We have a Slack channel called Today I Learned (TIL) used for sharing interesting or helpful facts amongst our team. We’ve put together some of the best stuff we found out in 2018, take a look:


We learned that Firefox has an Accessibility Inspector which allows you to check what’s needed to make your websites usable by as many people as possible.








How to organise Google calendars…













Gmail shortcuts that saved one person 60 hours per year…










The Teletype package for Atom, which aims to make it easy for developers to code together










Some history behind Bluetooth…










A handy Trello tip


Some history about royal rankings…










Super-powered post-its exist!


Phone tricks

You learn something new every day! Looking forward to our discoveries in 2019.


The post Today I Learned 2018 appeared first on dxw digital.

Original source – dxw digital

By Becky Miller, Service Designer at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.  Becky worked with the Policy Lab team in 2018…

As a child, my mum used to tell me that I always learnt the ‘hard way’. By that she meant I learnt by doing – sometimes in spite of what I might have been told. It follows that I ended up studying 3D design, using tangible objects and experiences to develop and communicate ideas. But back then I don’t think I ever imagined this could be relevant to government.

Policy Lab has built a reputation for experimenting and stretching the scope of policy making across government by mixing up the three main learning styles – auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic. Where the written and spoken word is relied upon heavily for accurately conveying concepts; visual, tactile and experiential methods are proving useful approaches to help policy makers explore the more uncharted waters of their work – whilst at the same time engaging wider audiences and capturing the imagination.

Drawing on examples from the Lab’s recent work with the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Maritime Technology team, this blog post will reflect on how a more kinaesthetic – learning through doing – design approach might be adopted at different stages in the policy making process. Our brief was to help the policy team shape their future vision and technology strategy through a series of consultation workshops with key stakeholders.

Discovery: prototyping as user research

Typically the discovery phase of a design project is when the net is cast out to understand the current landscape and its users, gathering insights and identifying opportunities for intervention. It’s the research phase: exploring, listening and being open to receive information. However, there can also be an opportunity to add in some more active doing, or ‘early-stage prototyping’, with the potential to accelerate and enrich the research process. It might seem premature to jump to solutions before fully completing research, but it can be an engaging way to test assumptions and elicit deeper insights from users.

We used this approach for the maritime consultations by designing a visually provocative, speculative series of utopian and dystopian visions of the future to probe stakeholders on how different aspects of the UK maritime industry could play out in the near future. Each stakeholder was given one of these visual prototype ‘vision cards’ to reveal in turn, prompting discussions around specific policy areas, form the impact of ‘smart’ ports and autonomous passenger ferries, to cyber security threats and the potential impacts of seabed mapping.

Some of the ‘utopia’ scenarios to provoke discussion

Although the visions didn’t always resonate with everyone around the table, the act of revealing these visualised future scenarios certainly stimulated debate, effectively testing how the policy team’s proposed vision and strategy might be received.

Vasant and Camilla Buchanan have also written about other examples of this early-stage prototyping in their previous posts, and Stephen’s recent post highlights the potential for speculative design in policy making.

Communication: immersive research as a communication tool

It’s not always practical to bring all stakeholders to the frontline of research for a fully immersive, ‘learning by doing’ experience, but Policy Lab finds that by curating their own video ethnography in collaboration with policy teams, policy makers and stakeholders can be bought much closer to citizens. Compared to written or even visual research reports, playing back personal lived experiences into the policy making process has provided rich insights for policy teams to learn from.

First-hand experience

The Lab’s collaborative work with the Maritime Technology team took a feet-first approach to researching the emerging technology landscape. Following desk research and foresight from the Government Office for Science, Sanjan headed out with the policy team to experience first-hand a small autonomous sea-going vessel called ’Sea-Kit’ currently being used for seabed mapping in Norway. Meanwhile, Kyna, Policy Lab’s in-house video ethnographer, visited ports across the UK from Grimsby to Glasgow to capture the perspectives of people currently working in the industry.

These valuable first-hand insights from people at the front-end of policy decisions were edited together and shared with stakeholders at the beginning of each consultation workshop. They provided a highly engaging introduction and helped to set the context for the activities that followed.

