The group have been campaigning for the past 12-months modelled on previous historic civil disobedience campaigns.
The internet went into meltdown at the perceived stupidity of targeting public transport at a station in a deprived area.
It appears the idea was floated amongst campaigners and 70 per cent voted against it. But two protestors went ahead and did it anyway.
The reaction online was largely negative.
I only started coming to work by tube because of Greta Thunberg. And now I run the risk of the train being hijacked by the lunatic fringe of Extinction Rebellion. Would they rather we all drove? Targeting commuters on public transport is a staggeringly stupid move.
Centralise and you won’t tap into the organisation’s groundswell of energy. But share the sweets and you may get misfiring. So, the strength of the campaign is also the weakness.
The core audience of Extinction Rebellion’s support is people who believe in the danger of climate change. But the group need to broaden their support. The public transport user is part of that wider constituency the campaign needs to win. But forget who your audience is and you’re in trouble.
Data would say that the incidents shone greater attention on the campaign
But the data would say in simple terms the incident shone a light on the campaign.
The blue peak is searches for extinction rebellion, red is climate change and yellow is Canning Town station just after 6.28am. The data shows a massive spike on Google for the search term ‘Extinction Rebellion’ around the time of the incident.
But crude numbers are not the metric. That’s the Gary Glitter school of PR success.
I’m a product owner in DWP Digital’s Data Science team, working on the Examine a Place digital service.
This service aims to help advisors in Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) explore the employment market by area. It’s all about using data to give a snapshot of skills and roles and a view of employer demand for areas across the country.
It’s an exciting time for us in the team because we recently released the latest iteration of Examine a Place, and we’ve been given the funds and approval to develop the service further.
This is how the service has developed so far and how we plan to take it forward.
The starting point for Examine a Place
This project began in 2018 when The Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) commissioned us to develop alpha Examine a Place. DCMS are responsible for Digital Skills Partnerships and this commission was inspired by some of our previous information services work.
The prototypes developed during the alpha phase, use online job vacancy data to help users explore:
skills with the highest employer demand
roles with the highest employer demand
changes in employer demand
A screen shot from Examine a Place showing project manager vacancies in the North East
The starting point for the service was to help users understand digital skills requirements but it has now broadened out to cover all skills across the employment market. Department for Education (DfE) has also been a partner in the alpha phase of this project, due to links with its Skills Advisory Panels.
To do this we have been working with Adzuna online job advertisements. With tens of millions of job adverts containing up to 6,000 unique skills and job titles, this is big data.
A shared focus on skills and employment
DfE, DCMS and DWP have a shared interest in skills and employment policy, to support people into, as well as progress in, work. The development of local industrial strategies also requires clear information about job sectors, industries, employers and training providers to create long term plans for each area of the country.
The prototypes are designed to support the work of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and Mayoral Combined Authorities (MCAs) who have an influential role in local skills provision.
Our research helped us change the focus
Based on the results of the workshops that we have been running with LEPs and MCAs throughout the summer, we’ve identified the need for a much broader service using more data sets.
Later this month we will resume our workshops with LEPs and MCAs as we are keen to test what has been built so far and iterate the service as we respond to feedback.
A screen shot from the Examine a Place service looking at skills for the Brighton and Hove area.
There are also plans to begin user testing sessions with Jobcentre Plus colleagues later this month as we test the scope of this service.
We’re starting to share our work and expand the potential of the service. We’re working in the last weeks of the alpha phase of our initial development and preparing for private beta.
Developing the service further
Building Examine a Place is not without its challenges. The logistics and governance involved in bringing existing commercial and other government department data together, gaps in data available to help users make decisions and the absence of government design systems for data are just some of the difficulties we are working to overcome.
We have lots to do, so we’ll provide further updates, focusing on specific areas of the project, in future blogposts.
The prototype is not open to view publically but for more information about Examine a Place, please email me or leave a comment below.
How do we know the systems we are building today aren’t tomorrow’s legacy? Are we consciously working to ensure that the code we write isn’t spaghetti-like? that interfaces can be easily disassembled? that modules of capability can be unplugged and replaced by other, newer and richer ones?
