6 people standing, facing the camera and posing for a picture

Over the summer, GDS welcomed 6 interns from the Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP)

They’ve been busy working in various teams to support GDS’s work and learn more about working in the Civil Service. 

They’re all undergraduates or recent graduates, from diverse backgrounds, with a varied set of interests and career goals. Here’s what they’ve been up to as part of their internship. 

Matthew – SDIP intern, Strategy

I have been fortunate to have worked within the strategy team as part of my internship. I have spent the majority of my time here researching and drafting a policy positioning paper. I have also written a synopsis of GDS’s spending review engagement, and taken minutes at meetings with senior civil servants. 

I have enjoyed the fantastic working environment at GDS, and everyone within the strategy team has been helpful and welcoming. Colleagues at GDS have been generous, taking time out to share their experiences and offer fantastic career advice. 

The SDIP internship has been a brilliant opportunity, which I am grateful to have been a part of. There were opportunities to participate in a variety of central events and Fast Stream coaching programmes, and I was assigned a mentor who has supported me throughout. This experience has been pivotal in my decision to apply for the Fast Stream next year. 

Nicole – SDIP intern, Engagement and marketing

I recently started as an Engagement and Marketing Assistant for the Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Profession. I’ve been helping to promote GDS Academy masterclasses and the DDaT Fast Stream.

My work involves shadowing my manager in important meetings, creating engagement strategies for campaigns, managing social media projects, and learning about exciting upcoming technologies. In my first couple of weeks, I kept busy by organising an intern’s Instagram campaign for GDS!

The friendly team at GDS made me feel welcome from the start. Colleagues treat me as an equal and are eager to share their passion and knowledge, and offer guidance wherever I need it. 

So far, the internship has proven that no matter what our backgrounds are, we can all excel in the Civil Service. I’m excited to see what more I can achieve in this field. 

Working in the Civil Service in the run-up to EU Exit is also a privilege and an incredibly useful experience. I now have the confidence to adapt to a fast-paced environment and keep up to date with technological and political developments. My daily life and work has a unique tone, which no other internship could give me, and I truly feel that my work here benefits the public.

Georgina – SDIP intern, DDaT capability

The past 6 weeks have opened my mind to the possibility of a career in DDaT. I have been working as part of the DDaT Capability team, which supports government departments to implement the DDaT Profession Capability Framework in their own business units. This framework outlines typical skills required for digital, data and technology job roles to create consistency across government. 

I took every learning opportunity I could while at GDS, shadowing colleagues both within the department and externally, which is something the programme encourages. A particular highlight for me was spending a day at the Department for International Trade, shadowing a DDaT Fast Streamer. 

I think it’s really important that the Civil Service reflects the society it serves and I shared my interest in diversity and inclusion at GDS with my line manager. As a result, I was given the responsibility of contributing to the development of a diversity and inclusion strategy for the DDaT Profession, which will inform work done in the future. It was really rewarding to oversee a long-term project from the initial research stages to the finished product. This allowed me to strengthen my skills and develop new ones. I have also been introduced to new areas of interest, such as user research.

Before my internship I would never have considered a DDaT role but that is no longer the case, which is only a testament to my experience here at GDS. 

Jeeves – SDIP intern, Common platforms

I applied for the SDIP this year because I wanted an in-depth experience of government. After finding out I was successful and had been placed in GDS, I was excited and shocked. The information overload seemed insurmountable at first, but the combination of a supportive team, and diving head-first into my work meant those challenges swiftly dissipated. I discovered that GDS is all about people, not just technology.

GDS is fantastic at what it does – whether it’s modelling agile working, building products or upskilling civil servants through the GDS Academy. 

I’ve had a number of valuable opportunities while working on the Engagement team. From presenting at Civil Service Live, to leading a stakeholder mapping workshop, and even writing part of a submission to our Permanent Secretary, John Manzoni. I was also able to spend time on the GOV.UK team to work on EU Exit preparedness. 

Above all, I have experienced the freedom and trust that GDS places in its staff to get high-quality work done, by balancing independent responsibility with collaborative working. Following this experience, I hope to gain a place on the Fast Stream in the future!

Christian – SDIP intern, User-centred design

My internship at GDS has been somewhat of a learning curve. I was assigned to the User-Centered Design (UCD) team, which exists to support designers and their teams to build government services. To achieve this, the UCD team runs a variety of courses for public sector bodies on service design, accessibility training and GOV.UK prototype kit training, providing a structure for designers and user researchers to collaborate and share best practices. 

During my internship, I collated feedback from these courses into a report that displayed common pain points and provided short and long-term recommendations for the future. I presented my research to the team. I also helped organise the team charter into a fluent and coherent text. 

During my internship, I have really learnt  the importance of putting users’ needs at the heart of any project. If I could describe my experience at GDS with a phrase, it would be ‘fun, professional growth’. 

I am also mindful that this opportunity was possible because the government saw a need to have a Civil Service that properly represented the demographic of the UK and I am grateful for this effort.

