The remote format worked really well at UX Bristol with really good engagement and questions from people following the live feed on YouTube and via the community set up on Slack. In the end I opted to pre-record my talk a few days before which I think turned out fine (even though it’s a strange experience presenting into the void) – the Q&A at the event was then live following the playback.
I’ve always struggled rehearsing talks without an audience and one observation here is that pre-recording my talk was a great way to practice – filming and having the camera on adds focus if you know people are going to see the playback. This is also a great way to share versions of a talk with your team, or people you trust for feedback before an event. I think this is something I’ll now try and do more, if and when we get back to in person events (the recording process itself was pretty simple using Zoom).
As well as speaking, it was also great to have some time on Friday (which is usually my non-working day at FutureGov) to attend the rest of the conference. I particularly enjoyed the opening talk by Chui Chui Tan, looking at the challenges of ‘culturalisation’, understanding and working with global/local and cultural context in design. Chui explained that to work with global users requires a “holistic approach building and constantly understanding and gathering insights and knowledge”.
My other highlight during the day was the talk by Kat Husbands about imposter syndrome in design. Kat (who works for Scottish Government), impressively ran live polls during the talk while also presenting back her research with designers on imposter syndrome. My main takeaways here were self acceptance and not putting pressure on yourself. Kat talked about letting yourself be vulnerable, and seeing the live poll results from 150+ people on the live conference feed gave me a sense that we’re all in this together. It’s worth saying that I’ve always had anxiety and imposter syndrome – I’ve written about this before here – especially since moving into leadership and more senior design roles. Having not done as much public speaking over the last couple of years, I was definitely feeling some of this pressure and imposter syndrome while preparing my talk last week.
Kat’s talk also reminded me of Gavin Elliot’s work on Imposter Syndrome – I’ve seen Gav presenting and talking about his own experiences with imposter syndrome to a number of design and public service teams over the past 5 years.
To introduce my UX Bristol talk, ‘Asking Design Questions’ was a mostly new set of ideas that I’ve been developing and thinking about (slide deck shared here).
I’ve been wanting to pick up on my previous questions for framing the problem work. The premise of this new talk, and building on that work from 6 years ago, is that anyone can ask design questions. In the talk I covered some of the history of my original thinking, and the challenges of the early work I was doing as Head of User Experience at the Department for Work and Pensions (UK Government). I then used the rest of the talk to consider what other design questions we need to be asking, and the types of design questions we need to start asking more, and why (with examples). This included a set of new questions covering the following themes:
I’m already talking to some other events about repeating and developing my ‘Asking Design Questions’ talk further. Please feel free to get in touch if that’s something you would be interested in, or if you’re putting together a future event (remote, or maybe even in person).
Data. Being a nerd. Keeping notes. It can all help you craft effective communications plans and campaigns.
by Will Mapplebeck
I love my ‘nerd book’. It’s a blue Rhodia notebook that I use for special occasions. It’s full of quotes, numbers and facts (always in black ink and best handwriting) I come across at work or when reading.
I dream of the day I’ll pull out my notebook and win an argument with a killer fact. That hasn’t happened yet, but you never know.
Selected highlights from my ‘book of wonk’ include:
UK National Debt is now about £2 Trillion.
The percentage of the UK population over 65 is 17pc (When questioned, most people guess it at around 37pc).
97pc of money has no physical form.
The UK Unemployment rate reached a staggering 12pc in the mid 1980s (today it is around 5pc).
China was the biggest economy in the world in the early 1800s.
I wrote these and dozens of other facts down because they struck me as interesting. They give me an idea of the daunting scale of policy challenges, a little historical context and often an idea of the improvements and progress made.
I’m a communications person who once, long ago, worked as a journalist. But I’m still guilty of thinking only in terms of headlines. I used to think of myself as the ‘ideas person’, rarely dirtying myself with the detail. The numbers, I told myself when working for a city council, were just for the authority’s ever decreasing band of policy people. After all, comms people aren’t wonks – we do the ‘vision thing’.
But the trouble with that approach is that as my career progressed, the stuff I communicated got a lot more complicated. Take climate change and net zero which I’m doing a lot of work on at the minute ahead of COP 26 in Glasgow later this year.