I’ve seen some examples recently that show this isn’t always the case. One organisation, barely five years old, has already found that its architecture is wholly unsuitable for its current business looks, let alone what it will need to look like as its industry goes through some big changes.
Sometimes this is the result of moving too quickly – the opportunity that the business plan said needs to be exploited is there right now and so first mover advantage theory says that you have to be there now. Any problems can be fixed later goes the thinking. Except they can’t, because once the strings and tin cans are in place, there are new opportunities to exploit. There’s just no time to fix the underlying flaws, so they’re built on, with sedimentary layer after layer of new, often equally flawed, technology.
Is the choice, then, to move more slowly? To not get there first? Sometimes that doesn’t help either – move too slowly and costs go up whilst revenues don’t begin soon enough to offset those losses. Taking too long means competitors exploit the opportunity you were after – sure they may be stacking up issues for themselves later, but maybe they have engineered their capability better, or maybe they’re going so fast they don’t know what issues they’re setting up.
There’s no easy answer. Just as there never is. The challenge is how you maintain a clear vision of capability that will support today’s known business need as well as tomorrow’s.
How you disaggregate capability and tie systems together is important too. The bigger the system and the more capability you wrap into it, the harder it will be to disentangle.
Alongside this, the fewer controls you put around the data that enters the system (including formats, error checking, recency tests etc), the harder it will be to administer the system – and to transfer the data to any new capability.
Sometimes you have to look at what’s in front of you and realIse that “you can’t get there from here”, and slow down the burn and figure out how you start again, whilst keeping everything going in the old world.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting over our last few years leading and designing better health and care services. These experiences have led to a lot of learning about what does and doesn’t work to enable teams to deliver better outcomes.
As part of our work to lead and support the design of better health and care services, we’ve developed eight provocations for teams to work with as they identify problems and shape opportunities in health and care.
Whether you work in health and care or like to try and transfer learning to other social issues, I hope you find these provocations helpful to:
scope out and define design opportunities for change
set approaches and methodologies to designing and delivering change
unblock challenges through a process of design and change
think about the right collaborators to convene and involve through your process
We always talk about the importance of putting people first — patients, carers and staff — and that’s also the first NHS Design Principle. But do we really know what this means, and do we really do this? Putting people first doesn’t just mean patient participation forums, staff surveys and consultations. It means that we do the hard work to really get to know people, putting their needs first and foremost when designing the future of health and care services.
improve conditions for staff so they can provide the best care to patients
The insights we gathered showed us that we cannot improve urgent and emergency care services without focusing on their emotional, practical and clinical needs. We found that the reason people bounced between different urgent and emergency care services was not necessarily because their clinical needs weren’t being met. Rather, we found that people were not feeling reassured, trusting the advice or care offer, or asked to do things that were not practical for them.
By putting people and their emotional, practical and clinical needs first, we can design services that meet these needs holistically at the first point (or as few points) of interaction. Undeniably, other indirect and equally positive outcomes will emerge from this effort — such as improved productivity and cost efficiency — but that’s not where the change journey starts. That’s where it ends.
2. Consider needs and assets hand in hand
A design approach promotes a needs-based mindset. What problems are we trying to solve? What are the needs that must be met? And what can we do to meet these needs? There is definitely value in this deficit-based approach to identifying an opportunity or gap for change. However, there is even more value in bringing together both a needs-based and asset-based mindset, focusing on the strengths (rather than weaknesses) that exist in a system, organisation or community, and what we can mobilise or harness (rather than fix or eliminate) to deliver change.
When we were tasked with co-producing a five-year programme to address health inequalities in Tower Hamlets, we weren’t quite sure where to start. Tower Hamlets is the tenth most deprived borough nationally with the fastest growing population in London. There’s a six to eight year variation in life expectancy between the most and least affluent neighbourhoods. A needs-based approach would have driven the team down the rabbit hole of a long set of unrealistic and unfocused social interventions to address all of these systemic challenges.
Instead, we asked local residents and community-led organisations about their strengths; the things they were proud of, and their dreams for themselves, their family and their neighbourhood. We then focused all our energy on working with communities and other parts of the system (services, the council and providers) to mobilise existing assets that can turn these dreams to reality.
