While the UK begins the process of trying to return to some kind of normality after lockdown, full access to information must also be restored.

Back in April, we put out a blog post examining the state of Freedom of Information during the covid-19 crisis, looking at the UK and more broadly across the world. State-sanctioned delays were seen almost universally.

While we understood the difficulties faced by authorities redeploying staff members to the frontline, we said then that the right to information was perhaps more vital than ever. In times of national crisis, transparency is crucial both for retaining trust in our leaders and for keeping check on their activities.

WhatDoTheyKnow users have been asking pertinent questions about the pandemic, from requests for data on the number of cases in prisons and care homes, to the basis on which decisions about the national response strategy have been made. Potential students want to know about universities’ plans for the coming year; citizens are asking about measures put in place by their councils to encourage social distancing. And meanwhile, of course, requests for non-coronavirus-related topics are equally pressing: who’s keeping an eye on Brexit, for example?

The state of play

We’ve been linking to that initial post from the top of WhatDoTheyKnow, so that people making requests could get some background to the delays they might be experiencing.

But since then the global situation has moved on, and so have some aspects of FOI provision. At the time of writing:

  • The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is still stating that they “will not be penalising public authorities for prioritising other areas or adapting their usual approach during this extraordinary period.” Therefore, UK public authorities may still delay their requests without penalty. Read more on the ICO website.
  • The Scottish Information Commissioner had previously introduced a longer period in which authorities might respond to requests, but on 27 May a reversal came into effect and the period returned to its standard 20-day deadline. However, there is still an acknowledgement that the pandemic, and indeed their own previous relaxation of the required timescales, may have a knock on effect to requests made before that date. See full details here.

This does raise the question as to when the ICO foresees a return to business as usual. Of course, each authority will have its own experiences and challenges, with varying reasons for maintaining or removing an expectation of delayed responses. But they are guided by the regulator, and while the ICO continues to excuse lengthened response times, authorities may not hurry to do any different.

Time to restore oversight

It’s unquestionably a time of great uncertainty for us all, with many returning to some semblance of normality while still unsure whether the much anticipated second peak is on the horizon. But given a national policy of this staged return, should the ICO not, like its Scottish counterpart, be encouraging authorities to do the same?

One compelling reason is hinted at by the Scottish Commissioner’s own caveat: that the longer the deadlines are allowed to extend, the more of a backlog will build up, causing further delays down the line.

We’d encourage authorities everywhere to re-examine any laxity they may have introduced at the start of lockdown, and to continue to do so regularly: is it still genuinely necessary now that staff may have been moved back from the covid-19 frontline?

And we’d urge them to treat the need for a timely, efficient FOI service as one of the top priorities during this uncertain period.

Image: Andrea Piacquadio

Original source – mySociety

A poster that says ‘This is a great team to work on because…’. Underneath the poster there are several post-it notes, each in a different person’s handwriting. They say: ‘Respect each other’, ‘Document, document, document’, ‘Change when things don’t work’, ‘Clear, shared vision of our goals’.

It’s a busy and exciting time to be working on the GOV.UK programme.

I recently joined GOV.UK from another programme in the Government Digital Service (GDS) and I’m impressed every day by the work teams are doing, their diligence and their support for each other.

As Head of Delivery, my role is to enable teams to deliver our roadmap. This means that I work closely with the teams to understand their needs and blockers and to ensure these are managed and resolved in a timely manner. I also work closely with the delivery managers in each team, supporting them to develop good team health and happiness.

An ambitious vision for the future of GOV.UK

Jen Allum, Head of GOV.UK, explained in a recent blog post about the future of GOV.UK that, as busy as we are with the unprecedented challenges of 2020, we still need to build for the future.

Our new roadmap for 2020 to 2021 explains how we are organising ourselves and prioritising our work in order to deliver on our vision for the future and our goals for this year.

So this is a very exciting time for us in GOV.UK. There is lots to do and we need to build more high performing teams if we are to achieve the things that we have set out to achieve for our users and for the government.

And we need to recruit more talented people to help us.