Tina – SDIP intern, GovTech Catalyst

I applied for the SDIP internship in my final year at UCL after it was recommended to me by some course mates. I joined the GovTech Catalyst team, which is responsible for allocating funding and helping to develop emerging tech. It focuses on providing innovative technology to address various challenges across the public sector, for example, finding technology that can identify still imagery from Daesh, as part of counter-terrorism measures. 

What’s stood out for me the most during my internship is the breadth of experience I was offered. Not only did I get to shadow important team meetings and make significant contributions to my team, but I also got to participate in a crisis management workshop at the Ministry of Defence and attend a networking event at Number 10. In light of EU Exit, it is an incredibly exciting and dynamic time to work in government and I would highly recommend it to anyone considering a career in public service.

Thanks GDS!

While the different schemes have offered different opportunities, we’ve all benefited from each other’s experience and skills. GDS staff have been extremely welcoming and have shown such kindness in helping us progress in our careers, from proofreading job applications to having informal chats about their experiences. We’re all so grateful for this experience of working in government, and can’t thank GDS enough for having us. 

Find out more about the SDIP programme.

Applications for the DDaT Fast Stream open on 26 September 2019. Find out more about the DDaT Fast Stream programme

Original source – Government Digital Service

Collaboration in front of a whiteboard

Collaboration in an agile team

We recently presented at the Leeds Digital Festival and Digital Leaders events, talking about our roles and the work our user research and business analysis teams do in DWP Digital.

People at those events were interested to know how closely linked our roles are and how our teams work together.

And the link between our roles and teams is also something that some people within DWP are not always clear about, especially people not traditionally used to working with agile multi-disciplinary teams.

What do both roles do?

From our perspective there’s a natural affinity and close working between the roles. But what do we mean when we talk about user research and business analysis, and where’s the overlap?

A user researcher helps the service team learn about their users to create services that meet their needs. Typically, that is primary research with citizens or internal colleagues. The research methods will be tailored to the audience groups and insight required as well as the stages of the agile lifecycle.

A business analyst provides an analytical view on the current situation with the business area, along with an understanding of processes, pain points and volumes and an understanding of stakeholders.

User researcher writing on a whiteboard

The links between the roles

A user researcher often needs the business analyst’s work around the organisation’s aims and constraints in place, to conduct an effective gap analysis and plan research to surface insight around users’ needs and behaviours.

A business analyst looks to a user researcher to provide the emotional context, understanding and user insight around the process pain points they may have identified.

The best way to show this is to highlight a couple of examples of when our teams have worked together.

Collaborating on a private beta for customer computers

Work to understand and evaluate users’ experience of new customer computers being rolled out at five pilot Jobcentres showed just how closely our teams work together.

Our user research explored the extent to which these new devices were meeting the needs of both customers and colleagues in the Jobcentres, through observing and interviewing people using the computers in the pilot sites. But a business analyst would often accompany them on these visits.

This meant we were able to not only understand the users’ experiences, journeys and behaviours but also look into the processes undertaken by colleagues, as well as the extent to which the new devices were meeting business outcomes and success criteria.

This meant we had a wider, richer view of the impact and experience of the computers for users, and could identify areas where the user experience could be further improved before full national rollout. 

Later on in discovery, we collaborated again on user research and worked collectively to bring our work together in a feature map which illustrated the needs, pain points, subsequent opportunity areas and finally potential solution ideas.

Business analist writing on a whiteboard

Working together on Tell Us Once

Tell Us Once is a cross-government service that lets a bereaved person or next of kin report the death of a relative once and then shares this information across other government departments.

We ran a discovery to look at whether the existing live service was meeting the user needs. The main focus of the business analyst was to speak to the stakeholders (including Passport Office, DVLA, HMRC, Local Authorities and other DWP teams) to understand the current processes from end to end.

The user researchers focused on identifying and understanding the users of the service and the needs of those user groups. The primary focus was to understand the journey of both the bereaved citizens (who often don’t differentiate between government departments) and the registrars that deliver the service, as well as hospices, charities and DWP colleagues.

The research aim was to understand the journey of a bereaved citizen, not only their interaction with Tell Us Once. The main areas of interest were what people and registrars had to do following a death, how they found out what to do, who helped them to do things, what problems they faced and the role of Tell Us Once within that.

There were situations where both the user researcher and business analyst would need to speak to the same person, but this provided really useful insights to both roles.

The culmination of both the user research and business analysis was fed back to the team and wider stakeholders and gave them the insight needed into the pain points in the process and the impacts of the current service on stakeholders.

Users unite both roles

It’s clear that on their own, user researchers and business analysts have an important role in agile teams.

Both roles bring critical thinking skills, apply evidence and try to understand why things are happening in order to provide the product owner and the wider service team with enough evidence to make a decision in terms of the direction of the service.

The extent to the collaboration between both roles depends on the nature of the project and the questions the team is trying to answer. But when business analysts and user researchers work closely together, it often leads to a better outcome for users.

Like this blog? Why not subscribe for more blogs like this? Sign up for email updates whenever new content is posted!

 

Original source – DWP Digital

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A few days ago I was asked for a business case to show why you shouldn’t use ‘work’ accounts to log into your corporate page.

By ‘work’ accounts I mean those accounts that have been set up back in the day to access Facebook.

You know the kind of thing.