“I want to feel safe locally.”
“I want to see our children have a good life; to be successful and happy.”
“I want to feel a sense of community unity.”
In one case, we worked with a group of girls to improve their sense of safety, confidence and connectivity in the local community; all of which we know is linked to better wellbeing. By introducing girls-only days and involving girls on governance boards, we removed the stigma around youth centres being a place for boys only. We also worked with a local provider to run self-defence classes for girls and a train the trainers approach so they can continue to run classes themselves.
3. Start with prevention
Prevention is better than cure. But from what I’ve seen, most of the investment in health and care goes into troubleshooting further downstream. Focusing on prevention and upstream work has many benefits, from better health outcomes to a better return on investment. But it’s also harder to do because it comes with a lot of uncertainty and the impact cannot always be seen immediately. I like to compare any work that doesn’t start with prevention to a hamster on a treadmill. Lots of energy (or money) is spent, but the hamster (or the problem) isn’t going anywhere.
Adult social care in Essex faced a challenge like this, where people who went into hospital were 20% more likely to leave with a social care package compared to the rest of England. These packages were often more than what was wanted or needed. Looking further upstream to working with patients in hospital before discharge care packages were considered, we could reduce inappropriate assessments, discharge delays, repeat admissions and the cost of inflated care packages.
This was the start of Home and Healthy, a hospital-based service supporting patients and their families to work collaboratively with their clinical team to find and arrange the right quality care in a way that is personalised, consistent and meets their needs. One hypothesis we’re interested in testing further is moving Home and Healthy even further upstream into primary care, to assess the needs of elderly patients and reduce hospital admissions.
4. Drive system-wide collaboration
One of the biggest fallacies is that health and care is one challenge that’s addressed by one National Health Service. This is problematic because there are many interdependencies between health and care challenges and other social challenges — or what we refer to as the wider determinants of health. Poor housing and high levels of pollution, social isolation, low educational attainment and many other factors all have an impact on the health conditions, caring arrangements and access to information and services.
To add to that, there isn’t any single organisation solely responsible for mandating, regulating, commissioning, supporting and delivering health and care services. The landscape is so complex that across the country, often thousands of organisations have to work together to deliver a single standard national service.
When we were designing the future of digital-first urgent and emergency care, we needed to consider the roles, activities, challenges and motivations of over 19,300 organisations responsible for delivering this type of unscheduled care; from central bodies to commissioners and local and regional services.
To effect any change in health, we need to think about and collaborate with different parts of the system who share or own the problem and who have a role in solving it. Most of the time, these players sit at different levels of the systems, in dispersed geographic locations, and sometimes outside of health.
5. Innovate in the open
Teams across the country are working to address some of the same health challenges, many doing and trying similar things. So there’s so much value in innovating in the open; sharing work as it evolves, showing mistakes and learnings and creating solutions that others can use, build on and adapt. Innovating in the open pulls everyone together to solve shared problems and improve solutions, rather than pottering away and duplicating efforts in siloes. It’s exciting to see the recent focus of the Future of Healthcare Vision and NHSx on creating open standards that can facilitate and drive this sort of open innovation and interoperability between different parts of the system.
Our open innovation approach to children’s social care services is a good example. We know that social workers spend 80% of their time on administration and only 20% with families and children — which is where the real value and impact of their practice lies. Working collaboratively with three west London councils, we designed FamilyStory, making the best use of digital technology to put interactions between practitioners and families back at the heart of social work. We’re piloting FamilyStory with three Child Protection teams and working towards open standards and a co-owned trust arrangement to scale FamilyStory across other local authorities and children’s services.
6. Fix the same problems once
There is a constant push and pull between national scalable solutions and locally tailored solutions. But it’s hard to argue against the benefit in fixing some shared problems once, where the local context is less relevant or where a solution is flexible enough to be tailored locally.
For example, patients across the country need to book appointments, request prescriptions and access health records. These are the exact shared needs that the NHS App is trying to meet once and for all. However, when we don’t think strategically about which problems we need to solve at national level, and which problems are best solved locally, we end up creating a chaotic market of solutions. The result is wasted investment, ineffective competition for a patient’s attention and the danger of retrofitting a national solution locally without considering the context.