New job opportunities on GOV.UK

We’re looking for skilled leaders and practitioners who enjoy solving complex problems, taking a user-centred approach, and working with multi-disciplinary teams. We’re currently recruiting for nearly all digital disciplines and at all levels of experience.

For example, we’re recruiting a Head of Data and User Insights to work with colleagues across government to improve our collective understanding of users, and to explore how we could apply data and insights to provide a more personalised experience to users. They will lead the 3 disciplines of user research, performance analysis and data science, which we’re also recruiting for.

We also need more user-centred design practitioners to provide comprehensive, consistent, channel-agnostic experiences that meet users where they are. To structure our content we’ll be adding some new content roles to the programme, including a lead content designer, a content architect and more technical writers. Plus we’re recruiting more of the design roles already on the programme as well, such as service designers, content designers and interaction designers.

We’re recruiting a new Head of Technology to lead the transformation of our publishing architecture, while navigating challenges of scale, resilience and interoperability. They will lead the technology function of the programme, which includes technical architects and developers – roles that are also in our recruitment drive.

We’ll need more product managers and delivery managers to help us plan and deliver the ongoing development of GOV.UK.

And to ensure that everyone on the programme has leadership and support, we’re recruiting 2 deputy directors. They will support the Head of GOV.UK at the senior civil servant (SCS) level, ensuring that we stay connected with colleagues across government on this journey.

Our plan is to manage our recruitment campaign in a way that allows us to bring in the right people at the right time. We’re doing our best to align our recruitment needs with our roadmap – this means that our recruitment campaign will remain active up to the end of 2020.

What it’s like to work on GOV.UK

I’ve worked at GDS for just under a year and for 3 months on GOV.UK. I’ve found it to be fast paced, energetic and rewarding.

But that’s just me. Many other colleagues have shared their experience of working here, such as Helen Nickols’ post about her experience of flexible working and Chris Ashton’s post about being a developer. You can also get a good sense of us from our ‘it’s ok to…’ poster, which has been a useful reference for over 4 years.

We work in a fast paced, agile environment. Agile approaches suit digital delivery and we use methodologies that support the work, such as scrum and kanban. The way GOV.UK teams have successfully adapted to working from home during COVID 19 is in part testament to our agile working culture.

And working together from different locations will continue with GDS adding 2 new offices in Bristol and Manchester, in addition to our London office. This is part of the government’s commitment to create jobs and growth nationally, and improves our ability to recruit talented digital professionals from across the UK.

Diversity and inclusion are essential to successful delivery. People need to feel welcome and trusted to do their work. We encourage people to share their ideas, in the different ways they feel comfortable expressing them. And we understand some people have had more opportunities in their lives to express themselves than others.

GDS provides training, mentoring and support networks to improve how we listen to each other, so people can have the confidence that they will be heard. We’re working to improve diversity and inclusion in recruitment, learning and development, to ensure everyone can progress based on their skills and experience.

We work for the whole population. The Civil Service is committed to reflecting the society we serve and aims to be the UK’s most inclusive employer. Our Workforce Insights and Analytics team are using data to make Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) profession more diverse across government.

GDS recognises that it takes continuous effort to be inclusive and diverse. You can help us by sharing these job opportunities and encouraging others to consider a digital career in GOV.UK.

Next steps

All our jobs are advertised on Civil Service Jobs and many of the roles mentioned above will be part of a recruitment campaign going live in July and August. We will also share vacancies on the GDS LinkedIn. Keep an eye out for these over the next month.

If you’re interested in finding out more about GOV.UK’s work, subscribe to updates from this blog.

And if you have questions about current or future roles, you can leave a comment on this post or email the GDS Recruitment team.

Original source – Inside GOV.UK

Planning is one of the core democratic functions of a local authority. From mandating knocking down housing (‘estate regeneration’) to building local green space (via a ‘green belt review’), the ability to change our streets, neighbourhoods, towns and cities should only be done with the approval of elected representatives. And, with the full knowledge and understanding of who it will impact.