Ideation & testing: policy co-design through simulation

Smarter policy though simulation was one of Nesta’s top ten predictions for 2018, and it turns out they weren’t wrong. Co-designing and testing things as intangible as visions and strategies is challenging, but introducing a more tactile dimension to this stage of the policy making process can help to articulate and iterate ideas in a group of stakeholders. The military have long used war-games to help anticipate and simulate non-linear dynamics. Conversely, in the 1960s, design visionary Buckminster Fuller inverted the traditional competition mindset of political gaming, with his World Peace Game to explore routes to international peace through cooperation. These concepts are now re-emerging through collaborative foresight games such as IMPACT designed for the Canadian government and the 2030s SDG Game developed in Japan as a reaction the the UN’s sustainable development goals.

With all this in mind, we developed a tabletop activity as a type of co-design tool for the consultations, to explore how multiple variables – technology, regulation and skills – combined with different stakeholder perspectives might influence a national vision and strategy for the maritime industry.

Dubbed the ‘Shipping Forecast’, the aim of the activity was for the stakeholders to deliberate their visions and play out their strategies together, using the activity board, vision and technology cards, and playing pieces we had designed. Led by a Lab facilitator, the open and dynamic format allowed the policy team to observe the activity play out and conversations, comparing notes with their proposed policy. The positive feedback from stakeholders at the end of the each consultation activity was testament to how an tactile, simulation approach to co-designing policy can add value for both policy teams and their stakeholders.

Stakeholders at Department for Transport Marine Technology consultation workshops using consultation board to deliberate regulation policy.

These are just a few examples of how ‘doing’, and taking a more kinaesthetic approach to design in policy making, through speculative prototyping, immersive research, and simulation, can be valuable for policy makers, their stakeholders and citizens. I’m excited to see what Policy Lab comes up with next!

The consultation board, used to deliberate regulation policy.

This was a blog by Becky Miller, Service Designer at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.  Becky worked with the Policy Lab team in 2018.

Original source – Policy Lab

I’m Rav, a senior software engineer working at DWP Digital, employed through BPDTS Ltd. I’m working as part of a scrum team to redevelop and re-host a Carer’s Allowance web-based service.

BPDTS Ltd is a digital technology service provider for DWP. I joined last May, having previously been employed by DWP, and so far, I’m finding it to be both a challenging and a rewarding role.

Exciting technology

I was immediately given some exciting challenges to solve, tasked with working on the front-end using NodeJS server-side rendering. So far, I’ve been able to use my knowledge and experience to not only write code, but contribute to the whole spectrum of project delivery activities. For example: defining business requirements; participating in and leading scrum sprint ceremonies; automating testing, using continuous integration with build pipelines; and deploying high quality, thoroughly tested and vulnerability-free code into multiple environments.

I’ve been able to find opportunities for improvement and have put forward suggestions regarding best practice, sharing my knowledge on web application security, unit testing, end-to-end testing, continuous integration and continuous deployment, source code static analysis and source code management technologies such as Git and GitLab.

Lots to learn

As with any project, there are many technical challenges to overcome. It’s important to realise that it’s impossible to have all the knowledge and skills needed, but with these challenges comes a number of opportunities to learn something new. I find that the most important skill to have is to always be willing to learn something new. The world of digital is moving at a fast pace and today’s cutting-edge technology can become old news in just a few months, so being open and adaptable to change are qualities that are needed in this role.

There’s a great working atmosphere in the team with a generous amount of flexibility on time spent working and time spent learning. But within this laid-back atmosphere, there’s also a focus on continuous improvement and achieving excellence in everything we deliver.

Ample opportunities

This is echoed in our communities of practice, where we’re encouraged to meet with colleagues within our professions and share knowledge and experience.

Working here I’ve been able to progress and become a full stack Javascript software developer. I’ve had the opportunity to learn agile project methodology and how to develop secure, stable, scalable, highly-available software applications using micro-service architecture. I’ve also had exposure to business analyst, QA and DevOps roles to gain a good understanding of the work completed in these positions. I’ve attended numerous training courses and gained industry recognised qualifications including Professional Scrum Master and Professional Scrum Developer. I’ve been able to learn to code using the latest Javascript frameworks such as Vue.js, Angular and React.js and I’ve felt empowered by being included and heavily involved in the decision-making process for each project that I’ve worked on.