When we started working with Public Health England to identify opportunities for digital weight management, it was apparent that nearly half of all local authorities cannot afford to provide a face-to-face child weight management service. Where they do exist, uptake is low and impact is variable. Additionally, there are next to no digital weight management solutions on the market that target young children and their families. Fixing this problem once made sense.
We designed and tested Our Family Health, a whole-family digital weight management service that families can personalise to meet their needs, and local setting, and that can be used anytime, anywhere, alongside an existing face-to-face service or on its own. This meant that we could work towards a vision where 100% of families could access a weight management service at a fraction of the cost to the public health system. The Department of Health and Social Care’s green paper recently shared the ambition to continue to work on developing Our Family Health.
7. Deliver results quickly
Facing funding challenges and systems constantly in flux, it’s imperative that design work delivers results quickly. Ambitious two to ten year roadmaps for change are meaningless. In that considerable time, the problem will most likely have become obsolete, the funding gone, or the conditions for change altogether different. We need to be designing change that can be delivered quickly at a small scale, supported by a process of constant feedback, iteration, adaptation, spreading of learning and scaling up (or down).
Affecting change at a social and environmental level is challenging to do in the short-term, but by working closely with local systems and stakeholders, we are able to identify a few interventions that are quick to implement, but also quick to deliver results. We worked with the Healthy London Partnership on the Healthy Communities programme, to improve social and environmental conditions that would make a healthy lifestyle choice easy for families. Working with local families, schools, policy-makers, businesses and entrepreneurs, we created Make Kit, which took three months to deliver from concept to community. It’s a healthy, affordable and easy to prepare recipe box that families can pick up at the school gates or on housing estates. The 6-week pilot showed that 73% of the families using Make Kit were eating fewer ready meals and 83% felt more confident cooking healthy meals.
8. Build capabilities and shift mindsets
FInally, it’s critical that those working on policy, commissioning, or delivery of health and social care are equipped with the design and digital skills needed to shape the future of services in a digital age. Most of these provocations require a modern way of thinking and working that does not come naturally to many in traditional policy-making, clinical and delivery settings. These are settings that focus on scholarly evidence over patient needs, best practice over experimentation, risk-averse randomised control trials over rapid prototyping and technology implementation over understanding the problem we’re trying to solve.
The work that Health Education England and NHS England are doing on the back of the Topol Review to create a digital-ready workforce cannot be better timed. As well as regularly building capabilities through the work we deliver with health partners, we’re excited to have been involved in specific programmes such as NHS Digital Academy, NHS Digital Pioneers, and the Topol Digital Fellowship to shift mindsets to designing the future of health and care services.
I hope you find these provocations helpful in shaping your work and decisions. Any feedback, comments, or suggestions for moving these forward is always welcome!
We often have people participating in meetings and workshops remotely. There are limitations we regularly come up against because people aren’t in the same room together. Things like using post-it notes, which means not everyone can see what’s being discussed. We’ve been putting a lot of effort into making remote working better, so we decided to try out having a remote facilitator and only using online tools.
We chose a workshop we held recently about our dxw days, where we wanted to work with staff to get some suggestions on how we could improve them.
Planning, planning, and more planning
We had initially decided to have one facilitator in the room but realised that:
it’s always more fun with two people and feels more collaborative for the participants
staff workshops are an ideal way to involve people who haven’t had a chance to facilitate and get them more comfortable with it
this was a good opportunity to test having a remote facilitator
Israt, who regularly works remotely, got us thinking about some of the challenges of being remote when we were planning this workshop. Amy, who rarely works remotely, joined a workshop as a remote participant ahead of time to understand the challenges.
We also had some help from staff who have conducted remote research and analysis sessions and who were new starters. They gave us some insights and also helped us test and refine the online document sharing that we’d planned to do.
Ditching the post-its
The plan was to have groups of people in the room working together, and another group working remotely. We decided on an individual warm up exercise in Miro, an online whiteboard that lets people collaborate in real time. Followed by a group activity using online documents. This gave people a chance to think on their own before getting into group work.
We wanted the group to iterate the documents by “passing” them to a different group after they’d worked on their section. We would then use this shared document to discuss everyone’s ideas.