Climate change is rooted in science and is therefore a hideously complex topic. On top of that it is riven with its own internecine disputes between politicians and policy makers. Add to that again there are multiple actors with competing interests including global corporations, a whole load of international sensitivities and rafts of new technology from battery to next generation nuclear to understand the basics of.
Did you know that the US needs to build or import 300m electric vehicles to abandon internal combustion engines by 2050? Or that 70pc of carbon emissions are generated in urban areas?
Did you know that while China has made massive strides in terms of renewables, it remains the world’s biggest consumer of coal by a 450pc margin?
Big numbers, big challenges and all in my nerd book.
So my point is that if you’re going to communicate well, you have to know not just the basics but the killer facts beneath. You have to get your hands on the reports – exec summaries save a lot of time – and read behind the headlines to grasp the scale of the problem and the issues your organisation and others are grappling with.
Ultimately as communicators we strive for simple, accessible messaging. A clear narrative that we can all gather around.
But without understanding and researching some of the detail you will get nowhere and you’ll likely run into difficulties later on.
Stick to your accessible principles in terms of output, but remember the importance of data in helping to craft the materials that will help your organisation reach its aims and objectives. Get yourself a nerd book and fill it full of lovely and surprising stats. You won’t regret it.
Will Mapplebeck is communications and public affairs manager at Core Cities UK. Follow him on Twitter @wimapp
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Earlier this year, I gave a talk to the Servicios Digitales de Aragón (SDA), a government team that develops digital services for people living and working in the Aragon region of Spain. The SDA is an internal team of specialists with a clear strategy, and mandate, to transform the region’s dated government digital services. It follows many of the core design principles created by the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS).
It was a positive, as well as slightly scary, surprise that more than 80 people turned up to hear what I had to say.
Building on the GDS principles
I spoke about:
people and why they’re more important than technology when it comes to creating innovation in government
how important it is to have diverse, multidisciplinary teams
some ways to engage with internal teams and the external users and beneficiaries of the services they build and run
how governments can collaborate to design better products and services
The SDA staff were particularly interested in how they could get better at engaging with existing, already very busy, government teams. They also wanted to know how best to reach seldom-heard users, which reminded me of the kinds of questions we get when we’re working with local authorities in the UK.
Whenever I do talks like this, it reminds me of just how many governments internationally have taken the GDS essence and principles to help them develop their own teams and ways of working.
Some of the more well known examples include, the:
Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agency where some former GDS colleagues, and some of my old team at the UK Ministry of Justice, have worked
U.S. Government’s digital team that ships code and delivers services
Plenty of dxw colleagues have worked for GDS at some point, and some of its former employees are now influential across the UK Government and beyond.
Our Managing Director, Dave Mann, was the product manager for GOV.UK and worked there from the very beginning (2012). I was a transformation lead (from 2013 to 2015) in the same team as Isobel Croot, our Head of Strategic Services. We worked on exemplar projects where we developed and tested new ways of working.
Back in 2013 when we were trying to deliver these projects, we faced a lot of constraints and resistance. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing was going to have an impact beyond our offices, at the time in Aviation House in Holborn.
GDS has had its admirers and critics over the years, but there’s no doubt this work contributed to kicking off what became an internationally-acclaimed team and a well-established way of doing things in governments across the world.
This year, 10 years after GDS was established, it was great to see the new Government Digital Service Strategy setting out plans for the next 3 years. It was even better to see this in a blog post from Tom Read, their current CEO and one of the early team members back in the day.
Form Builder gave them a way to create, test and launch a fully accessible, GOV.UK-style form without needing to code or worry about things like hosting and security. It saved them weeks of development and enabled them to launch on time. More than a dozen services have been launched with the help of Form Builder, including Complain about a court or tribunal and Check how to get repairs done in your rented home. They all benefited from being able to quickly design, test, build and publish forms to government standards – as well as free hosting and ongoing support.
Learning from users
As great as Form Builder was, we knew there were a few things holding it back:
the editing application had to be installed and only ran on Macs
the publishing process was quite complicated and involved Github
while you didn’t need to code to use Form Builder, it helped to know a little JSON
you needed a @digital.justice.gov.uk email address to use it
Our users and our own data told us these things were a problem. Users needed to be able to access the application from any MoJ machine using any work email address – and they needed it to be easier to use. We knew that if we could fix these problems, even more people would want to use the service.