Join us

I would definitely recommend joining us. Resource availability can often change on a project and being able to move in and fill the gaps where the resource is low, to provide vital help is very fulfilling. Having a broad skill set will ensure a rewarding career with opportunities for progression.

If you have a genuine interest in technology both inside and outside of work and have knowledge and experience spanning the whole tech stack you would love a role with us.

We’re recruiting now, find out more about our software engineering community.

You can also find out more about what’s happening in DWP Digital by subscribing to this blog, looking at our LinkedIn page and by following us on Twitter @DWPDigital and @DWPDigitalJobs.


Original source – DWP Digital

Portrait head and shoulders photograph of Daniel

Daniel, software engineer

I’m one of the many developers who make up part of the Integrations Team based in our Manchester hub. I recently joined DWP Digital’s software engineering, as it felt like a great opportunity to build on my passion to help other people.

Developing microservices

One of my tasks is developing microservices, which help to manage data and the secure transition between the systems at DWP and across government. When new projects are developed, we work on the microservice to help them integrate to DWP legacy systems. Because of our role we often refer to our team as ‘the jam’ that helps to bind DWP systems together.

Bringing experience

Before joining, I was working in the private sector for a cloud hosting provider, building software that delivered and maintained servers and the applications hosted on them.

I have a degree in software engineering, and have worked on lots of different projects, delivering usable, cost-effective and reliable services. I’m able to bring both my previous work experience and academic knowledge to my new role.

Attracted to the social purpose

I’ve always had a passion for helping other people. In my spare time I’m a Scout Leader, and I volunteer in my community. So this felt like the right move. And I know that my work is contributing to improved systems, helping those in need to access valuable services, and ensuring they have access to the resources they deserve.

I felt reassured I’d made the right decision in my first week, when I attended a welcome event. Our Chief Digital and Information Officer spoke passionately about how the systems we develop help those in society that really needed them.

Technology to excite

Serverless is one of the biggest developments in technology since cloud computing, and something I’m really interested in. It takes the mundane tasks of setting up and configuring servers, and turns it into a simple process that can easily be automated.

Within our team we’ve been working on developing better continuous deployment pipelines. We’re creating jobs within our pipeline which deploy code to testing environments, and eventually to live environments automatically. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure are taking serverless to the next level, with products which allow developers like me to deploy code within seconds. Being able to utilise products such as AWS and Azure is really helping us to progress.

Training and hacking

Since joining I’ve also been able to set aside time for personal development. In November I took part in DWP Digital’s Hack the North 2.0. This was a great opportunity to meet colleagues in DWP, and people from the tech industry. The ideas generated at the event were invaluable, and I’m hoping to attend future hacks.

I’m really enjoying my new role. I even received an in-team award from my colleagues before Christmas for helping others. Growing my ability to help people – including my fellow software engineers – is one of my goals for the future. I’m also looking forward to seeing some of the microservices I’ve been involved with go live. I’ll be helping to ensure they’re tested, ready for deployment and working properly.

Be part of it!

We’re recruiting now. Find out more about our software engineering community.

You can also find out what’s happening in DWP Digital by subscribing to this blog, looking at our LinkedIn page and by following us on Twitter @DWPDigital and @DWPDigitalJobs.

Original source – DWP Digital

Our response to the NHS Long Term Plan.

The UK is experiencing some of its most intractable health challenges in this century alongside its most sustained funding squeeze in 70 years. While the challenges are particularly urgent, it creates the urgency needed for real change.

21st-century services

It’s time for health services to be doing things differently. Coherently. We welcome the focus and share the ambition of the NHS Long Term Plan to transform the service model for health and care to be fit for the 21st century.

We’re pleased to see that the Long Term Plan announces that new funding will be invested where it matters: improving and expanding needed services for even more coordinated, proactive and personalised support, with the longstanding aim of prevention and community and primary care where possible. We aim to continue helping organisations make an even bigger impact in the communities they serve and get the most value of every pound of taxpayers’ investment.

Digitally-enabled care

“Virtually every aspect of modern life has been, and will continue to be, radically reshaped by innovation and technology — and healthcare is no exception.” We know there is power in data and technology. We support the ambitious goal of the Long Term Plan to mainstream digitally-enabled care because everyone deserves the choice to access the care they need whenever and wherever it’s needed.