It was a lot of moving parts to consider, but it worked pretty well overall.
Some things we learned
Timings and set up:
book some time directly before the session to set up and test
allow a bit of time for tech issues
have scheduled timings during the workshop, as you would any other workshop, but be prepared to need more or less time and be ready to adapt. The Miro activity was more efficient than expected and gave us more time to work on the other activities
if you want people to bring their laptops, put it in the calendar invitation and also remind them on the day
the in-room facilitator needs to be prepared to run the session if the remote person’s internet goes down and vice versa, so it’s best to know each other’s parts
the remote facilitator can lead the group discussion for remote people, and should give others in the group chance to present back
it’s helpful for the two facilitators to maintain a back channel throughout so that both sides can “read the room” and know when it’s time to move on to the next activity
create the Miro board ahead of time and make sure users will be able to access it without having to give any permissions on the day
if you link to the board before the workshop starts, be aware people will be in there before you’ve had a chance to introduce the activity
putting the question on the Miro board was helpful as some people joined a bit late
if you have a multi part activity in the same Miro board, make sure you’re clear if you want people to do only one activity at a time
make sure someone is comfortable being responsive in Miro. We had to increase the Miro canvas size due to the enthusiasm of participants!
the Miro timer is a very helpful tool
Online document passing:
both the facilitators had speculated about the four areas we’d want to speak about before the workshop so we created the documents in advance
we also gave participants the chance to agree on the documents and potentially change any based on the Miro activities at the start of the workshop
the documents and “passing” instructions were shared in Slack. We probably need to be clearer with these types of instructions as we had to check people were in the right document. We gave each group a number and made sure they knew which section to work on
Israt, as the remote facilitator, made sure the remote team was not confused at any given time during the activity. This was helped by muting the room during the group activity.
she regularly asked if anyone had any questions and briefly repeated what the in-room facilitator had mentioned. We also used a back channel to know when it was time to come back together
remote participants were encouraged to communicate collectively, and we asked team members to be a spokesperson and present their work to the wider team
Having a remote and an in-room facilitator was a useful experiment. We plan to do more workshops like this and keep iterating the process so that it’s as seamless for the remote participants as it is for those in the room.
Governments are responsible for protecting and providing for the people they serve. But often, policymakers and legislators do their work behind closed doors, far away from the people on the receiving end of services and policies.
The growing separation between decision-maker and citizen means that policies and services don’t actually give people what they need. There are ways to address this growing divide, and one of those is participatory processes like citizens’ assemblies.
What is a citizens’ assembly?
A citizens’ assembly (also known as a citizen’s jury, mini-public, or a reference panel) is a demographically-representative group of people who come together to provide recommendations on a particular issue. Usually, this is to support a government or decision-making body and can be hosted to address many issues, from transportation to healthcare, electoral systems, firework usage, and European identity to name a few.
Though a citizens’ assembly tends to follow the same format of education and deliberation, there are lots of ways to customise it to fit your needs and the needs of your citizens. It could be formatted as a long engagement over several months, or concentrated over a few days. It could be offered in multiple languages, hosted in a government space or somewhere more neutral.
What’s crucial to its success is that the participants have clear request or mandate to discuss.
Convening an assembly because it’s cool, or because a government wants to be seen doing “good public engagement”, does a disservice to the model. Convenors should be committed to taking the recommendations from their citizens into consideration and feeding back to those involved. If participants are not given a true voice and real power, the model becomes a highly organised focus group without any real purpose, and fails.
A co-design approach to citizen engagement
Citizen assemblies are one way for government bodies to bring citizens closer to decision-making, but there’s lots of room for innovation in how we go about engaging people. Over the last year, we’ve been working with Camden Council to pilot something slightly different. Called a Neighbourhood Assembly, the process engages a smaller group of residents over a longer period of time. With the Camden Neighbourhood Assembly, we’re looking to develop ideas that will improve health and wellbeing in the local area.
This approach blends deliberative democracy and co-design approaches. Assembly members are exploring the evidence around health and wellbeing challenges, conducting research within their networks, then developing and testing ideas for change. They’ve been engaging local organisations, services and council staff in the process and using Camden’s digital consultation platform — We are Camden — to bring other voices into the room.