We solved these problems in a new service which we call MoJ Forms. It retains all the features that users really liked about Form Builder while being even easier and quicker to use:
it can be accessed from any browser using an MoJ work email account
it includes templates and components from the GOV.UK Design System
forms can be published to test and live environments in just a few clicks
forms are fully accessible and secure by default
hosting and support are provided as part of the service
no coding knowledge necessary
Putting it to the test
We think there are a lot of reasons for teams to use MoJ Forms. We’ve already mentioned how it helps save on development time and development cost. It makes rapid prototyping and user testing a breeze because of how quickly and easily you can create a working design. And with a dedicated test environment, password-protected forms can be shared easily with stakeholders and sponsors for review and feedback.
MoJ Forms can’t do everything that Form Builder could – yet. We are working now on adding branching and logic, which enables you to route end users around questions depending on previous answers. Longer term, we are looking at API integration, which enables you to collect user data directly into an application or system. We are also considering how to integrate forms with GOV.UK Pay and Notify and enable end users to save their progress and return later.
You can see a full list of current features and a user guide on what to expect on our product site. We also have a public roadmap on Trello where we invite MoJ colleagues and cross-government users to let us know what they are interested in to inform our direction based on needs.
We are currently in private beta and working with a limited group of active users to gather feedback and plan improvements. If you have an idea for how you might use MoJ Forms and would like to join the private beta, please get in touch. Drop us an email at email@example.com.
We’ve reached the point where it is more of a risk NOT using WhatsApp as a comms tool than use it.
That’s the firm conclusion I’ve reached sifting through the evidence, data and research.
I’ll take you through all that and then I’ll talk about how you can negotiate the pitfalls and risk.
The data low-down on WhatsApp
Firstly, what is WhatsApp? It’s a US-based Facebook-owned messaging service founded in 2009 to connect mobile phone numbers to the internet by sending messages, video, calls and location. You can also use it on the web so long as your mobile device is switched on and connected to the internet.
In the UK, Ofcom say that 30.7 million people use it. That’s around half the population. It’s the most popular app in the UK in 2019 and 2020, according to Audience Insights. And all ages use it. It’s as close to being the all demographic magic bullet.
The numbers are incredible. Ofcom say that between seven and eight out of 10 of ALL under 54s use it and almost half over 65s. They are astounding numbers.
Why communicators are hesitant
There’s a few reasons why comms people are not charging full tilt at using it. Firstly, they’ve got plenty on already using the channels they are.
Secondly, buried in WhatsApp’s terms and conditions is the news that you are not supposed to use WhatsApp as a business tool. You’re supposed to use WhatsApp for Business which is their gateway for business to reach the 1.2 billion global users. If you’re a private company this could mean using the WhatsApp API as companies like KLM have done. Anecdotally, this route isn’t open to the public sector in the UK.
So, what can you do?
Well, you can’t have two WhatsApp accounts on the same phone. This basically means buying a cheap mobile phone to download WhatsApp for Business account. So long as this is charged up and connectged tyo the internet you can download a dashboard top your laptop.
On top of all this, the analytics for WhatsApp right now are poor. Your message disappears into WhatsApp and you don’t see how much engagement there is. It’s a Facebook platform so this will change, I’m sure but there’s examples of people changing behaviour in part influenced by WhatsApp.
What does a WhatsApp for Business broadcast list do?
The place you want people to sign-up to is the WhatsApp for Business broadcast list.
What does this mean?
Basically, this means you can send one-way broadcast messages to up to 256 contacts and those contacts don’t see everyone else’s phone numbers and names as they would do in a WhatsApp group. You also don’t have the conversation hijacked by someone looking to undermine your message. So, Coke messages would not be diluted by someone sharing a Pepsi promotion. Or a vaccine message wouldn’t be undone by a 5G conspiracy theorist.
But the 256-contact limit is less of a sticking point than you’d think.