First name: Oxdown Second name: Comms.

Or maybe First name: Dan Second name: Work.

Facebook has a really simple name for these clever accounts. it calls them ‘fake’.

Why?

Because Facebook’s Terms of Service say that you’re allowed one account and that has to be the real you. Anything else is fake. I’ve blogged about this before but here are two links to point at sceptics.

Fake accounts are against Facebook’s rules

terms.JPG

If your account isn’t the real you you’re breaking the Terms of Service and you may log on one day and find that it has been deleted without warning. I’ve heard several accounts of teams losing access to pages through this route.

Facebook’s half a billion deleted accounts

As a yardstick of how serious is at this deleting fake accounts caper lets look at their actions.

Data from the company reveal that it deleted almost 600 million accounts in the first quarter of 2019 alone.

So in other words, no, you shouldn’t and yes, they will.

No, you won’t be inundated with alerts

One regular justification for having fake accounts to log in with is because people don’t like the idea of getting notifications from pages in their downtime away from work. I get that. You can disable notifications on the page. Job done.

If that still doesn’t float your boat the answer is don’t be a page admin.

 

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

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There’s a cracking cartoon that tackles the problem of mental health in the workplace.

“We know that mental health is a problem,” the boss says “so we’re changing things.”

“What?” says the worker. “You’re taking on enough people to help me actually do my job without feeling burnt out?”

“No,” the boss replies. “We thought maybe pingpong. Or yoga.”

And that, ladies and gents, provokes guffaws amongst people in a way that you know that’s the truth.

In the CIPR’s recent ‘State of the Profession‘ report, 63 per cent said that they felt workplace stress of at least seven out of 10. Across the UK, 59 per cent suffer stress in the workplace. And 75 per cent of suicides are amongst men under 35 and it is the biggest killer in that demographic.

The data goes on and on.

For communicators it is a problem. I tip my hat to Leanne Ehren who was a lone voice when she started speaking about mental health in the public sector comms community several years ago. It’s encouraging that Leanne’s story is no longer a lone voice. Props too to Paul Sutton for talking about this as an issue in the private sector. The world needs more of these people. It needs fewer people who say the right things and do entirely the opposite. But that’s for another day.

A download is a start of it not the end of it

It is encouraging to see the CIPR return to the mental health issue. They’ve worked with mental health charity MIND to produce the seven-page ‘Understanding Mental Health and Wellbeing Skills Guide’ as a download.

It’s a useful document.

The document gives practical advice to managers and individuals. It’s especially good to see independent practitioners flagged-up. As the document says, a trouble shared really is a trouble halved. For someone working on their own that can be especially hard.

When I first went freelance under the comms2point0 banner five years I’d burn through 100 hour weeks. I didn’t have an off-switch. Now, I use a co-working space or the branch of Costa five minutes away from my front door to give me a block of time when I work. When I’m home I’m home and I can relax more.

You may need someone in your corner

This CIPR document is a valuable contribution to the sector. There are things you can do, the document advises. Buddy up. Switch off social media during a bad day. There are things your employer can do, too like signing the Time to Change pledge and monitor mental health as closely as performance. But one things nags me. Those who get it are probably already doing it. Those employers who don’t care may need more than just a download to effect change and I’m sure the report’s authors absolutely get this.

To use boxing imagery, when you’re on the ropes sometimes you need someone in your corner. This is where the NUJ – the National Union of Journalists come in. I joined as a journalist 24 years ago but it still gives me back-up as a freelance communicator. Being a member of the NUJ also puts someone in my corner. At a time when things are getting on top of you and you’re not sure of yourself let alone yourself that could be invaluable.

The CIPR and the NUJ. I’m proud to be a member of both.

Picture credit: istock

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

Reports in the last couple of days have said that some UK oil refineries could close, at least temporarily, and perhaps permanently if a hard Brexit meant that oil-based products were important tariff free (all the more so given that exports from those refineries would have tariffs imposed).  This is because the government has announced, though doubtless subject to change, that the tariff would be reduced to zero; exports would likely have a tariff of just under 5%.

According to an MSN report, the 6 refineries currently operating produce about 400,000 barrels a day of gas, and export about 30% of it.  Commentators speculate that cost reductions would be brought in and that any closures would be short term. 
There is, though, a bigger problem.  According to the UKPIA (Petroleum Industry Association), the downstream oil industry is important to the UK:

The sector contributed £7.7 billion directly to UK GDP in 2016 and supported directly and indirectly 300,000 jobs, as well as enabling all other key sectors of the economy – from chemicals and other manufacturing to almost all transport-related business – to grow.

and that’s backed up by this picture:
46 billion litres of oil products consumed by road vehicles (taking the picture literally, cars, buses and vans/lorries, both petrol and diesel).  A further 7.2 billion litres of oil were used to manufacture petrochemicals that then find their way into all kinds of things – clothes, electronics, paints, tyres and so on.
The thing is that these refineries produce lots of products, but many are side effects from their scale business – that is, refining products to be used as vehicle fuel.  As the move to EV gathers, ahem, steam, it’s easy to see that there is a loss of that scale, which will mean that the other products are either produced less cost effectively or, perhaps, not cost effectively at all.
It’s hard to see when this change takes effect, and it will likely be just the way Hemingway went bankrupt – gradually then suddenly – but it’s coming soon.  Some of those 300,000 jobs … and perhaps quite a lot of them are going to go away.  A strategy would be good methinks.

