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Author: Zoe Gould

The Disability Price Tag

How bad service design punishes those with a disability.

If you’ve never heard of the ‘Disability Price Tag’; the simplest way to describe it is that it’s the price you pay for costly mistakes due to symptoms of (or a byproduct of) your disability.

An image by the ADHD treatment centre describing the common issues that cause the 'ADHD tax'
The ADHD tax – as described by the ADHD Treatment Centre

People with ADHD are so often hit by the disability price tag; it’s been nicknamed the “ADHD Tax“, some obvious examples of this are parking and traffic tickets, late fees, high interest debt (i.e. credit cards), and low credit score (leading to higher interest debt, inability to get loans, problems renting apartments and buying cars, etc.) But this isn’t the only way people with disabilities are being hit financially.

Heating, insurance, equipment and care cost’s are all higher for people with Disabilities; and the Scope Extra Cost Commission in 2014 found that people with a Disability faced an extra £550 a month on their living expenses due to disability-related expenditure. In fact a study in 2015 by MacInnes, T., Tinson, A., Hughes, C., Born, T.B., Aldridge, H: Monitoring poverty and social exclusion found the poverty rate among people in families where someone has a disability is 8% higher than of those in families where no one is disabled.

For able-bodied and/or neurotypical folks, these can be really hard to comprehend; and even when they can comprehend the truth is, they have little sympathy for it.

But even if we acknowledge that people with Disabilities face the Disability Price Tag; there’s little recognition of the fact that bad service design can make these problems significantly worse for people with disabilities.

Many companies deliberately make it hard to cancel your subscription after a free trial period; or to register a complaint or appeal an unjustified fine; this is a fact everyone can easily recognise. What people fail to recognise if that this disproportionately affects people with disabilities, who are likely they to find it much harder to navigate these systems.

An image showing some complicated cancellation instructions
Complicated cancellation instructions

Let’s examine an example we’ve been dealing with recently; my family recently paid for parking in Manchester‘s Arndale shopping centre; where they’ve recently swapped their parking system to a new paperless (but still not digital) system.

The new system requires you to enter your Registration number on the machine and pay, but doesn’t issue you a ticket. There are a number of flaws in here that makes this utterly inaccessible and un-user friendly for people; so lets consider the issues this could cause:

  1. You have to guess how long you’ll need to park; if you need longer there is no easy way to top up your time without physically returning to the machine to extend it. Not very practical for those with a physical impairment, or who have caring responsibilities which would make nipping back to the car difficult.
  2. As users aren’t issued a ticket, and the machine doesn’t capture your mobile number or any way of issuing an e-ticket or reminder, users have to remember what time their ticket ends; this is not designed to support those with a cognitive disability which may make remembering information difficult.
  3. The system requires you to enter your registration number from memory; there are no reminders or prompts on the system; which features a normal alpha-numeric keyboard, relying on you to know your registration by heart; which means it can be very easy to enter your registration plate wrong. As the system doesn’t issue you a ticket/receipt; nor does it email you your ticket information, there is no way to check you entered the information correctly. This can easily trip up people with a learning difficulty like Dyslexia, or for those whom the English Alphabet is not their default.

My partner has Dyslexia and ASC and I have ADHD (always a winning combination when it comes to the Disability Price Tag). When we parked and went to purchase the ticket we managed to accidentally mix up the O for a 0; because we didn’t receive a copy of our ticket, we had no way of knowing we’d made this mistake, and simply assumed everything was fine. Upon returning to our car we spotted the fine sitting on the car window. We went to speak to the parking warden, who acknowledged we did indeed have a valid ticket on the system, but that the reg was technically wrong, and therefor we’d been fined. The warden acknowledged this was a very common issue that caught many people out; and recommended we appeal.

Appealing in and of its self is not an easy process; and what many able-bodied and neurotypical folks don’t understand is how much privilege it takes to appeal things; and how many spoons it can take to do so. Lets use our example of the the parking fine again:

  • The details of the fine and how to appeal it was only available on a piece of paper, and you have to wait unto 24hrs for the system to be updated before you can appeal (very easy to lose for those with ADHD etc.)
  • The print is extremely small (not good for those with a visual impairment and/or Dyslexia etc.);
  • and the reference number is not only small but also long and complex (very easy to get wrong for those with Visual Impairments or ADHD/ Dyslexia etc.)

Of course, to make matters more frustrating Manchester City Council then rejected the appeal, saying it’s the users responsibility to make sure they have bought their parking ticket correctly; which is a prime example of the higher price tag people with a Disability can face for doing that so many people would consider relatively simple.