Yet, how we engage residents in this democratic process hasn’t changed for decades. We rely on printed local plans (documents running to hundreds to thousands of pages deposited in local libraries. Planning committee meetings requiring a sophisticated understanding of planning legal precedent and procedure to have your view heard. And a laminated piece of A4 on a lamppost to tell residents about a new 30 story development at the end of their road.

In the space of a few months, we’ve moved everything online. Government has cleared the way with changes to regulation for online planning notices and local plan engagement. The Planning Advisory Services provided guidance for online committees and many councils have recorded record ‘attendance’ for their planning committee meetings.

Despite the technical success of moving engagement online, are we missing an opportunity?

Copy/paste isn’t sustainable

Skeuomorphism is a preposterous word, but it neatly describes the problem. Skeuomorphism is most often used in graphic user interface design to describe objects that mimic their real-world counterparts in appearance or use.

A well-known example is the recycle bin icon used for discarding files. When moving ‘real world’ engagement activities to the digital world, we’re replicating how they work in real life. We’re copying the same problems of opacity, jargon and confusing procedure to a virtual world. We’re missing the opportunity to build new and improved ways of explaining the planning process to residents, allowing them to share their view and participate in shaping the future of their places.

Some argue we should wait for things to return to normal. That our current sticky plaster temporary solutions are sufficient for the short-term. Even without questioning exactly how ‘short-term’ social distancing measures are likely to be, we should not be content with digital methods of engagement being a poor relative of real-world engagement.

Some argue that planning is necessarily technical and legalistic and it’s difficult to translate online or otherwise. That’s true, but it’s no excuse. By investing in communication design it’s possible to convey complex technical information to non-technical audiences.

At a very basic level, what if we designed a planning notice so it’s attractive, clear and accessible? As has been done in Atlanta.

Blockbuilders demonstrated how using Minecraft can interest children in planning. But what about using gaming for adults so they can better understand the dynamics of change in their neighbourhood? In the same way that Dynamicland teaches people about programming through physical interaction, how might we engage people in the future of their places in new ways?

It isn’t surprising that those least engaged in shaping the future of our places, and those most impacted by the future, are those digitally native members of the population under 40.

Improving the resident experience

Even small changes could significantly improve the resident experience of remote planning engagement.

Local Planning Authorities could design open-source a standardised front-end for planning committees. Embedded with their video conference tool-of-choice, this could include other features to improve accessibility and engagement such as FAQs, animated explanation of the planning process or the role of the committee, a mechanism to access and view relevant documents under discussion, etc. Or planning notices redesigned as digitally native products could provide better links to supporting documents, plans and maps, drawing attention to impacts from the Environmental Impact Assessments, Transport Impact Assessments and more.

This approach holds the potential to enhance resident understanding of the application, its context and impacts. It could better link people to how to express their views, either at a committee meeting or in written form.

Learning and experimenting with how to engage residents and stakeholders remotely is something that will continue to be important. Not only for the planning system but more broadly. The public health and economic shock of COVID-19, together with some environmental positives, will mean that many places are and will continue to bring together communities to reimagine their futures. Even as we see social distancing restrictions relax, to engage inclusively means putting digital engagement on a par with ‘real world’ engagement.

If you’re interested in talking about planning, engagement and place get in touch.

Digitally native planning engagement was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original source – FutureGov

Okay, because I’m a sucker for stats here’s some more.

July 2020’s GlobalWebIndex’s Coronavirus Reseasrch for July 2020 data on how people are spending their time during lockdown.

Here you go by demographic.

More time socialising with the family, watching video and creating video.

fig 1. How demographics are consuming media in July 2020 percentage increase (Globalwebindex, global stats, July 2020)

And also how UK adults are spending their time.

More time watching news, watching streaming services and time on messaging services.

fig 2. How UK adults are spending their time percentage increase (Globalwebindex, UK stats, July 2020)

All of the data points to the fact that the media landscape has been tossed up into the air and are settling in different ways.

How can this help public sector communicators?

Check what you are doing and don’t stand still.