Original source – In The Eye Of The Storm

We may live in a digital age, but paper documents – notably passports – are still the most trusted evidence to help prove who we are. It’s not surprising that one of the most common requests made of Government is to provide a secure service for checking the validity of passports.

An online Document Checking Service already exists for the GOV.UK Verify commercial identity providers, but has not previously been available to anyone else needing to check Government-issued documentation. The pilot recently announced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Cabinet Office will provide the opportunity for a broader selection of organisations, drawn from different areas of the economy, to trial secure passport checking. 

Privacy and security

Under the terms of the pilot, a passport will only be checked with the consent of its owner. The passport number will be communicated securely with HM Passport Office (HMPO) and its validity confirmed with a simple YES or NO. Combined with the upcoming ability to read passport chips on suitable iPhones (once iOS 13 is out this autumn) as well as on many existing Android phones, this should help to improve current identity assurance and verification processes.

The data minimising approach used for passport validity checking is part of a wider commitment to privacy, including the use of privacy enhancing technologies (PETs), to help citizens control their identity-related data. Zero knowledge proof, tokenisation, verifiable claims and other methods of implementing a secure, privacy-aware digital identity infrastructure for the UK are likely to be essential to ensure trust.

Improving consistency

There’s no shortage of interesting developments in the UK’s digital identity space. This includes startups pioneering new identity and age verification apps, Open Banking, challenger banks, NHS Login, the recently updated Government Gateway, BBFC Age-verification requirements, GOV.UK Verify and Digital Identity Scotland as well as the wider implications of eIDAS, PSD2 and Strong Customer Authentication (SCA). There are also various initiatives from some of the global technology companies that may become more relevant in the digital ID space, such as Mastercard’s identity announcement and Apple’s “Sign In with Apple”, with its aspirations to provide a privacy-centric solution that reduces the amount of personal data we’re currently obliged to share online.

There are various approaches to digital identity; from citizen-centric models such as decentralised identifiers, self-sovereign ID and personal data stores without intermediaries and with no all-seeing central authority; to more traditional organisation-centric models typically built around registers, hubs, databases and data-sharing.

Keeping our personal data in separate silos, relevant to their purpose, can be good security and privacy design and help limit the damage from data breaches when they occur. The UK currently has a variety of technical and assurance standards that could benefit from a more consistent user experience, privacy and security. We should be reducing the need to share raw data as well as providing better visibility to citizens of how their data are being used – applying the sort of principles that the UK Government’s Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group developed, or the Scottish Government’s Identity Management and Privacy Principles for example. 

Towards an appropriate, voluntary digital identity infrastructure 

The majority of digital identity initiatives focus on establishing proof of an individual’s identity and personal attributes. However, a worthwhile identity infrastructure needs to be about far more than just us, as individuals. It’s equally important for us to know, when we need to, that the person or organisation we’re dealing with is who they claim to be if we’re to ensure trust and reduce fraud. After all, much of the current fraud happens when we’re fooled into handing over our data or money to people or organisations who falsely claim to be someone we trust, such as our bank.

A successful digital identity infrastructure also needs to include those acting on behalf of others (such as parents of young children, carers or accountants – and even devices, such as wearable medical devices). This was something recognised in the 2013 working draft of ISO/IEC standard 20093:2013 which drew in part on the UK’s work from 1999 to develop consistent standards of identity assurance

The principles of identity assurance remain broadly as set out in the 20 year old UK Government paper:

  • establishing that a given identity actually exists
  • establishing that a person or organisation is the true holder of that identity
  • enabling identity holders to identify themselves for the purpose of carrying out a transaction via an electronic medium

Importantly, much of the time what we need to prove isn’t our identity but merely something about ourselves, or proof of our entitlement to something. As identity and privacy adviser Steve Wilson has commented:

Here’s what really matters:  

What do you need to know about someone or something in order to deal with them?

– Where will you get that knowledge?

– How will you know it’s true?

… It’s not identity per se that usually matters; instead it’s specific attributes or claims about the parties we’re dealing with.

Most of the time in a pub or restaurant, for example, the main interest of the proprietor is in whether we have the ability to pay the bill and are of legal age to buy alcohol, not who we are. 

More recent work such as vectors of trust, decentralised identifiers and verifiable claims (and some of their example use cases) all need to be part of this discussion. They move us on from the monolithic Levels of Assurance (1-4) the UK Government and CESG developed in the late 1990s to more context-relevant assurance related to specific domains, and individual attributes or claims – for example, our name, address and legal right to reside in the UK may be assured to a high level (via the appropriate trusted sources), whereas other attributes (such as the “Grade 5 piano” I claim to hold) may be less well assured.

It’s essential too that the move towards digital identities doesn’t disadvantage or discriminate against those who cannot or will not use digital approaches, or who lack standard identity documentation such as a passport. Access to online public services needs to be as accessible and universal as our face-to-face experiences. We need to find approaches that can work for everyone and not solely for the digerati.