So, how when we’re designing services can we do better? The answer is easy than you think; carry out research and test with users! User research and testing aren’t only applicable when we’re developing web services; they are equally important when developing and rolling out new systems in the physical world. Within Disabled service provision, this co-production of services is being seen as more and more important.

Co-Production is a term used to describe the partnership between people with disabilities or health conditions, carers and citizens and those who develop and run public services. While the upfront costs of co-production may seem higher; by designing services with users needs at the heart, we can significantly reduce the financial and emotional burden inaccessible services place on those with Disabilities; in turn improving their quality and way of life.

How do we make legacy transformation cool again?

Guest blog first published in #TechUk’s Public Sector week here on the 24th of June 2022.

Legacy Transformation is one of those phrases; you hear it and just… sigh. It conjures up images of creaking tech stacks and migration plans that are more complex and lasting longer than your last relationship.  

Within the Public Sector, over 45% of IT spend is on Legacy Tech. Departments have been trying to tackle legacy transformation for over 20+ years; but it remains the number one blocker to digital transformation.  

An image of some servers in black and white covered in wires.
Black and White servers

So why is it so hard and what can we do about it?   

The fundamental problem with Legacy transformation is that as an approach it’s outdated.  

The problem companies are trying to solve is that their technology systems need modernising or replacing; usually (at least in the public sector) these programmes come about because a contract is coming to an end and/or the platform the companies’ technology was built upon is effectively burning and can no longer be maintained.  

The problems with this approach are:  

  • That it so often ends in a big bang transition due to the desire to avoid hybrid running of services because of the complexity of migration 
  • The architecture of the new system is constrained by the need to remain consistent with the technical architecture used across the organisation,   
  • Transformation programmes can easily fall into the trap of delivering a ‘like for like’ solution that misses out on opportunities for innovation; this can be for many reasons, often as they have a cliff edge contract leaving them in a rush to find a replacement quickly,   
  • The programmes are developed in siloes, only considering the technical changes needed; but they don’t consider the wider business change needed to make transformation stick.  
  • The value is only delivered once the new service goes live and replaces the old system when it’s turned off.  This leaves many organisations needing to run both systems at once; but not wishing to due to the large cost implications.  

Due to these issues the big bang delivery often ends up being a lot later than planned; costing significantly more while neither meeting the users or business needs; and quickly becoming outdated.  

Don’t forget, the latest thing you’ve just updated will itself be considered Legacy in 5 years; so do we need to start thinking about legacy transformation differently? Is there an iterative approach to legacy transformation that works, and how should we approach it?  

Within Kainos we’ve worked hard to bring the User Centred design principles we’ve used to successfully deliver Digital Services to accomplish high impact legacy transformation programmes. By understanding user needs and business requirements we can plan early for ‘just enough’ legacy change to support the transformation; prioritising and identifying the value that can be added where and when; building scalable and extensible services that will maximise automation opportunities; carefully evaluating transition options and data migration dependencies so we can ensure we’re meeting user needs and adding value at each stage without risking business disruption.   

A whiteboard covered in post it notes and a user journey to demonstrate user centred design
User Centric Design

This incremental, user centred approach allows us to identify opportunities for innovation and truly enable digital transformation that focuses on the business benefits, reducing overall costs whilst realising value early and often.  

By thinking about business change and taking this iterative approach to realise value early and often we’ve been able to stop assuming that every element of the old legacy service needs throwing out and replacing; and instead, we’re identifying those elements that can be kept with just a bit of love and care to update them and make them work, and which elements we need to deliver something new. By prioritising where we focus our effort and making sure whether it is something old or something new, or a combination of the two, we can meet those critical user and business needs.  

Up-cycling doesn’t just work for vintage furniture and clothes after all, maybe it’s time we take that same mindset when we’re think about technical transformation; reinventing something old and making it into something better and new. After all tech changes faster than ever, so if we don’t change our mindset and approach, we will be left behind and quickly not just become out of fashion, we’ll be outdated.  

By adapting our approach to Legacy Transformation, Kainos are able to build excellent services that are secure and that users want to use; transforming business processes to fully embrace digital channels; microservices architecture that reduces future legacy risk; and costs that are optimised to benefit from public cloud platforms. 

Maximising the Lean Agility approach in the Public Sector

First published on the 26th June 2022 as part of #TechUk’s Public Sector week here ; co-authored by Matt Thomas.

We are living in a time of change, characterised by uncertainty. Adapting quickly has never been more important than today, and for organisations, this often means embracing and fully leveraging the potential of digital tools.

A lot has been said about Lean Agility but for an organisation in the Public Sector facing the prospect of a digital transformation, it is still difficult to understand what to do and how.

In our mind, while lean helps to solve the right problems, agility supports quick adaptability and the ability to change course whenever necessary.