Picture credit: Flickr / Documerica

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

As the lockdown eases, we’re making our first tentative steps back into a very different world and our attention is focused on recovery. In a matter of weeks, years of economic growth were erased and the UK is emerging as one of the countries hardest hit by coronavirus.

Despite some great work in the coronavirus response, in particular digital teams delivering at pace under massive pressure, there are ominous signs that the crisis is undermining hard fought progress across the public sector, perhaps fatally. Central government in particular has reached for the comfort blankets of centralisation and large outsourcing contracts.

The public sector in the UK is made up of a sophisticated set of public institutions, from local authorities through further education colleges and universities to the big departments of state. To tackle the pandemic and rebuild, we need to mobilise the whole of our public sector along with the entirety of its supply chain.

But how do we orchestrate it? Well, to start with, you listen.

Listening is a superpower

I’ve written before about the power of institutional memory and how important it is to listen and learn from the past. So it was pretty unnerving to read a quote from a senior civil servant in a harsh critique of failings in the UK coronavirus response by the New York Times:

Serco are pretty much the only people who can stand up a work force in that time, and love them or hate them, it is about having the numbers.

And therein lies the problem. The most important goal of any test, track, and trace service is that it works, and just having the numbers is no guarantee of that. The ability to recruit large numbers of call centre operatives is one part of the puzzle. It’s even more important in a crisis that nationwide services meet the needs of the people who use them, the public, and frontline staff, as well as stakeholders in local and central government. That means rolling them out iteratively, testing, and making improvements based on real experience, not in one big bang.

This approach can deliver working services in days and weeks, not months and years. Operating in a pandemic adds urgency: if services don’t work, the consequences are preventable deaths. And as we’ve seen, handing contracts to people who have the numbers but not necessarily the right expertise, can also mean millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money being wasted. Money that’s in short supply for strained frontline services.

Government has been here so many times before and the institutional memory of failures past is either ignored or not listened to. The coronavirus response has been dominated by familiar name big suppliers, standing up teams rapidly. But experience shows that simply throwing people at a problem can harm your chances of success.

Central versus local

Contact tracing is also shining a light on tensions between central and local government. Local authorities have the capability to run track and trace services in their public health teams and there were frequent calls from them to build the service from that basis.

While there’s been progress by including local government in the test, track, and trace service, how much quicker and more effective would the roll out of a national service have been if we’d started with a more decentralised model in mind from the beginning?

We’re starting to understand the answer to this question. According to the British Medical Journal on 22 June, local health protection teams traced nearly eight times more contacts (77,642) than the national call centres and online service (9,997).

A lack of situational awareness

Dealing with coronavirus is fuelling traditional tensions, not just about approaches and ways of working but more fundamentally about structures.

According to most scientists, the virus itself is highly localised affecting regions very differently. A federal system like Germany with a strong regional government proved highly effective in the early stages of the crisis. In the UK, the tendency towards centralisation could undermine our response to both coping with the pandemic now and rebuilding in the coming months while coronavirus remains a threat.

Those central versus local tensions are never far from the surface. A small but telling example of one size not fitting all is that the process for booking a COVID test assumes you will drive to the testing centre. That’s not always the case, particularly in dense urban populations:

With many local authorities facing challenging financial circumstances, even before the additional pressures of coronavirus, there’s a risk that those who are best placed to act will be limited in what they can do.

This all hints at a profound lack of situational awareness. Mapping and horizon scanning techniques can help and add real value but again, listening to the people who are already working on this stuff is the most important thing to do.

SMEs can help

The Government set itself a target of awarding one third of contracts to small and medium enterprises (SME’s) by 2022. The intention was to ‘level the playing field’ and make sure the door is open to the expertise and approaches that exist outside the oligopoly of traditional suppliers. We shouldn’t forget the reason why the government made this commitment. If you give the right SMEs a decent portion of this work, they’ll do a better job.

Government is still spending vast amounts of money but it’s not evenly distributed across its supply chain. Many decisions are seemingly being taken on the basis of size and familiarity, rather than a supplier’s ability to do the work. In doing so, it risks ignoring its own learning and history. This might feel like the safer option but it won’t lead to better outcomes and in this case, better outcomes means fewer avoidable deaths.