What’s particularly different with this approach is the output won’t just be a list of recommendations for the council to deliver. The ideas, focusing on social isolation and mental health, build on what’s already going on locally and will require a combination of council, community partners and residents to make them a success. We’re not just working together to create ideas, but continually working together to make sure they’re delivered the right way.
The co-design approach and a flexible membership base separates the Neighbourhood Assembly from a traditional citizens’ assembly but works well for the participants and for the council. This is just one example of different ways to bring residents and government bodies closer to solve some of the most pressing issues within their own community. Participants are able to shape both the process and the recommendations coming out of the assembly. The council benefits from an engaged group of citizens and new ways to solve major issues, while also getting a fresh perspective on services and organisations they know inside and out.
Why engage people?
Citizen’s assemblies are so hot right now. They’re being convened at various levels of government all over the world, and this is a good thing! Assemblies integrate more people in the decision-making parts of our government, involving people with lived experiences whose voices often aren’t heard in the decision-making processes. Assembly members are more representative of the communities they serve and usually look very different than the people traditionally elected.
Citizens’ assemblies are also a way to bolster the strength of democratic systems and demonstrate a new way of working alongside existing governments. In our minds, assemblies aren’t convened to replace existing government bodies. Instead, they work alongside or feed into these bodies to provide a citizen perspective on issues. Their opinions and feedback should be valued and recognised throughout any decision making process they feed into.
As populism grows, the need to bolster democracy becomes more and more urgent. Citizens’ assemblies, neighbourhood assemblies and other participatory processes are one way we can work to protect our systems. Interested in convening your own participatory process?
This post was co-written with Tom Wastling, Service Designer at FutureGov. Get in touch on Twitter at @evaobrien_ & @tom_wastling.
Citizens, Assemble! was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
If you have ever visited GDS, you would have seen ‘User research is a team sport’ posters everywhere. As Caroline Jarrett, Survey, form and UX expert, once said, user researchers’ job is not to learn about users, but to help their teams learn about users.
Involving people throughout the research process is one of the most effective ways to help our teams and organisation to understand our users and how to best design for them. And when we say ‘user research is a team sport’, the ‘team’ refers to anyone whose work and decision will – directly or indirectly – influence the product or service development and priorities.
Having said that, making user research a team sport doesn’t simply mean we invite people to research activities. We also spend time to help them understand what each of the research activities means, what is expected of them and what value they can bring into the process. We’ve also found that by showing people what good research looks like, we can get constructive feedback from our teams and iterate on our approach.
Training can help us all to play the ‘team sport’ well: it enables research to be owned by the teams, not only in the head of the researcher.
How we run our training sessions
Our training sessions cover:
what ‘user research is a team sport’ means
identifying research objectives and research questions
understanding the main cognitive biases and their effect on research
how to be a research buddy (and contribute as an observer and during group analysis)
usability testing good practice
what we mean by user needs
when and how to ask questions as an observer in a session
Whenever possible, we make the training interactive by providing exercises, such as ‘spot the need’, ‘do and don’t do’ and an analysis interpretation game.
We run training either as lunchtime sessions, show and tells, or dedicated training sessions. The format we choose depends on the session’s goal and the aims of the project the research is linked to. For example, if time is very limited, we may choose to run lunchtime sessions or show and tells as they’re less time-consuming and allow us to reach a wide audience easily.. However, choosing these formats means that the training will need to be significantly shorter and it will be harder to make it interactive. Dedicated training sessions take longer, but they can be very effective as they allow you to tailor the training content based on the stage of the research process you’re at.. For example, you can provide analysis training near the time of group analysis. This way people can practise what they learnt soon after the training session. Dedicated sessions can also be more interactive.
Knowing what to expect of each other
The training helps user researchers, product managers, designers, delivery managers, developers and people from other disciplines to understand how to work better in a data-driven, user-centric team.
We have found that our teams want to be involved in the research process, but do not always know what they need to do and what is expected of them. The training gives them clarity and confidence in contributing to the research activities. This maximises the effectiveness of ‘user research as a team sport’ and results in a better shared understanding about users.