The 256-limit is a red herring
Of course, it would be great if WhatsApp was a kind of mailchimp substitute where you hoovered-up phone numbers and blasted them messages. The fact it isn’t makes it virgin territory for marketeers and if you can get your messages onto the network there’s more chance of it landing.
The best use of WhatsApp I’ve seen has come from a political pressure group who asked recipients to sign-up advised who to vote for in internal elections and then – this is the killer – asked them to forward the message onto other Party members.
So, in other words, if you get 10 people signed-up and they forward them onto another 10 you can get to 100 very easily.
Of course, it depends on the message that you are sending but the truth is you don’t need big numbers to start to reach people. Think of it as a Ponzi scheme for social good. You get a message and you pass it on.
It’s how Hackney Council used WhatsApp in the first weeks of lockdown to reach the observant Jewish population who didn’t use the internet. They listened to the Jewish community and understood that WhatsApp was the preferred method of keeping in touch. So they created content with WhatsApp in mind and people in the community did the rest.
Why WhatsApp is so powerful
Aside from the numbers, there’s another reason why WhatsApp is so powerful. It’s called ‘social normative theory’.
This basically means that you are more likely to be receptive to a message from your peers. Oner NHS person during a training session where we were looking at WhatsApp complained that she’d feel as though a message from the NHS on WhatsApp would be intrusive. She’s right. It would be. But that’s just it. Social normative theory means that it’s a message not from the NHS but from your brother Andy, your Mum or Dad or maybe Joanne who you work with. It flies under the radar and it’s beautiful.
Research shows that there is more misinformation on messenger platforms that across the open web. When it comes to something COVID-19 that means you can’t not be there.
Ways to use WhatsApp
There’s a range of ways to use WhatsApp. If I was working in the public sector the first thing I’d do is create a WhatsApp broadcast list for that town, city or borough’s COVID-19 news. I’d ask people in the organisation to sign-up then I’d extend it to community leaders and anyone who fancied signing up. Then I’d send them messages.
Or, it maybe that you are looking carefully at the data and you spot that the Yemeni population aren’t responding to Public Health messages and they tell you that WhatsApp is a favoured channel. At this point, it makes sense to buy a cheap £20 mobile phone to send a message to this group. You’d spend more on a display ad in the local paper or a boosted Facebook ad.
One thing to note is that if you are looking to send a video or picture plus words you need to send two separate messages.
The difference WhatsApp makes
In Singapore, the Government WhatsApp channel for COVID-19 gives out official information in four different languages. You can pick which one you’d like.
Such is the reach of the channel that around 10 per cent of the population have signed-up. Chances are those one-in-ten are forwarding the messages on to others in the population.
Researchers Liv & Tong in their research p[aper ‘Demographic data influencing the Impact of coronavirus-related misinformation on WhatsApp’ showed that severe mental health incidents were reduced by 7.9 per cent. At a time when health services are being stretched to breaking point this has real value.
This is why, dear reader, that it is more risk NOT using it than using it.
Research I carried out in May 2021 showed that just six per cent of communicators were using WhatsAopp as a communications channel. Of those that weren’t, 26 per cent said they were likely to use to use it and 26 per cent were unlikely. Almost half were undecided.
There is a small but growing user base of communicators who are experimenting with the platform. The innovators include Public Health Wales, Hackney Council, Watford Council and Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust.
This financial year, the MoJ has created a Digital Accessibility team, to start embedding accessibility across the justice system. Through a 6 month accessibility profession project and on-the-ground learning, combined with looking at the cross-gov accessibility landscape, we realised that we had a gap. People were aware of accessibility and very keen to build accessible services, but needed a bit more support and structure around it. So, after a successful proposal to the Central Digital Senior Management Team, we were set up!
Who we are
The MoJ Digital Accessibility team is currently made up of two people – Danielle Lyon, Senior Product Manager, and Beverley Newing, Accessibility Lead. We’ll be expanding out to include a Delivery Manager and an Accessibility Specialist.
What are our goals?
We have three main goals for the year:
Enhance capability and knowledge across teams delivering products and services
Embed accessibility considerations into our processes, like recruitment and procurement
Create a framework for a longer term, sustainable approach to accessibility.