Now more than ever, the Government must put its faith in the expertise and capability that exists both in its own digital teams and a rich supplier community.

The post Orchestrating the recovery and learning from the past appeared first on dxw.

Original source – dxw

There’s growing uncertainty in post-lockdown Britain and comms and PR people are feeling vulnerable.

The shadow of the first wave of COVID-19 deaths recedes replaced by the fear of job losses.

If you’re feeling exposed and fear redundancy I know how that feels.

Back in the early 1990s two weeks into my working life that was me and it taught me three important things.

Back then, I was working on a newspaper as a dark room technician trying to pay off University debt while working out what I wanted to do with my life. Two weeks in, we were all called into a meeting to be told that the paper was being put up for sale and there may not be enough money to pay the wages.

That was compulsory redundancy.

Six years ago when I left to become freelance it was voluntary but the lessons I learned still applied.

The redundancy process is always painful but when properly applied is equitable. When badly applied it causes resentment and blows the organisation’s credibility.

Here’s what I learned.

There will be rumours. Stop listening to them.

“I’ve heard that X met Y and they say that Z is going to happen.”

From experience, you’ll hear all sorts. Almost all of it will be supposition, rumour and speculation. All of it becomes tiring.

I eventually made the conscious decision to stop listening for the good of my mental health.

Wait for official communication

This is the picture and it’ll happen by X.”

I found it far easier to ignore the rumour and wait for official communication and a chance to ask questions.

While you’re waiting…

Join a union

“They may tell you X but that’s wrong. Y is what they need to do and Z is the law to cite.”

It is so useful to have someone in your corner and who can spell out to you what the process is in law.

I’ve been a member of the National Union of Journalists for the past 25 years. They represent PR and communications. You can get more information here.

My Mum used to say that one door closes and another opens up. If you’re in the middle of the storm you won’t see this. I get that. This only comes with hindsight. It’s not a nice feeling to have your job under threat and I don’t dismiss that lightly but I hope one day you see a silver lining to it all.

Good luck.

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

Apply for Pension Credit website

GOV.UK website offering information on applying for Pension Credit

At the start of May, we introduced the ability to apply for Pension Credit online, alongside the existing telephone and paper options for this service. Giving users the option to apply for Pension Credit online was something that was always part of our long-term roadmap, but the impact of coronavirus meant that we had to accelerate the process and deliver at pace.

User research had shown us that in many cases it wasn’t the citizen themselves filling out the paper form, but often it was a digitally-literate family member who was helping outside of the working day, or a volunteer from a charity. Therefore, a digital service would make things a lot easier for them to apply for Pension Credit.

Coronavirus has only underlined how important that digital service could be. For citizens, we saw an increase in applications once the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak hit; a lot of people were topping up their pension with part-time or occasional work, which was curtailed almost immediately.

Asking those people, many of whom have disabilities or are in the vulnerable category, to go out and post a form was difficult at a time when we were all being asked to stay at home as much as possible.

Also from an internal point of view, a significant section of DWP Pension Credit advisers were self-isolating at home, so we didn’t have the required amount of people available to answer the increase in calls.

A challenging brief

It was clear that we had to accelerate our digital solution, in a way that would make it simple for citizens and our staff who were working from home. We had already spent around 2 years working on internal-facing changes to the system that were at a private beta stage, so the combined knowledge across the team on all aspects of Pension Credit was strong – we weren’t coming from a standing start.

However, not only would we have to accelerate our usual delivery timescales, but with us all working from home, we also had the challenge of adapting our working practices.

From a design point of view, we had to look at the existing paper form and the agent-facing service and draw the new online version out to ensure that every question was covered for an advisor to process a claim.

It’s a lot different to how we’d worked previously, where the team sat close to one another and could stand around a whiteboard to discuss ideas. Now we’ve got to be more prepared and we have to know exactly what we want to get out of every meeting.

We’ve had to get used to working around our responsibilities at home, and using more collaborative tools to share ideas so we can bring the whole team in. We’ve evolved at pace and that means we’re ready for anything that comes at us.