We also need to avoid confusing trusted digital identities or verified claims about ourselves with the notion of some kind of “ubiquitous digital ID” for single sign-on. Single sign-on is a distinct need which may or may not require any degree of user “identification”. The Verifiable Claims Use Cases shows some of the domains we may well want to keep entirely separate from each other – finance, education, retail, legal, healthcare, etc. A “ubiquitous digital identity” can present significant privacy and security risks – as was well illustrated by the hack of 50m Facebook users’ profiles, a hack that impacted every online service where users logged in using their monolithic Facebook digital ID, and the reported breach of India’s Aadhaar biometric identity system.

Monolithic digital identities can also undermine human rights, including the right to privacy, and become an intrusive mechanism for unwarranted surveillance by both commercial organisations and governments, alienating and excluding citizens rather than acting on their behalf. As with the various financial and loyalty cards we carry in our wallets and purses, we may well want to do the same with our digital identities – and use a variety of digital identity apps and services rather than aggregating and consolidating them all. It’s important we have the choice.

Most of the legal-related attributes associated with identity checking are held by the state – such as whether we have the right to reside, work or study in the UK, or whether we are a UK national. However, such high-value “identity checking” of our legal status happens for most of us relatively rarely – such as when we change jobs, move home, open a bank account or cross a national border. The relatively low frequency of identity checking per se needs to be reflected in the way everyday digital identity works to avoid encouraging an intrusive, inappropriate and unnecessary “papers please” culture (albeit a digital one).

We need to be able to prove something about ourselves – “I’m of a legal age to buy a pint” for example – when we need to without sharing identity-related data where it’s not needed or appropriate. We can take the best of what worked well with paper in terms of trust, but improve it by layering in privacy and security features that are only possible in the digital world and which reduce the amount of personal data we’re forced to routinely divulge.

Desirable characteristics

Digital identities should mirror some of the more desirable characteristics of the way we use our passports in the face-to-face world:

  • They will not “call home” (they can be used without tracking the user by reporting to the issuer where, when and with whom they are shared)
  • If they do need to “call home” (to re-validate or update essential data) they must do so without capturing any details of where, when and with whom they are being used unless that is done with the explicit consent of the individual

We can also encourage the development of an infrastructure that improves privacy and security:

  • It will disclose only minimal data (for example, it will provide proof of age – “Over 21” – rather than date of birth)
  • It will be usable online and offline (for example, for face-to-face or telephone interactions)
  • It should be available for all who want it, but not mandatory
  • It should enable us to act on behalf of another person where they have authorised us to do so, or for them to act on behalf of us (for example, a relative with Power of Attorney over another’s finances or health; or a medical device working on behalf of its wearer)
  • It should be able to authenticate the organisation or individual we are about to interact with (to prevent fraudsters obtaining personal data by impersonating somebody else)

Such principles could help provide consistency and build trust regardless of whether services are developed and provided by the public or private sectors. 

The role of the upcoming pilot

There is a certain irony in using a paper-based document such as a passport as part of an initial process of bootstrapping digital identity. But the Government pilot to expand secure access to the Document Checking Service will be important in enabling a range of trusted providers – such as banks and employers, or organisations working in the self-sovereign identity space, or those providing bespoke identity apps – to improve the quality of their identity assurance processes. 

It will also help to start identifying where existing legislation, rules or regulations need to be removed, updated or streamlined to move them away from paper-bound, data-leaking, face-to-face processes and into the digital, PET-enabled, online age, helping improve efficiency and productivity, and reducing the amount of fraud we’re increasingly exposed to on a daily basis.

The pilot will help broaden access to relevant Government-held data in a secure, privacy-aware, citizen-controlled way, while in parallel the more extensive evidence base is collated from the current call for evidence. These are important, complementary steps towards establishing a trusted digital identity infrastructure for the UK that places citizens and their needs at its centre.

I encourage all of you, particularly those active in the privacy and security space, to submit your ideas, feedback and proposals to the current call for evidence. This is a useful opportunity to help shape the development of an accessible, inclusive digital identity infrastructure centred on citizens rather than the state – and with strong privacy and security at its core.

Transparency disclosure: I am currently specialist adviser to the Government’s Digital Identity Team in DCMS. This blog however is solely a personal perspective

The Call for Evidence on digital identity closes on 15th September 2019

Original source – new tech observations from a UK perspective (ntouk)

I came across this opportunity in the marketplace today. It’s worth a read. If you want to apply you only have a few days left though.

https://www.digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk/digital-outcomes-and-specialists/opportunities/10373

My first thought, on reading it, was "are these folks crazy?"

The civil service is, by and large, not at the power user end of the email community. I don’t have the figures to hand but when looking at a move to Office 365 at a 35,000 strong government department, the number of emails/day was nothing earth shattering (I was thinking about migration and how to keep everything in sync at the time so daily volumes were my focus).

It’s also not very different from any other organisation. Government has, of course, to respond to FOI queries, but banks have to deal with financial authorities looking at, say, insider trading or other inquiries (which also extend to voice calls and texts).