A poster saying 'build, measure, learn" with an image of a pencil eraser removing the "L" or learn
Build, Measure, Learn

At Kainos working in the Digital Advisory team the one problem we hear about repeatedly from clients is the difficulties they face of delivering the right thing at pace, and how they struggle to maximise their efficiency. Some of the typical red flags we see when beginning to understand why clients are struggling to deliver effectively are:

  • evergreen delivery projects that never end; without an end product in sight or a product nobody uses constantly being tweaked; as opposed to teams delivering units of quantifiable value,  
  • lacking prioritisation; everything is a priority and so everything is in-flight at the same time,  
  • development is stalled or slow; with poor delivery confidence and large gaps between releases, 
  • traditional long-term funding cycles requiring a level of detail which doesn’t match near-term agile planning and responsive delivery, 
  • ineffective communication and lack of experienced deliver leadership; so decision making is made on gut feel and who shouts loudest rather than being firmly tied to desired business outcomes, 
  • Siloed pockets of various stages of Agile adoption /maturity and effectiveness making coordinated planning and collaboration difficult. 

Within Kainos our belief was that by introducing Lean-Agility Management we could scientifically remove waste & inefficiency whilst Increasing delivery confidence, employee job satisfaction and visibility of the work being undertaken. As such we. introduced a lightweight and straightforward Lean-Agility approach that could be adopted across multiple portfolios. 

Our approach does not just focus on Agile coaching (although that’s part of it) or other isolated elements of a transformation, but on 4 distinct pillars: Lean-Agility Management, Lean-Analytics & Dashboarding, Product & Design Coaching and Agile Coaching & Architecture.  This gives us the opportunity to build sustainability and in-house expertise to continue this journey. 

Recently we’ve been working with an integrated energy super-major to help them improve in several of these key areas.  We were asked to help, whilst contributing to the wider Agility transformation by bringing consistent high standards in delivery culture and ways of working through Lean and Agility. 

The results have delighted the client; we have managed to improve delivery speed by over 70%, delivery confidence by more than 50% and job satisfaction by over 20%.

This approach is one we’re using with several other clients in the commercial sector, all with similar positive effects; but it’s not something we encounter being used within the Public Sector much; either by us or by other consultancies.

How can this approach help the public sector and what is needed to make this a success?

From our experience, we have found the key elements to getting this right are:  

  • Starting with a Proof of Value (POV) – We tend to pick two volunteer squads to test with and prove this approach can work and add value.  
  • Senior Buy in and time – Agility transformation lives and dies by the clarity and direction of its leaders; teams need clear leadership, the support and empowerment to innovate and improve.  
  • Pod structure connects the transformation from exec to squads 
  • Multi-disciplined Agility team with knowledge of Product, Design and DevSecOps as well as Agility 
  • Desire to change culture – We don’t just mean continuous improvement, everybody does that, the difference is evolving to a resolute passion to rigorously improve everything 
  • Data at the core – clear metrics give teams a direction of travel and an idea of where targeted improvements could add real value   
  • Consider the people – We track job satisfaction because it’s important. Improvements come from your people. If you keep losing your people, you’re constantly going to be in a state of hiring and retraining, which is costly in terms of time and money. Happy people innovate and perform better.

Our Lean-Agility approach is very much an Agile approach to an Agile transformation, we start small prove the value, learn your business, customise and adapt. Lean-Agility is something we mould to you rather than a theory we try to plug and play, in that sense Lean-Agility for you will look and feel different to Lean-Agility for a different client and so it should! 

Somewhere under the Double Rainbow – Discussing Intersectionality  in the LGBTQIA+ & Neurodivergent community

An infinity symbol in rainbow colours
The rainbow infinity symbol – sometimes used to identify the ‘NeuroQueer’ community

As a queer woman with ADHD, the subject of intersectionality is one I’ve always been interested in.

There have been numerous discussions and studies about the links between people with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and Gender Dysphoria; with the theory being that there are many Trans/ gender-diverse folks who have ASC; perhaps because (in the words of an acquaintance of mine) “folks with ASC are less likely to just accept societal gender rules without questioning them when they make no logical sense”. This sentiment certainly seems to be backed up by the data; with one study of 641,860 people finding that “about 5%, of the cisgender people in the study had autism, whereas 24% of the gender-diverse people were also Autistic.

I’m Cis and I don’t have ASC; so I’m in no way qualified to comment on any possible links; and why or why not they might exist; and I will leave that conversation to people who are far more informed than I. However, what I can comment on; at least from my looking around my own friendship group and social media; is that there does seem to be a significant overlap between LGBTQIA+ folks and those who are neurodivergent of some flavour or other (although sadly there’s no specific data on this subject). 