Building trust by sharing knowledge
User research is a specialist profession. There is a common misconception that user research is just going out and talking to people, and so anyone can do user research. The truth is, becoming a good user researcher is hard. There is a lot to learn and it takes plenty of practice. By providing training to the team, team members gain an appreciation of the intricacies, skills, rigour and time required to conduct quality research. This helps the team trust our research and value our specialties.
When everyone is involved, we work faster and better
Having delivered training to teams means we can make the best use of our time and effort by helping each other. For example, we often have help from the team to transcribe recordings and prepare for group analysis. When it comes to group analysis, instead of having a researcher to lead every single one of the group analysis sessions, we can have multiple groups to do the group analysis simultaneously before getting together to discuss learnings.
Team sport: GDS Digital Marketplace and Commercial Commercial Service Policy colleagues
Below, you will find a few examples if you want to deliver some training yourself.
Training example 1: User research as a team sport
When we talk about user research as a team sport, we highlight the ‘think, learn, make’ model. We walk through the stages of user research, what the user researcher needs to do in these stages and what input is needed, including:
planning: defining the questions we want to be answered by research
preparation: the user researcher assesses which method to use to best answer the questions, and then plans who to speak to and when to do the research
observation: people observe research sessions and help out with note taking analysis: the researcher and the team do group analysis first before the researcher carries out a ‘deep dive’ and further synthesis
findings and actions: documenting and communicating research findings, and prioritising and working together to explore possible solutions as a team
Involving everyone in the user research process gives all team members a voice, producing better solutions and a stronger consensus. It creates a bunch of advocates who understand why a particular solution will or won’t work. It also helps to mitigate researcher bias and stakeholder assumptions.
Training example 2: Learning about cognitive biases and their effect on research
Before we start training on research activities, we go through a number of key cognitive biases that the team needs to be aware of when observing, understanding and interacting with users. These include:
Daniel Kahneman’s fast and slow thinking
While explaining these biases, we use psychology based exercises to make it engaging and easily relatable.
Dedicated training session
Training example 3: What does good observation and note taking look like?
To make sure the training is a proactive learning experience, we give people time and space to explore their own thoughts before talking through what is considered to be good practice and why. For example, we can provide cards with note taking behaviours and examples, and ask people to group them into ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’:
observe carefully with an open mind; acknowledge bias
note direct quotations and observations of behaviour
insert assumptions in brackets; avoid solutions
have someone to transcribe whenever possible
code sticky notes with a participant ID
note your understanding of the problems
note down your interpretation and solutions – the objective is to capture the facts according to the user
summarise what you observed
capture quotations using third person pronouns
talk about participants disrespectfully
Share your ideas with us
We’d love to hear about the kind of activities you do with your teams to make user research a team sport. Share your ideas with us in the comments below.
Thank you to Katie Taylor (who used to be a lead user research on GOV.UK) and other researchers’ great work to advocate and make the training better.
For many years, IT projects have been funded by capex (capital expenditure). Whatever came out of the project – servers, software licences, code, automation tools etc – sat on the balance sheet and was depreciated over an agreed period. Usually, for software, it was thought to be too long a period, but given that many of our systems are still working 20, 30 or even 40 years after launch, and so long since depreciated to zero, we clearly under-estimated the longevity of code. Similarly, we probably over-estimated the life of laptops and mobile phones where 5-7 years depreciation is common, but they have quickly become replaceable after 2 or maybe 3 years.
With the move to cloud, the entire infrastructure base switch from capex to opex – that is, it’s funded out of day to day expenses and nothing is held on the balance sheet. Millions of pounds of servers (and all the switches, routers and other kit associated with them) left the balance sheet. Governments tend to be capital rich – there are few departments who complain about not having enough capex. Capex buys actual things – in IT terms, servers with flashing lights and spinning disks that can be looked at, making the spend tangible (hence the use of tangible and intangible assets for different kinds of IT assets).
This has created a challenge for some departments who want to spend their capital, but also want to move to the cloud. There was a similar challenge early in the cloud era when VAT was not recoverable, putting further pressure on strained opex budgets.