My next thought was "why not go and see Google and Microsoft and see what plans they have?" – surely every possible option for filing and sorting emails has been looked at to see what would work at scale and what wouldn’t, and there would be teams of people who would have a deep understanding of the art of the possible.

And then I wondered whether this was looking at the problem the wrong way up. The assumption constrains the problem. That is, what we need to do is sort our email more effectively so that we can more efficiently find things later. As my dear friends at Group Partners have said for two decades or more "how do we avoid solving the wrong problem really well?"

The trouble is that the civil service has long since moved on from email. Take a look at any reasonably sized department and you will see that the work is done in several of the following

– Google docs

– Office 365

– Sharepoint

– Slack

– Teams

– Jira

– Confluence

– Text

– Web content engines

And a few others that I’m sure I have missed out. Perhaps the final version of a document is sent via email, and certainly there is little in the way of cross-department collaboration capability (let alone with those outside of government) which means that to and fro there is in email. But the thinking and development behind a policy (why does it look like this) and all of the iterations are unlikely to be in email.

The better question then, to capture the direction of travel and not the current position ("skate to where the puck is going" as Steve Jobs said, quoting Wayne Gretzky – I think this was at the iPhone launch in 2007; plainly Gretzky would have said it earlier, assuming he said it), is "how should we set ourselves up so that we have the best chance of harnessing all of the information we have and making sure the right stuff ends up where it needs to be" so that you end up with an easy review of "how did we get here" as well as a Library of Alexandria for the historians and regulators to pore over in the future.

My guess is this alpha will end up in disappointment. It won’t be able to solve the challenges inherent in the pure email problem, and it certainly won’t solve the "we have so much in so many places" part of the problem.

That said, I hope they publish the results of the discovery (the opportunity says it will only be released to the shortlist of bidders) as well as the results of the alpha. There will be interesting stuff to see in the thinking and approach to the problem. I suspect Microsoft and google (and slack and others) will be interested too.

Original source – In The Eye Of The Storm

Over the last couple of months, a new community at GDS has emerged. Muslims at GDS is a community for people who belong to the Muslim faith or anyone interested in learning more about it.

In this post, Arfah Farooq, a community development manager, and Dilwoar Hussain, a senior frontend developer, explain their personal motivations behind setting up the community. They also talk about how you can set up your own community, and share things to consider when working with Muslim colleagues.

Why we set up the community

Below, we share our stories of what motivated us to set up the Muslims at GDS community.

Arfah Farooq, community development manager: product management and delivery management communities

portrait of Arfah Farooq

I started at GDS 4 months ago. I am the community development manager for the product management and delivery management communities.

Communities are a massive passion of mine. I run MuslamicMakers outside of work – a diverse community of Muslims who are making and changing things in tech. We’re creating spaces for Muslims to be not just ‘included’ but to own their work spaces and industries.

When I joined GDS, I was disappointed to discover that there wasn’t a Muslim community or even just a Slack channel for me to connect with other Muslims. I started a month before Ramadan (the holy month for Muslims when they fast for a month) and I wanted to connect with people at GDS so we could have a shared experience and also to have some support in regard to my faith.

When I spoke to other Muslims at GDS to understand why a community like this didn’t exist already, I was told: “there just isn’t enough of us” and “we spoke to another Muslims and they suggested it might be discriminatory to have a community just for Muslims”.

Working on a community as part of my job is one thing but creating an organisation-wide one felt a bit daunting. It would have been easier if the community was to be centred around an interest. But when it comes to faith, there is a fear that people may judge you.

I’m not visibly Muslim so unless I mention it, you wouldn’t know. However, it does play a massive part in my identity, my values and my lifestyle so there are things to consider when it comes to working with me.

Thankfully, I’m unapologetically Muslim so I’m not afraid to mention I need a prayer room or I won’t be joining for after-work drinks in a pub. For other Muslims, it can be sensitive territory and they may need to build their confidence to embrace their identity. That’s why I thought there was a need for this community.

I saw that a Christians at GDS community existed already and that gave me the confidence to kickstart something. But before I did the brave move and created a new Slack channel for the Muslim community, I worked with existing long-standing Muslim colleagues, like Dilwoar, who were also very passionate about this.

Dilwoar Hussain, senior frontend developer: GOV.UK

portrait of Dilwoar Hussain

I started at GDS about 2 years ago. I am a senior frontend developer on GOV.UK. Faith is a big part of my day-to-day life.

There are a lot of duties that – as a Muslim – I need to perform on a daily basis, such as the 5 daily prayers done at specific times every day. When I interviewed for my role at GDS, it was important for me to be open about this and the fact that I could only take the job if I was allowed to pray in the office and attend Friday prayer. The colleagues on the interview panel were very reassuring, and it’s never been an issue.

Despite the culture of openness at GDS, there were loads of simple questions which I found difficult asking as a new starter, such as “where is the prayer room?” or “where is the closest mosque?”.

I was new to the team and I did not want to start off ‘on the wrong foot’. I was afraid of being ‘labelled’.

There was not much support available at the time. Within the first few months, I got to meet a few other Muslims that worked at GDS. The community was very small – I think it was about 5 or 6 of us. We had a few ideas about setting up a network but there didn’t seem to be a user need for it – we all knew who we were and we supported each other through direct messages on Slack and private channels.