That’s quite a lot of things! Danielle and Beverley have spent a lot of time planning out a roadmap for the year, so we can closely align our activities with these goals, and track activities, and progress against these goals.
What have we been up to so far?
So far, we’ve had a couple of different focuses. One has been raising awareness about our team. We held a launch party on the 19th March, to talk about our strategy and host some lightning talks from staff across Digital and Technology, which was very popular, and started lots of great conversations. We also presented on our team at the Chief Financial Officer’s standup, to 560+ people.
We’ve then been using the network we’re building through these activities to help us gather user needs. We’ve also been analysing data from accessibility surveys run over the past 2 years, ran a breakout activity at our launch party, and have been speaking to different communities within the organisation. This has helped inform us on what structures to put in place, for people to access the services we’ll be offering.
We’ve also been baselining our digital estate, and starting to identify what the highest priority services are, so we know where to focus our efforts first. We’ve been doing this with help from service owners and the product management community across the organisation, and with support from senior management. This will help us track progress, and also identify areas where we might need to pivot and iterate on our approach.
Lastly, MoJ is not the first department to set up an accessibility team, so we’ve been speaking to the Heads of Accessibility in other departments to discuss their approaches, share our approach, and get feedback. Accessibility is an emerging profession in government, and so we’ve been keen to make sure we can learn from what other people have done, rather than starting reinventing the wheel.
What’s next for our team?
We have quite a big roadmap for the next 9 months! In the immediate future, we’ll be focusing on these things:
finishing up hiring for our team, so we’re all in place
rolling out a program of training sessions across the organisation, to help raise awareness and capability – this will be a mixture of general awareness sessions and profession-specific sessions
starting up our in-house consultancy offering
We’ve got a busy year ahead of us, but we’ve been overwhelmed with the support we’ve had so far, from all areas of the organisation. Accessibility is a team sport, and we’re super excited about what we’re going to achieve together for the rest of this financial year.
Chris Lepkowski has been on both sides of the fence. He’s been a football reporter and looked after comms at a Premier League football team. Many have remarked on the breath of fresh air the England team have been at Euro 2020. How has that emerged? A change of landscape and a change of strategy. Here’s how.
The beer cans have been swept away, the bunting has been removed, the St George’s flags have been packed away. Save those for another day, another tournament, maybe even another final.
While the media wade through the mess left behind by a section of – and let’s not beat around the bush here – drugged-up, beer-fuelled monumental dickheads masquerading as football fans, you would be forgiven for thinking Euro 2020 was another tournament for inquests and pointing fingers.
On some levels it will be. And so it should.
But amid the chaos of Sunday, we shouldn’t overlook that the legacy of Euro 2020 and this group of England players. Twenty six young men, led by a manager of class and dignity.
The calm leader
Gareth Southgate is that uncle who will happily drop to his hands and knees to play with his three-year-old nephew or niece, without so much as a quibble. Invite him for dinner, and he’ll be the first one to roll up his sleeves and wade in to wash the dishes afterwards. I interviewed him a couple of times some years ago. He came across as a thoughtful, calm man…and crucially he knew that this young journalist, as I was then, needed to come away with a ‘line’ – a story my editors would deem worthy to use in the next day’s newspaper. He obliged on both occasions.
I’m not going to offer an opinion on England’s on-the-field performance – that’s for another conversation. Let’s, instead, look at what this team has brought to a nation.
The fraught past
To get where we are now, it’s important we understand the journey of an England manager against the media backdrop.
Since the 1970s it has been a relationship fraught with problems. Don Revie’s shock departure in 1977 was to stoke up the first circulation war of such, when he gave the Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell the exclusive that he was quitting the England role to take up a role with the United Arab Emirates. By doing so the world and his dog knew Revie was leaving England before his resignation letter had even been delivered to FA headquarters. In choosing the Daily Mail, Revie was also deemed to have flicked two fingers to other Fleet Street pretenders. It didn’t end well for him, with the Fourth Estate (bar the Mail, obviously) going straight for his throat.
