again.)
There aren’t many designers in MHCLG, which means designers’ support is reliant on a small number of us. Helping others learn a new skill or have a reminder session because they are rusty is something I had lost time for about 7 years ago, made me want to go back to being “hands on” full time. But the last few years I’ve found it one of the more satisfying sides to my working days again, the last couple of weeks particularly. As someone in the later years of their career and done the up/down/up/down the career ladder I wonder how much communities of practice (over specialised one on one time with a peer) support (and not support) the development of designers, and ultimately the furtherment of better design in an organisation. Anyway, satisfying to spend time supporting a couple of the other designers this week.
Wednesday I ended the day looking over everything I had done in the working day. It felt like I’d used a lot of tools from my toolbox, a lot of tools I’d built up over the years. I didn’t feel any sense of context switching whiplash. It had been a steady day, a lot of things on my own and a lot of things with others, a lot of things done, but again that word: satisfying.