Working with forward-thinking health organisations, FutureGov has experienced the benefits of a digital mindset first-hand. Our current work with Public Health England aims to provide 100% of families with overweight children access to a highly personalised digital weight management service that works for them.

Focusing on people

We embrace the Long Term Plan’s aspirations to transform ways of working to a person-centred, co-design, and collaborative approach that makes a real difference. Working with leaders, clinicians, patients and the public, the NHS will be in its best place for engaging with local communities to create the best outcomes for people.

Person-centred design is at the heart of who we are and what we do at FutureGov. We’ve been fortunate to work alongside NHS England and NHS Digital over the last year to shape the NHS Design Principles, with the very first principle being: put people at the heart of everything you do.

Where we see the challenges lie

Inevitably, there’s a range of feedback in relation to the plan. When you develop a vision for something as large and diverse as the NHS there is going to be a devil in the detail.

As a change agency founded with and for local government above all else, we share the concerns of the LGA in relation to how this plan connects to plans for social care. Counter to the dominant mindset in the UK, we should be taking a ‘social care and prevention first’ perspective on health and social care delivery. Social care is more than just the place where people go once they exit the health system and we should focus on keeping people well and preventing the need for health services for as long as possible in the first place. Health and social care co-exist and need to be re-designed as one single experience, not held in separation as they continue to be in this country.

As a result, much of the digital aspirations risk being partial or transactional rather than truly about supporting the person as a whole. Of course, it needs to be easier to book appointments but we also need to towards needing fewer appointments in the first place above all else? There is reference to prevention in the plan, with significant commitments to areas such as mental health. But, the balance of power, budget and focus remain on responsive healthcare rather than an equal and opposite response in both social care and wider prevention services.

There is a great deal the health sector can learn from social care and wider local government approaches to change and digital transformation. This is why we brought together FutureGov and Uscreates late last year. We want to help bring those worlds together and give social care an equal voice at the table. It would be great for this plan to do the same, but hopefully, the mooted social care green paper due in April can provide that balance.

This is the time

FutureGov are growing our ambition for health and care in tandem with the launch of the NHS Long Term Plan. Now more than ever before, we have the vision, experience and guile to design better health and care futures. We’re committed to changing services, organisations and the systems they exist within to help people live more independent, healthier lives for longer.

This year, we want to leverage our vision, experience and guile to make health services fit for the 21st century, digitally-enabled and centred around people. We welcome leaders, transformers, and change makers with the passion for health and care to join us in shaping the future. If that’s you, get in touch.

Designing the future of health and care was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original source – FutureGov

Many authorities keep a disclosure log, where they publish answers to previous Freedom Of Information requests. If requests are repeatedly made for the same type of information, it makes sense for the authority to publish the data regularly so that everyone can access it — because of course, the majority of FOI requests made in this country are sent directly rather than via WhatDoTheyKnow, and won’t otherwise be published online in any other form.

But a disclosure log is only useful if people know it’s there. Our FOI For Councils service, which came out of work with Hackney council increases the likelihood that the information in the disclosure log is actually seen, and by those who need it most: it automatically checks whether the request resembles any information which is already available online, then points the requester to it. If the match is correct, the user doesn’t have to progress any further with their request, and can access the information immediately. This saves everyone time — requesters and staff alike.

There’s another handy aspect to FOI for Councils, too: it can also provide staff with data on what type of requests are made the most often. As we explained in that introductory blog post:

FOI for Councils analyses the number of times each suggestion is shown, clicked, and even whether the suggestion has prevented any additional FOI requests being made.

This analysis allows Information Officers to understand which information is being asked for, that existing resources aren’t providing.

A sensible use of this is to analyse the most frequent requests and publish the data they’re asking for proactively.

Authorities don’t necessarily need FOI for Councils to do this, though: a regular analysis of internal records, or even public requests on WhatDoTheyKnow (despite only making up a proportion of requests made by any means — people may also make requests by direct email, letter, phone or even a tweet in some cases — they still provide a good sample set) would allow any authority to manually generate a broad picture.

Cost benefits

Disclosure logs can get out of date quickly: a glance at the BBC’s, for example, seems to indicate an initial enthusiasm in 2014 which quickly dried up, perhaps because a keen employee moved on, or resources were channeled elsewhere. Yet many of the topics of information — annual transport costs for example — will quickly date and may be of interest again in subsequent years.