As time went by, there seemed to be a growing number of Muslims joining GDS. We did not know who everyone was and a lot of people found it difficult (like I did) to ask the simple questions. This was when Arfah joined and she asked the same question that I had 2 years before: “Why don’t we have a Muslim network?”.

How we set up the community

Here are the steps we took to set up the Muslims at GDS community.

1. We started a conversation

We don’t tend to have conversations about faith. But to get a community going, you need to start a conversation. A simple message online can help you connect with like-minded people. And then you can start exploring the possibility of a community together.

There might be other opportunities to start a conversation too. For example, there might be a religious festival coming up. Bring it up with your colleagues, talk to your line manager, discuss the practicalities of what’s needed. Have a look at the Cabinet office faith toolkit for support.

2. We created a Slack channel

We created a channel on Slack – an online communication tool that everyone at GDS can access. We announced it widely, which allowed people to join if they were interested. We asked people to introduce themselves when they joined the channel.

3. We took the community offline

It’s as easy as picking a time and date and asking the community to meet for lunch. This will allow people to connect offline and bond over some food. It will also allow you to see who else is passionate about the community and may want to get involved in a working group.

As we kickstarted our community just before Ramadan, it made sense to organise a show and tell on Ramadan. Arfah did a talk on Ramadan and tech over lunchtime, to share her experience of fasting and the different tech platforms she uses to keep in touch with faith as a busy Muslim. We’re hoping to do a similar talk on Hajj (an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and a key pillar in Islam) and tech soon.

As Ramadan came to an end and we were celebrating Eid, we wanted to share the experience with our non-Muslim colleagues. Community work is about giving, and giving is also a value that’s intrinsically linked to our faith. We decided to organise a free Eid lunch, where everyone from the community contributed food from around the world. We asked for donations, which were then passed on to GDS’s partner charity – the Dragon Hall Trust. This was a massive success and really allowed our community to become more visible.

4. We created a basic structure

Three months in, we now have a basic structure which allows us to keep the community alive.

We have a working group made up of a handful of people who are really passionate about this work. We come together every 2 weeks to work on initiatives. We also have a Trello board to keep track of our work.

From September, we are hoping to host monthly lunch and learns for the community and the wider organisation. We believe that by doing this we’ll enable our community members to develop their confidence, share any expertise they have, and – most importantly – inspire other members by simply role modelling and being visible.

We also hope to offer our non-Muslim colleagues a chance to visit the local mosque and learn about what we do in the community.

Things to consider when working with Muslim colleagues

We thought it would also be useful to share some tips for anyone who works with Muslim colleagues. So, here they are.

It’s ok to ask your colleagues if they have any requirements when they join your team. Not all Muslims are open about their faith. It’s always good to have an initial conversation with new joiners to let them know they can talk about things if and when they need to.

If you have Muslim colleagues, think about making social events inclusive. Muslims do not drink alcohol, so certain environments can be difficult. Muslims also don’t eat non-halal food, so if the venue doesn’t provide halal food, make sure it has at least a vegetarian option.

There are usually 2 or 3 prayers that overlap the working day, and each of them usually takes 5 to 10 minutes to perform. This varies depending on the time of the year so ask your colleagues if they need a short break when meetings are longer than an hour.

On Fridays, between 1pm and 2pm, there is Friday prayer, known as Jummah. This prayer is obligatory for all Muslims so be mindful when scheduling meetings during this time.

During the month of Ramadan, not everyone will be fasting. If they are, try to make things more inclusive or be mindful about running events. If in doubt, simply ask them.

Different individuals are at different stages of their faith. Someone may not be practising when they join the team but may start to practice. So, make it easy for them to be open about their change in circumstances.

You can follow and message Arfah on Twitter @Arf_22 and Dilwoar @DilwoarHussain to learn more.

Check out the Cabinet Office Faith and Belief toolkit.

Original source – Government Digital Service

There’s a scenario which many of us witness every now and then. A team in a room, looking at a virtual or physical backlog. Lots of stories, stacked up and scattered across column after column.

Some will be very big stories, not doable in a single sprint. Others will be smaller, but they are still there and together it looks like A LOT to do. Someone asks: “Hmmm, when are we supposed to finish everything again?”

Backlogs like this cause anxiety for team members, which is a killer for both human and team performance. Time is finite, and there needs to be constant prioritisation and re-prioritisation to make sure only the most important stories make it into sprints.

But how do we know what’s most important? Is it attacking the thing we know the least about? Starting with the easiest/best-understood piece of work? Following a technical sequence that gives us the perfect implementation? What project sponsors dictate? Or some other things that data tells us are problems or pain points?

Juggling these decisions is where product thinking comes into play.

Product thinking as a navigator

When organisations invest in technology, they want some benefits in return. These benefits can take many forms, like saving time and money, happier external and internal users, providing data to inform better decisions, complying with new rules or legislation, and so on.

Product thinking is the way to balance the decisions taken by a multidisciplinary team so they support the overarching goals and desired outcomes of the project. It is a painful, yet fun exercise to shuffle between user needs, the business’ often perceived realities, what’s technically possible, and team dynamics.