We had to work some long and unsociable hours in the evening and over weekends to deliver in the time we had. They were exceptional circumstances and it’s not something that we could sustain over a long period of time or that we’d be in a hurry to do again.

No ordinary timescale

Usually on a project like this we’d go through a phased approach, from alpha to private beta, public beta and then live, with each stage taking around 2-3 months. This time we had to make decisions about what was critical for the go-live and accept that other things would have to come later.

A lot of that was down to collaboration with other teams such as legal. The legislation was changed to allow us to take online claims. It’s been a real exercise in collaborative working, where we had someone embedded in the team responsible for policy from the start. We also had weekly sprint meetings to ensure everyone is up to date on our progress.

We went live on 6 May and we’ve continued to learn and develop the project since then. We’ve used surveys, analytics, user interviews and prototype testing in order to find pain points that we need to address.

The launch was just the beginning. We still have a lot more work to do to make the service smarter and more usable. There were decisions we would have made differently if we had more time, and now that we have that time we’re continuing to improve things in each sprint.

The survey feedback in particular is really important for us. We are listening and the more people mention something the more we’ll focus on it. We’ll then target our user research to find out more about the issue in order to find a solution.

Long term we know this is just one part of the puzzle, and there’s a lot more to do to get money to the people who need it, to build a complete end-to-end service.

As it stands over 50% of claims are coming through the new online service, and internally we know it’s helping our service delivery staff who are working from home. That wasn’t originally part of the problem we were tasked with solving, but it’s great that we’re offering them an opportunity to get back to some sort of normality.

The following quotes come from some of our DWP Pension Credit advisors who were the first to use the new online service, and I think they highlight the impact that the new online Pension Credit application service has had.

Robi Islam – Central Workflow Team in Dundee Pension Centre:

“It’s very exciting to be involved with this project. The process could really make a massive difference to some of our most vulnerable customers and save them very valuable time.

“Having received and uploaded the first claim only hours after the service had gone live, I can see that the service is going to be invaluable. It appears to be a very simple system for customers to use and also very simple for me to do my part!”

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

Fewer people are sharing COVID-19 safety messages and that’s a problem for public sector people.

According to Ofcom research, 25 per cent of people were sharing key messages at the start of the pandemic but 12 weeks in that figure has halved.

Anecdotally, there’s a range of reasons for this. Message fatigue. Lockdown fatigue. Falling trust in politicians. Debate over the messaging. Confusion. But why is less important than the ‘what next?’

That’s a real problem if you are a public sector communicator charged with reaching people.

If this whole episode has proved anything its that the communicator who churns the same stuff out without thinking has had their day.

So what to do?

Back when I was on newspapers in the late 90s the answer to falling circulation was to do more of the same. Only much more. That was the wrong answer then and its the wrong answer now.

Here’s five things you can do to better get the message through to people.

Educate the client. The landscape is changing rapidly. What worked five weeks ago let alone five years ago are two different things. Pay extra double close attention to research like Ofcom’s and educate the senior leadership team as to why you are doing what you do. It doesn’t have to be extensive. Just something that spells out why you are working how you’re working. This is so very important.

Create your own content. Data has suggested that people are getting fed-up with politicians and the Government. So, try making your own assets with local messages that mirror the national picture.

Take your own content to where the audience is. I know, I know. I’ve been banging on about this for a long time. Create content for Dudley and knock on the doors of Dudley Facebook groups. People are more likely to trust messages from people who look and sound like them.

Nurses and Doctors to the front. Trust in the NHS remains sky high. Nine out of 10 people trust medics. So have local medics fronting your content.

Advertise. If people won’t naturally share your content put some money behind it. That way it’ll reach people.

Work with your local news brand. Newsrooms are getting thinner at the time when people trust local news more. So, talk to them about what would work with them. A video? A Facebook Live with a public health officer? Have that conversation. It’s about reaching people.

Remember that your staff are your biggest assets. Remember that? So, use them. Have a network of people who are prepared to share your public health message. Connect them via email or Workplace or Yammer or whatever the best way to connect them is.