It makes sense for authorities to plan a publication cycle for such data, because it’s common for requests to relate to ongoing or changing information such as annual statistics or contract renewals.

It seems to be quite a widespread issue that an authority starts a disclosure log with the best of intentions, but then lets it go into disuse; additionally, the WhatDoTheyKnow team note that very few disclosure logs are comprehensive; it’s much more common for authorities to pick and choose what to release, which may not be in line with which data is most useful to the public.

Publishing frequently requested information in a proactive fashion may well cost authorities less than having to retrieve the information each time it’s asked for — and to provide the information to a sole request-maker (assuming it’s not through WhatDoTheyKnow, where the response is published online) is less efficient than simply putting it out publicly where everyone who needs it can find it. This removes some of the burden on FOI officers.

Early indicators from our work with Hackney Council show that pointing users towards material already published has prevented around 4% of the requests started by users. This should grow over time, as the council analyses popular requests and starts to add the information to their publication schedule, and more and more users will then experience this invitation to find the material elsewhere.

A legal requirement

There is one type of information which authorities are required to proactively publish, thanks to Section 19 subsection 2a of the Freedom of Information Act — datasets:

A publication scheme must, in particular, include a requirement for the public authority concerned—

(a) to publish—

(i) any dataset held by the authority in relation to which a person makes a request for information to the authority, and

(ii) any up-dated version held by the authority of such a dataset, unless the authority is satisfied that it is not appropriate for the dataset to be published

The WhatDoTheyKnow team have called for this requirement to apply to all material requested under Freedom of Information, not just datasets: it seems desirable that if a certain piece of information is frequently requested, there is a requirement to publish, unless it’s not reasonable or practical to do so (which, as the team points out, may point to a problem with the way the material is being managed internally, for example adherence to paper records that would benefit from a switch to digital).

We’re in favour

We’ve often advocated for proactive publication, including in our response to a consultation on the FOI Code of Practice last year, and we’ve even said that we’d rather  people didn’t have to make FOI requests at all because all information was being published by default.

Others have made the case that there is so much data being published in the world today that it’s hard to make sense of it or to find what’s useful — but proactive publication based on proven demand like this is a good approach to ensuring that authorities are releasing what is genuinely needed.

Image: Roman Kraft

Original source – mySociety

Here at mySociety, we talk a lot about how citizens can use Freedom of Information to hold public authorities to account. But it’s interesting to note that those same authorities, or members of them, sometimes also turn to FOI to solicit information from one another.

At first, this might seem strange: it’s a common assumption that authorities, not to mention high level people within them, have the power to summon any information they require in order to go about their duties.

But on closer inspection it becomes clear that there are several reasons why the public sector might turn to FOI rather than the more standard channels.

Surveying multiple authorities

Suppose you’d like to gather information from many different sources — say every hospital in the country — in order to compile a nationwide set of statistics.

A large task like this can be more orderly if managed via a set of Freedom of Information requests. Additionally,  the obligation for authorities to respond may mean that your request goes into official channels — with built in timescales — helping to ensure that you get results.

As a nice illustration of this kind of usage, the Royal College of Surgeons surveyed NHS trusts to see if they are still using outdated fax machine equipment, generating a story which made the headlines back in July.

Members of Parliament may also use FOI to survey a large number of public authorities and gather statistics to support campaigns or an issue they’re working on.

We don’t know if members of the Scottish Parliament have more of an appetite for this than the UK one, but a quick search showed several using FOI to good effect. Lothian MSP Kezia Dugdale surveyed residential units to see stats on vulnerable children going missing; Murdo Fraser accessed delay repayments figures from Scotrail; Mark Griffin discovered that council tax exemptions weren’t being utilised; and Monica Lennon uncovered the lack of sanitary product strategies across Scotland’s health boards.

That said, there are several UK MPs past and present who have made use of WhatDoTheyKnow, including the office of Diane Abbott and Dr Phillip Lee. There may well be others who prefer to use a pseudonym.

Then, those working in bodies such as universities and hospitals very commonly use FOI to support their academic or medical research.

We can’t neglect to mention that in all such cases, WhatDoTheyKnow Pro would be a great help to the process of sending out and organising multiple requests.

Putting information into the public domain

FOI’s not just useful for large scale requests, though. Those from public sector bodies may be using the Act to bring information into the open because they feel it should be known — and of course, making the request through WhatDoTheyKnow will do this by default, since all requests and responses are published online.