It works best when there’s lots of conversation happening in the team about the most effective compromise that still achieves the intended value.

Delivering value early and often

So product thinking is about building the right thing in the right way to achieve the outcomes we need. Taking a product approach means you can create value for the end-user or the business as early as one single sprint in.

It’s radical, but our aim should be creating value for users in every sprint. If we have to stop the project for whatever reason, we will still have created something that serves users at that particular point.

Only when we have delivered something of value, do we start getting a return on the organisation’s investment. It means the client can decide to move on and invest in solving another problem if they want to.

There is no certainty without measuring things

But how do we know when we’ve achieved the outcomes we need and it’s time to move on?

This is about data, research and observation. When a version of the software or a new process or policy is released, it is imperative that we track the impact it has.  We can only know if we’ve succeeded by observing how real people use things in the real world.

Product thinking is so heavily based on hitting outcomes and generating value that it can’t take place when user research doesn’t happen or metrics are not tracked. Good investment decisions cannot be justified without impact evaluation, and that’s true for digital interventions, like software, too.

Product thinking and user research are inseparable

That’s why user research and product thinking are inseparable disciplines.

We can’t know if we are realising our desired outcomes if we don’t look at what real data tells us. Product managers can’t take evidence-based decisions without the information generated by user research, and user researchers need to focus their efforts on the specific outcomes for a project.

This doesn’t mean that only product managers and user researchers can, and should, do product thinking. Everyone in the team needs to keep an eye on the question “why are we doing this work?”. But good product managers will rally people around common problems, outcomes and goals, and a vision. They will also coach the team to think in this way, leading by example.

Product management at dxw

At dxw, we’re not always able to put product managers in project teams. Clients sometimes have someone internally called a product or service manager that they believe is carrying out this role. However, they often turn out to be someone with very many other responsibilities which prevent them from doing it effectively.

We believe this has to change to successfully deliver the desired benefits for users and organisations. Product thinking is one of the fundamental pillars of agile; value released early, insights learned fast, reacting as quickly as possible, a focus on outcomes.

If you would like to discuss this further please get in touch, and stay tuned as we share more thoughts and progress!

The post Where product thinking really comes into play 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

The FixMyStreet section of the Explorer mini-site helps explore the relationship between demographic features and FixMyStreet reports.

In one use case, it maps the location a report was made to a ‘neighbourhood’ sized area, and then in turn to sets of statistics measured against those areas — most importantly, the indices of multiple deprivation.  These areas are Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) in England and Wales, Data Zones (DZ) in Scotland and Lower Output Areas (LOA) in Northern Ireland (although NI is not covered separately in the Explorer site due a relative lack of data). These can be seen as equivalent to census tracts in the US and each LSOA has a population of around 1,500 people, while Data Zones have around 500-1000 people.

While this statistical unit feels neighbourhood-sized and so is used to examine data for effects that may result from being in the same neighbourhood, the approach has the significant problem that what people on the ground perceive as their “neighbourhood” is unlikely to exactly overlap onto the statistical unit. On the edge of a LSOA, even a 50m radius around a home will cross into another statistical area.

Making the problem worse is that the idea of a neighbourhood is very variable. People can disagree with each other about the boundaries of their area. Claudia Coluton, Jill Korbin, Tsui Chan, Marilyn Su (2001) found that when citizens were asked to draw the boundaries of their neighbourhood these very rarely aligned with US census tracts. As the gif in this tweet shows a set of citizen-drawn boundaries for Stoke Newington in East London, and while there is a clear core, there is substantial disagreement between residents about the size of this area.

Laura Macdonald, Ade Kearns and Anne Ellaway (2013)  found that residents in West Central Scotland had a different perception of how well placed they were for ‘local’ amenities compared to the geographic distance. This reflects that what was viewed as local from the outside might not be viewed the same way by locals: there is a context gap that just cannot be bridged at this scale of analysis.

Understanding of neighbourhood effects is often positioned in terms of guardianship of a home area, and this means that certain kinds of reports might be more apparent in areas where these boundaries are less clear — leading to conflict. Joscha Legewie and Merlin Shaeffer (2016) used New York 311 calls to demonstrate that complaints about blocked driveways, noise from neighbours and drinking in public were more frequent on the boundaries of areas with differing demographics. This can also be seen in the idea that complaints about dog fouling are used for score-settling between neighbours in Chicago. Complaints can be about conflicts as well as actual problems reported.

In a related problem, Alasdair Rae and Elvis Nyanzu show in some areas the most deprived 10% of areas and the least deprived 10% are not far from each other. This means that relationships between reports and the features of deprivation might be harder to detect. The less homogenous the area, the greater the chance that features affecting how likely a person is to report will result in reports in a LSOA that is substantially different from their ‘home’ area.

This blog post is exploring a potential problem with the explorer minisite methodology. A big part of what the explorer site is doing is trying to show how much different kinds of reports are “explained” by different local features — but because of various forms of fuzziness the differences it detects may be less sharp than actually exists. In general, however, not detecting things that are there is a better problem to have than the opposite.

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Original source – mySociety