A decade later, Bobby Robson was told ‘In the Name of Allah, Go’ following a draw with Saudi Arabia just a few weeks before Italia 90. By now, the circulation wars were in full swing, with Kelvin McKenzie’s bombastic editorship of The Sun attempting to claim readers from Maxwell’s Daily Mirror. In doing so, football managers, politicians, musicians, actors, celebrities were fair game for a sting. The more dramatic the headlines, the better. And didn’t Graham Taylor know it. Robson’s successor found himself depicted as a turnip following a defeat to Sweden during Euro 92 (Swede…Turnip, get it?) as sub-editors found novel ways to add graphics to sub-editing software. Taylor, we must add, knew what the media was about. His father had been a football journalist, so he knew the game. Even that wasn’t enough to spare him considerable barracking from the media.
Fleet Street on the warpath
Fast forward through the 2000s and we saw a succession of stories threatening to derail England bosses – notably Sven-Goran Eriksson’s eye for the ladies, and a sting by the ‘Fake Sheikh’, as reported by the News Of The World. We had reports of alleged affairs, we read tales of club allegiances creating factions in squads during major tournaments. We even had an England captain banned by the FA for alleged (and unproven) racism. The so-called Golden Generation might have won a trophy or two had they invested as much time to winning football matches as they did in squabbling. Team England came across as a fairly unpleasant bunch.
In 2016, Sam Allardyce talked himself out of the England job when he spoke to Daily Telegraph investigators about how to bypass FA third party ownership rules. Yet that was reckless drop of the ball on his part, rather than a frenzied media campaign.
The press occupies a different province these days. The circulation wars are long gone, with a greater priority shifting towards digital and social delivery. The US-owned media group The Athletic revolutionised the way football was reported two years ago by effectively cherry-picking writers from the nation’s broadsheet and local newspapers. Football reporting these days is less about the soundbite and tub-thumping, more about heatmaps, data and analysis. Sure, you still get ridiculous rabble-rousing headlines on the front – but read the football writers on the back and you’ll find articulate discussion about whether Southgate should go with a back three or opt for back four.
Crucially, the Leveson Inquiry into media practice changed how stories are reported and delivered. The closure of the News Of The World also removed one of the most strident players from the tabloid market. I hazard a guess you’ll struggle to remember the last kiss-and-tell story. They’re literally old news these days.
Arriving at better comms
And so we return to Southgate. How did we reach a point where the England manager and his players were so bloody nice?
Much of it can be put down to mentality. Most elite players will come through the controlled environs of the club academy system – mainly developed as a result of English football’s investment into the Elite Player Performance Plan, a youth system initiated by the Premier League in 2012. Not only are youngsters developing in the very best environment, mentored by elite coaches, but there are high behavioural expectations. They are schooled not only how to kick a ball straight, but how to carry themselves. Clubs offer media training to ensure these youngsters are honed to speak to the media, be it in the white heat of a ‘flash interview’ immediately after a major football final, or in a 40-minute sit-down chat with the local press.
As for Southgate, he consciously wanted to make England more approachable. And the FA got their recruitment spot on. In recent years, they have brought in Communications experts who have worked for media organisations and football clubs. There has been a shift towards changing the relationship between Team England and reporters. Crucially, because of their past working experiences, these practitioners appreciated the demands and wants of journalists. (I know Senior Communications Manager Andy Walker personally – he is a top class operator, who is a huge asset to his employers).
Players are conditioned to deliver interviews, ensuring media are flooded with content – so there can be no complaints about access. Even the language and tone of messaging has been changed. Players no longer ‘face the media’ as they did in the past, immediately removing the notion that England are doing the press a favour by putting up players for interview.
There is now a culture of journalists being asked ‘what do you need?’ aware that putting up a couple of players for interviews removes the pressure for media organisations to dig elsewhere for stories. It’s common sense.
During Euro 2020, players and journalists went head-to-head in a darts league – again, another push towards improving media-footballer relations. These small things don’t appear much, but they add to the trust. Compare this to Italia 90, where a group of senior England players were filmed setting fire to a tabloid newspaper, such was their repulsion at the treatment of manager Bobby Robson. None of that these days.