Researchers from Cardiff University used FOI as one tool when investigating how data is used by various public services to help in decision-making. They point out that, while fiddly and labour-intensive, FOI fills a gap in public knowledge:

The use of FOIs to investigate the integration of changing data systems is problematic and resource intensive for all parties. However, in the absence of a public list, the Freedom of Information Act provides an opportunity for systematic inquiry.

Getting hold of information which has been hard to pin down

Sometimes FOI is a last resort when other avenues have been exhausted. On TheyWorkForYou we see a councillor writing to her own council to find out their preparedness for a no-deal Brexit, with the remark “I have tried to get this via the members case work system but I am not confident I will get an adequate response”.

Such frustration definitely motivates Members of Parliament into submitting FOI requests, too. There are other channels through which they can ask questions of course, for example by submitting Written Questions — a process by which both the question and answer are placed in the public domain, thanks to Hansard.

But should those channels fail, FOI is another option.

In 2010 the BBC wrote about how costs for redecoration of Parliament’s Head Office were only uncovered thanks to FOI, after a Written Answer was turned down on grounds of the information being too commercially sensitive.

The parliamentary staff and civil servants who deal with Written Answers are likely to be different from those who deal with FOI requests. Their criteria for release of information may also differ, as they are guided by different protocols.

Representatives at every level can use FOI as a channel for information which might have proven elusive via other means. We see on WhatDoTheyKnow that Parish Councils quite often send requests to higher tier authorities to get hold of information that will help them in their work, as is happening here for example.

Keeping an eye open

When it comes to authorities and representatives requesting information from other authorities, we can see the benefits. One of our team, Gareth, makes an analogy with the Open Source community, where because code is open to all, developers (sharing their expertise in their area of specialisation) can be quick to spot and repair any bugs: “It’s a really good thing for security. Many eyeballs make it easier to identify problems and suggest improvements”.

Similarly, FOI acts as a kind of safety net, another layer of assurance that our authorities are working as they should be.

If you’ve seen any other good examples of public sector to public sector FOI (for want of a better term), please do let us know.

Image: Tirezoo (CC by/2.0)

Original source – mySociety

As a content designer at Public Health England (PHE), I’m often asked to support digital projects. Typically, content designers join our projects in the beta and live phases of development.

For our evaluation of digital public health project, we tried something new.

We wanted to know what would happen if we brought content design into the earlier, alpha phase. And what difference content design input could make to the project’s success.  

In the past, projects have failed their alpha service assessment because assessors felt that not enough attention had been paid to content.

With that experience in mind, I joined the project’s multidisciplinary team and I’d like to share what we’ve learned.

About the project

Our project helps teams working on digital health interventions to design evaluation strategies and measure the project’s success from the start, rather than approaching evaluation as an afterthought.

This work, and the user research that supports it, has brought together academics, healthcare professionals and digital specialists from across the health system. With so many expert perspectives involved, there was a clear need for us to speak a common language.

Defining our mission

Before we even spoke to our users, we first had to make sure that our multidisciplinary team had a shared understanding of the project.

So we took a close look at the project’s mission statement: a concise, one-paragraph pitch that summarises what we hope to achieve.

Our mission statement started out as:

Our digital exemplar will enable Public Health England to support and develop digital public health interventions that can prove their effectiveness and benefit to public health.

But as we workshopped this with our team and advisory group, we began to spot problems with it:

  1. We’re proud of our project’s place in PHE Digital’s wider Digital Transformation Programme – but was this really relevant to our users?
  2. ‘Effectiveness’ and ‘benefit’ aren’t well defined – what exactly do we mean by them?
  3. ‘Prove’ is a strong word, particularly in the context of evaluations – could this cause trouble for us further down the line?

These were just some of the concerns and queries the team brought to the table. We then worked on new iterations until we reached a consensus.

A few versions later, we had a mission statement we all agreed on:

Enable Public Health England to better demonstrate the impact, cost-effectiveness and benefit of digital health interventions to public health.

Writing with experts

Pair writing for a prototype
Working with content in the alpha phase

With the team aligned and initial concepts explored, it was time to go deeper.

A central component of the project is an ‘evaluation library’: a selection of different academic, health economic and digital evaluation methods.