Pay really close attention to your own insights and data. What’s working locally? As people’s experiences change and alter your own insights will be a useful barometer over what is working. It’s less ‘is it visible?’ and far more ‘has anyone seen it and acted upon it?’ Box ticking presenteeism in your comms is of no use to anyone. Least of all now.

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

A screenshot of a message drafted in GOV.UK Notify called "Notify user satisfaction survey"

Sending messages to research participants is one of the most important aspects of user research. 

Some user researchers do all their own messaging. Others work in organisations with a dedicated ResearchOps team. Whatever your situation, at some point you’ll probably need to send people interview appointments, survey invites or panel alerts.

In this post I’m going to talk about why GOV.UK Notify is a great tool for sending messages and discuss 6 of the benefits for user researchers.

What is GOV.UK Notify

GOV.UK Notify is a platform for public servants who need to send emails, text messages and letters.

Notify is used by over 2,700 services across 697 UK public sector organisations. These include central government, local government, the NHS, police and schools.

Over 1.2 billion emails, 119 million text messages and 3.7 million letters have been sent using Notify. Whether it be electoral registration reminders, updates on state pension eligibility or critical coronavirus (COVID-19) messages, Notify is helping public sector organisations meet a huge variety of user needs.

How to get started

If you are a researcher working in the public sector, or on behalf of the public sector, you can send messages with Notify. All you need is a public sector email address.

Go to www.gov.uk/notify and register an account. You can then setup a trial service and start sending test messages.

Once you’ve had a play and you’re familiar with Notify’s features, you can make a request for your service to go live. There is very little paperwork and you’ll most likely be up and running the same day.

Sending messages with Notify has many benefits

Here are 6 reasons why Notify can help user researchers.

Messages are trusted

Notify’s message templates use design patterns that have been extensively tested with users. They’re accessible and include high quality public sector branding. Users feel confident that messages sent with Notify are genuine and official.

Each service you set up has a large message allowance

There are no costs or limits on the number of emails that you can send with Notify. 

Central government researchers can send up to 250,000 text messages for free per year with Notify. Those working in local government have a 25,000 free text message allowance. It costs 1.58 pence (plus VAT) for each text message you send after you’ve used your free allowance.

This means that using Notify to send text messages will be free for most user researchers.

If you need to send letters the costs are much lower than the market rate and include printing, packing and postage.

It’s easy to message a lot of people

Notify allows user researchers to send messages in bulk. To send a batch of messages at once, follow the instructions to upload a CSV file with a list of contact details. 

You can also send messages automatically using the Notify API.

Both approaches are less prone to error compared to sending messages in bulk from your own email account.

Notify can help protect researcher and participant data

User researchers don’t have to worry about using their own email address or mobile phone number. This reduces data privacy risk, as we don’t have to handle participants’ personal data. It also means we don’t have to share our contact details. 

Turn on inbound messaging to let participants reply to the messages you send them. Then sign in to Notify to read their replies.  

Your emails will get through

The Notify domain is on the ‘allow’ lists of all major email providers. This means emails sent by researchers are less likely to be blocked or marked as spam by the receiving email domain.

So, using surveys as an example, invites are more likely to reach people when sent with Notify than when sent out using a survey management tool.

Notify is safe to use

Notify is highly secure, and is continually assessed against best practises in data storage and processing.

Researchers still need to apply their expertise

Using Notify in itself will not guarantee that your messages will be effective. Taking recruitment as an example, researchers still need to think carefully about how to communicate the purpose of your research, why we want people to participate and the potential incentive for them to do so.

Notify doesn’t store contact details, so researchers will also need to securely process and store participant data using their existing tools. 

How are you using Notify for user research?

There are many potential ways that Notify can be used for user research. We’re interested in hearing how you’re using it, so feel free to share your own tips, comments and questions in the comments section.