I’m seeing a change though, now, where even software development is run as an opex project – on the basis that the code is expected to turn over rapidly and be replaced through an iterative agile approach. If a project goes wrong – at a micro or macro level – there’s no write-off (which can be important to some). At the same time, treating everything as opex means that, in some cases, there’s a building soon to be legacy code base (becuase it’s a fallacy to think that this code is iterated and replaced regularly) that is going unmaintained, meaning that there’s ever more spaghetti code that isn’t being looked at or tweaked. Knowledge of that code base is held by a smaller and smaller set of people … and changes to it become more difficult as a result.
It’s a strange move – one that perhaps implies that there is less scrutiny over opex spend, or that the systems being built will not be in use for the long term and so don’t quite count as assets. But IT systems have a habit of surprising us and sticking around for far longer than expected – ask the developers, if you can find them, of the big systems that pay benefits, collect tax, monitor imports, check passports at border etc what the expected life of their system was when they built it and the answer will never (ever) be “oh, decades.”
That’s not to say that there isn’t a case for classifying some IT spend as opex. If you are a fast moving startup building products for a new market and striving to reach product/market fit, you might be crazy to think that it was worth having IT on the balance sheet. If you know that you are building a prototype and will throw it away in a few weeks or months, it would, again, be crazy to capitalise it. If you’re doing R&D work and you’re not sure what will come out of it, you might well classify it as opex initially and revisit later to see if assets were created and then re-classify it.
I suspect that the tensions between capex and opex in government still have more room to play out
Our Innovation Dojo is a dedicated space within DWP Digital to innovate. In Japanese the word dojo traditionally means ‘place of the way’, which is the concept behind our dojo. It’s a space for us to find the best way to a solution through immersive learning.
Just over a year ago we came up with the idea of a ‘safe space’ to use design thinking, think ‘outside the box’ and be really creative. Working in the dojo, colleagues are encouraged to be radical with their ideas. It’s a real opportunity to explore technology, experiment and solve real problems.
Why we need the Innovation Dojo
The dojo was essential because one of the major changes over the last few years has been to move away from outsourcing our IT. We’re building an in-house capability and with this move came the opportunity to innovate.
We’re on a transformation journey to put our users at the heart of everything we do and reimagine digital services to deliver better outcomes for the millions of people using our services.
How the dojo works
The ethos in the dojo encompasses a number of core principles. They are:
A business-centric focus; this means focusing on a problem that we’re faced with, in our business right now and investigating potential solutions. Looking at what we can do in the immediate, but also what we can develop for the future through emerging technologies.
Adopting agile ways of working during a rapid and iterative 12-week journey, the small diverse team is supported to work at pace from initial ideas to proof of concept. Co-creating and collaborating with Accenture, colleagues working in the dojo facilitate rapid prototyping for a specific problem or opportunity.
To provoke fresh thinking and consider the bigger picture. The dojo is a place to ideate without constraint and to consider possibilities that ‘business as usual’ doesn’t have the time or capacity to consider.
To facilitate learning through agile ways of working and investigating new or emerging technology.
Working in the dojo
The dojo consists of a scrum team made up of experts who have the right skills for the particular project. It’s led by the scrum master who facilitates the team’s daily work and the product owner, who creates and maintains the product vision, roadmap, and backlog of work throughout the project.
The scrum master’s role is to make sure all the planned activities take place and to remove any obstacles faced by the team to keep the project on track. The remainder of the core team is generally made up of specific specialists including a business analyst, an AI lead, a technical architect and the developer.
The team doesn’t just work in isolation though; we have a range of stakeholders from the business who are critical to the success of the work. They participate in the Design Thinking and demo sessions and give us essential feedback to ensure we’re building the right solutions and that we keep it user centric.
Ultimately the Innovation Dojo acts as a starting point for transformation, the goal being to move into a project and develop it further in a technology-led environment.
So far the Innovation Dojo has completed 9 projects using a range of technologies such as knowledge graph, Amazon Comprehend, AWS Serverless functions and Alexa. And, we’ve successfully introduced a blockchain payment solution.
Look out for our next blog-post about the Innovation Dojo where our scrum master will talk about a typical week.
We need experts to join us. If you’d like to know more about a role in DWP Digital check out our current vacancies on our careers website.