The written descriptions of these methods were factually accurate, but were full of language that could lead to real confusion for non-specialists. Other content designers won’t be surprised that we found:

  • unexpanded acronyms
  • confusing technical terminology
  • fragmented descriptions and incomplete sentences

Some of this is easily fixed but some of it requires knowledge from subject matter experts. We therefore planned a series of pair-writing workshops.

I worked with our subject matter experts to find language we agreed on – focusing on refining technical explanations, acronyms and ambiguous phrases. Somewhat unexpectedly, I was impressed by our experts’ willingness to compromise on the level of detail (and jargon) to include. This expert support was also essential to fill in the gaps in my own knowledge, so we knew what not to change.

However, there’s a limit to this approach, which relies on a two-way dialogue between a content designer and a subject matter expert. Working with the project lead, I designed an exercise to help us understand how our wider audience would interpret our content.

Sense-checking exercise

For this sense-checking exercise, we took snippets of content from the project, including definitions of our most important terms, as well as examples of particularly technical or complex language from the evaluation library.

We then spoke with a number of people who could help us test it, including:

  • another content designer with no prior knowledge of this project
  • a product owner
  • a senior academic colleague

In each session, we sat with the participants one-on-one and read them the excerpts. I then asked one simple question: “Did that make sense to you?”

If it did – great. But if not, we found other ways to explain the idea, repeatedly testing different variations until it ‘clicked’. At the same time, another researcher recorded the outcome of the discussion and any relevant comments.

The benefit was two-fold:

  1. If our participants consistently agreed that the language was wrong, regardless of their differing backgrounds, then it was clear something had to change.
  2. Our expert participants were able to pick up on language that passed unchallenged by non-specialists, but was clearly wrong to a specialist audience.

Gathering insights

We’ve learned a lot from the content design process, developing insights that will inform the rest of the project. Some of the most important insights are as follows:

  1. Academic language can be intimidating to non-academics, and this can put teams off doing effective evaluations. Where I can’t avoid academic language, I’ll use comparisons and analogies from other fields to make the language easier to understand.
  2. For a public health service, our language and examples were too clinically focused. The team and I need to make sure the examples we use and information we give are relevant to our users.
  3. Even common terms like ‘outcome’ and ‘intervention’ have conflicting and overlapping definitions for different user groups. The team and I need to be explicit about our own definitions of these terms and what they mean for the project.
  4. We can strengthen technical or confusing content with in-context definitions and explanations. This is a well-established principle in content design and my research has shown us where the pain points are in our content. Explanations need not be written and many of our users suggested diagrams or animations.

What’s next?

As the project moves into the beta phase, we are iterating the prototypes and continuing to test with users. As a content designer, I’ll be listening and learning from our users’ experiences to make improvements.

The ultimate aim is an end product that’s accessible, intelligible and easy to use for all its varied audiences.

Original source – Stephen Hale

Hello! I’m Alex. I joined dxw digital last month as their first Transformation Manager, working with Coca – dxw digital’s Head of Strategy.

I’m really excited to be here as we expand the strategic support we’re offering clients. That means working with teams to do the groundwork that happens before, during and after digital projects. By building in-house capability for our clients and helping them focus on matters which are of most value to them and their users, we can ensure that change is positive and sustainable.

My story so far

My career started in compliance – working for a global bank in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Here I learned the art of finding solutions and managing change in complex, fast-paced organisations.

A desire to do something for the public good led me to join the Civil Service, where I worked across several departments in digital and technology roles. Two years at the Government Digital Service taught me how positive changes in organisational behaviour can be driven by relentlessly focussing on user needs, challenging clumsy or inefficient processes and structures and always asking, “Why?”

Most recently I led on change and innovation projects in the digital team at Southwark Council. The challenges faced by local government are similar to those in central government departments, but the pressures more acute – ever-shrinking budgets and increasing demands to help the most vulnerable in society. Rethinking service delivery, and the shape of an organisation, provides the opportunity to genuinely do better for less.

Why dxw digital

When the opportunity came up to join dxw digital, I jumped at the chance. Joining a team with a great track record of building and operating services that make life better for people, is a perfect fit for me. The growth of the company is a testament to the quality of the work, the team’s approach and its ambition to make public services better.

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Original source – dxw digital