Also, there is a difference in dynamic between reporting club football and the national team. Premier League footballers are the property of the club – they are huge assets. Clubs are obligated to deliver players and managers to interviews with broadcast partners. These rights holders are effectively the media who pay into the sport. These include Sky, BT, beIN, Canal +, etc. Clubs have no choice but to hold their nose and appease these broadcasters. The ‘written’ media, however, are not generally rights-holders so, while they are able to access press conferences, they will sometimes go months without a sit-down interview with a players. Some clubs are worse than others on this front. Rightly or wrongly, many Premier League clubs see little value in putting up players for interviews with traditional ‘written’ journalists.
At national level, this isn’t the case. The FA have identified there is a sense of public duty for players to speak to a bigger audience. When a player is interviewed by BBC, or talkSPORT, or the Daily Mirror, he is speaking to the country. Quite often those same reporters will have been told by club staff that, say, Jack Grealish or Bukayo Saka are unavailable for interviews. Yet, here they are with England, finding all players are fair game to be interviewed. Again, those privileges are reflected by a softer, warmer level of reporting.
More so, Team England has become the perfect antidote to an increasingly divided country. Gareth Southgate went to great lengths to explain the pre-game genuflect was a gesture against racism – not some Marxist claptrap dreamt up by deluded hard-of-thinking antagonists. By doing this Southgate effectively handed over ownership to the people. Your pick: choose decency, or choose intolerance. But you own it.
This is a group of individuals that has taken on the Government and offered greater opposition than those charged with that particular role. They have pursued empathy and inclusivity, promoting racial equality. This is a team to serve a demographic that has felt increasingly marginalised in the post-Brexit shit-storm of social decay, racial division and national tabloidisation. England’s class of 2021 has given us hope that this country isn’t as bad as we thought it was.
There is a place for decency and tolerance, after all.
Just don’t mention the penalties…
Chris Lepkowski is a sports journalism lecturer at Birmingham City University.
This past month, we’ve been laying some more of the groundwork for our climate work, and getting stuck into some finer details. The recent recruitment drive is starting to pay off — we’ve had four new members of staff join mySociety this week, and in the climate team we’re delighted to be joined by Emily Kippax.
As Delivery Manager on the programme, Emily’s going to be working with us on getting the right balance between planning and acting — and making sure that we align the work to play to our different skillsets and roles.
Researcher Alex and designer Zarino have been figuring out the best ways to learn more about how and why people are using the Climate Action Plans explorer site. This should help us understand how to improve it, particularly as we start to share it with more people.
First of all, we’re thinking about a pop-up asking visitors to click a few buttons and let us know who they are — what sectors they work in, what they’re trying to find, et cetera. Zarino is working on the hunch that if we add our friendly faces to this request, showing the real people behind the project, it might get a better take-up. I’m looking forward to finding out whether he’s right.
Meanwhile Alex has been doing some work on the other end of that request. He’s seeing how to make it easy for the team to understand the inputs and use them to measure our progress.
He also took a quick diversion into non-contiguous cartograms (courtesy of the templates produced by the House of Commons library), to map the creation of climate action plans by local authorities in a way that accurately reflects the population covered by those plans.
Mid-month, we co-hosted a webinar along with Friends of the Earth and Climate Emergency UK: ‘How can local councillors help to meet UK climate targets?’.
This was particularly aimed at newly-elected councillors wanting to understand what they can do around the climate emergency, and what resources are available to help them (a video of the session is available). It was really exciting that the session was so well attended, with an audience of more than 200.
Finally, our colleagues Grace McMeekin, Isaac Beevor and Suzanna Dart over at Climate Emergency UK have produced a set of questions to ask about climate emergency action plans that will illustrate what the differences are between them. This builds on previous work with Ashden, The Centre for Alternative Technology, APSE and Friends of the Earth to produce a checklist for the plans.
We’re really keen to see if we can work together to turn what can be quite dry documents into something a bit more accessible and comparable that we can share openly, with other councils, citizens, action groups…anyone who wants to see it.
As the team embarks on the hard work it takes to make simple services, it reminded me of what the journalist Zoe Williams wrote about civic technology a few years ago:
“Any meaningful access to democracy requires that the citizen can navigate the terrain. These mini institutions […] collate, editorialise, create digital order for the public good. The more transparent and accessible democracy is, the more obvious it is which bits could be better. It’s like sitting in on the meeting where they invented dentistry, or clean water: kind of obvious, kind of earth-shattering, kind of tedious, kind of magical.”