Original source – User research in government

Over the last few years I’ve had a few people tell me what Service Design (with capitals) is and service design (without capitals) is. Service Design as a process — a methodology, a set of tools — versus service design as a thing you do, the designing of services. Hey, throw in some What is a service designer’s role?. You may have seen or heard these too, in blog posts, books, tweets on Twitter, maybe even conference talks or training courses. Around all of this spills all sorts of discussion about nuance and technicalities.

“Service” and “experience”: Both words I hear friends and family use when describing their interactions with an organisation or business that they need something from. If people are moved to talk about a service or experience it’s usually because it’s positive or negative.

“The service was surprisingly fast at that restaurant. It was so busy but the staff were lovely, they were at our table not too fast, gave us enough time looking over the menu and the food Didn’t take long to arrive.”

“I had to wait around in a cold room for half an hour while I waited for the tyre to be changed. It wasn’t the best experience.”

The alright usually doesn’t garner comment, the adequate, the nondescript, an it did the job at best. It’s not bad though.

Service or experience, I’m not bothered.

I gave up being arsed about job titles a long time ago. I am usually known as a designer. I have some decent skills. I’ll use those skills to help give some shape to this thing I am working, to make this thing and make it at least decent, hopefully as good as it can be. I might learn new skills along the way, I might improve my skills.

Over the last ten years I have spent a lot of that time helping shape services and experiences. I prefer using a lot of service design methods because I believe they can be the most methods for creating good services and experiences for the users of those services and experiences. Services and experiences that are implicitly driven to be better for their users. That’s it.

What is the situation? Start by understanding what do people need and then exploring how could they achieve that goal in relation to our organisation or business. How will they, how do they interact with our organisation or business’s people, places and process? When? Where? What are the journeys we design for them? As we design what is the impact of the decisions we make, on the users of the service? Do we help people through their journey? Do we hinder people on their journey? Do the decisions create barriers or exclude people who could, who should be using the service? How we test? We test with the people who need the service. We learn from them. Problems and possible solutions with problems with possible solutions with problems…

Round round round we go… That’s just designing, end of. By getting in and getting on. Doing. That’s my preference.

I’ve never been — at least as much as I remember — an I did this all by myself kind of designer: I have strongly believed it’s a team that creates, evolves, maintains an experience or service. (This even comes to bite me in the arse in interviews where I lapse into we over I.) Service design methods just tend to lean towards working together. But I am always in teams, where we work together, even if it’s a team of two.

I get asked a lot What is it a service designer does? and Is this what a service designer does?. Any designer will bring different skills, thought processes, experiences to lean on, biases, openness or closeness, abilities and disabilities. A well designed service serves the needs of the people using it. I sometimes feel slightly uncomfortable with the designer in service designer. It is designed by the many deliberated understandings, actions and efforts of many people, who continually revisit what is being used and finding out from the people who use it how it works. The many not the one. As a service designer it is as much the coaching and coaxing, the listening, the connecting. (Are you more the designer of the process of the collaborative designing of the service?) But you’re also the barometer of knowing what is good enough and how to address what isn’t good enough. Isn’t that what any good designer is? If I use some of the methods I know that are aligned with service design then that’s because… they’re methods for designing, methods I believe have better outcomes for the designing of a service.

There are times I wonder about the perception of a role. User experience designer. Interaction designer. Experience designer. Service designer. These are job titles, also definitions. People are brought in with these titles and their preconceptions, their expectancies. Service Design feels a practice more accepted into a greater number of workplaces over the last decade but is whose understanding can still be blurred. I might not be bothered about the title of the role I am there for, but at times that inconsistency makes me feel itchy. What are the activities you are there to do for that role?

Service design is more about culture than one person’s role and needs understanding and support beyond a service designer’s own efforts. In that sense what service design is understood as is important. Sometimes you don’t have the culture onside, sometimes you cannot change the culture. Joining a team and having to justify your role and place in the team every day is draining.

Most times I don’t wonder if it matters. Just push on designing the service, doing the best you can do, talking people through what you are thinking to do, taking people along as you do it. Worry less about methods, just get on doing. Remember: You’re a designer, it’s designing. No-one can put you down for doing that, however you end up doing that in the circumstances.

Original source – Simon Wilson