When I was 14, I wanted to be a veterinarian. One day my biology teacher took me aside and said I just wasn’t academic enough to be a vet. I agreed with her. So how does a veterinarian wannabe end up as Head of Design at a digital agency?
From music to design
By the time I left school, music – playing the guitar in particular – was my everything. I did a part time college course in sound engineering, rang around dozens of recording studios in Manchester and eventually got myself a gig as a tape operator (aka tea and butties executive).
When that came to an end, I got a job in a record shop, which I ended up managing. One night I was hanging out at a friend’s house while he was doing his college homework. He studied graphic design and was designing the artwork for a pizza box. I thought it looked like much more fun than flogging Take That cassettes and keeping kids from nicking t-shirts.
I hastily assembled a portfolio — that featured several pieces borrowed from friends — and took it to an interview to join the BTEC ND Advertising Design course at Wigan College. I’m certain the tutor knew the work was not entirely my own, but I think he was impressed with my desire to blag my way onto the course, and needed to get some bodies in.
The course was great and I got some valuable work experience at the incredibly swanky McCann Erickson agency. I followed the ND with an HND in Graphic Design & Communication, where things got serious. The HND differed to the BA in that the classroom was run like a studio, and the emphasis was very much on making things and building a portfolio.
In the mid 90s, graphic design was one of the most oversubscribed subjects in the UK which made getting a job in the industry hard. Over the course of the next 2 years, I did a few jobs to pay the bills: entomologist, barperson, deck chair attendant (living in Bournemouth for the summer, sleeping on a floor, and paying £10 a week rent while cashing a council cheque each Friday lunchtime). I also made it to the final round of interviews to become an RSPCA inspector.
I was happy but realised the 4 years I spent studying were increasingly looking like a wasted effort. Despite several knockbacks, I decided it was time to barge my way into the design industry. At the tail end of 1999, I eventually got a job with a small agency in Colchester, had a fun couple of years, and made some friends for life.
From there I moved to an agency that had a team of 7 when I started, and 40+ when I left 8 years later. I got to work on a huge variety of things including newspaper, outdoor, radio, and TV ads, teaching myself how to use a pro video camera and editing software and we made interactive DVDs (2006!) and later, video for the web.
I learned how to turn my own static designs into HTML and CSS, and made my first WordPress blog. Starting as a middleweight designer, I worked my way up to creative director, managing a team of 13 designers, artworkers, and developers.
After the global financial crisis of 2008, things took a bit of a hit and in 2010 I was one of a few people made redundant. I decided to go freelance and work exclusively doing digital design and front end development. I spent a few years jobbing my way around agencies, startups, and publishing companies, all the while getting more into human centred design.
Although I enjoyed the variety that freelancing brought, I longed to do work with meaning and a positive social outcome. Through a chance exchange on Twitter, I ended up spending time working at a startup called The Amazings, which was a marketplace for retirees to pass their skills down to the younger generations. Through folks I met there, I did a couple of small gigs at Sidekick Studios and the “startup for startups” that was Makeshift.
Around that time I became aware of of a product/service called Casserole Club , a way to reduce social isolation and improve food provision among older people, and the work of a company called FutureGov. I decided I had to work at this place and I did, for the next 3 and a half years.
No such thing as a typical week
With a fully formed appetite for public sector work, I joined dxw as a designer in the summer of 2017.
After a couple of promotions, my current role is Head of Design. Beyond my regular one to ones with the people I manage, there’s no such thing as a typical week for me. Any given week could see me getting involved with: catch ups with members of the wider team, supporting delivery teams by helping cross-specialism collaboration, facilitating design community events, occasional hands on design work, helping the sales and marketing teams, recruitment, and refining our internal processes.
It’s been a tough year or so for everyone but the spirit and resilience of our design team has meant that we’ve not only survived, we’ve thrived. We’ve added some really great new folks to the team across all of our specialisms. We’ve started hiring associate-level designers. And we’ll continue to grow, diversify, and strengthen as the year goes on.
If you’re interested in hearing about life as a designer at dxw, want to hear about any of our open vacancies, or just want to have a brew and a natter, get in touch!