3% of people in the UK identify as LGBTQIA+ (according to the ONS; but it’s acknowledged it’s likely to be closer to 10% as underreporting is still an issue due to the amount of stigma that still exists) but let’s just say 3% for now; and 15% of the UK population is estimated to be neurodiverse. There is evidence to suggest that neurodiverse people are more likely to be gender diverse and/or identify as lesbian, gay, queer, or asexual themselves, compared to neurotypical people. One study in 2008 found that more adults with ADHD identified themselves as bisexual compared to individuals without ADHD. Again, the predominate theory as to why more neurodivergent people identify as LGBTQAI+ is that “if you are positioned to question “norms” than you are automatically more willing to embrace a non-conforming gender identity or sexuality.”

Ok, more neurodivergent people identify as LGBTQIA+, so what? 

Well firstly; it’s important to recognise that there are lots of parallels between the experiences of neurodivergent people and LGBTQIA+ people; with some neurodivergent folks describing having to ‘come out‘ at work or to friends/family as neurodivergent; in the same way LGBTQIA+ folks have to ‘come out’ about their sexuality. Interestingly I found it much harder and got much more backlash from my parents when I told them I had ADHD than I did when I told them I was Queer. 

Being Neurodiverse, like being LGBTQIA+, also still comes with a lot of stigma; and both neurodiverse and LGBTQAI+ folks still face a lot of discrimination. There are ‘charities’ and organisations out there dedicated to finding a ‘cure’ for folks with ASC just like there are for ‘curing’ or finding the ‘cause’ of being Queer; with conversation therapy being a harmful ‘tool’ used against both neurodiverse and LGBTQIA+ people in an attempt to ‘normalise’ them.  

Secondly, it’s important to recognise that because of the above; folks who are both neurodivergent and Queer (I’ve seen this referred to in some circles as being NeuroQueer) can face double the amount of prejudice, discrimination and hurdles to overcome. As the Equality Network explains; “having an intersectional identity often generates a feeling that someone does not completely belong in one group or another, and can lead to isolation, depression and other mental health issues.” 

Many LGBT-focused organisations sadly have little knowledge of, for example, disability or race issues, which can lead to people feeling excluded or shut out of the community. In 2019 Brighton Pride faced accusations of running an inaccessibly pride event, with disabled LGBTQIA+ folks feeling excluded from attending; and they weren’t the only one facing this accusation. This has led to an increasing number of conversations happening recently about how to make Pride events inclusive to people with disabilities. 

Recognising the importance of intersectional inclusivity, “several organisations and groups in the UK have been set up to specifically cater to Queer disabled people’s needs, like Brownton Abbey, “where queer, black and brown disabled folks reign supreme”, ParaPride, who work with venues to improve accessibility, and LGBTQ+ Disabled Queer and Hear.” 

But this isn’t just something that LGBTQIA+ or Neurodiversity focused organisations need to consider; it’s also equally important for every businesses to recognise the importance of inclusivity and intersectionality when they are considering how they support their staff; or develop services for people to use. As an example, addressing issues that may affect the recruitment or retention or promotion of LGBTQIA+ folks in a way that’s not inclusive of neurodiverse people will likely not have the impact you’re hoping for; and vice versa. Sadly, only 1 in 10% organisations in the UK take neurodiversity into consideration as part of their people management procesess; and this lack of support is likely to impact Queer staff more.

As it’s Pride Month, and many organisations are considering how they support LGBTQIA+ folks better; it’s extremely important that we focus on creating inclusive environments that respect every part of people’s identity rather than focusing on singular elements of it. 

A brain in rainbow colours
A rainbow brain

(Race is another important area of intersectionality that I haven’t touched on in this blog; as a white person I’m really not qualified to comment on that so, I won’t touch on that here and will instead provide some links below and defer that topic to those with more lived experience and knowledge of the issues that need addressing.) 

Other useful links:

The managers guide to understanding ADHD

(and why it’s often misunderstood for CIS women in particular)

Let’s talk about ADHD

We’ve all seen characters with ADHD on TV and in books etc, try and think of a few examples and I bet they all fit in one stereotypical box; “the naughty young white boy acting out in class”. But not only is this stereotype wrong, it’s actually really harmful!

Calvin and Hobbs
Calvin and Hobbs (Calvin is a ‘typical’ boy with ADHD

Historically ADHD was seen as only (or as least predominantly) affecting boys (often white boys, but that’s a whole other subject I’m not qualified to talk about), but evidence shows that many girls do have ADHD, however it is often the inattentive presentation of ADHD which tends to be under-recognised or under-diagnosed, because it doesn’t fit the stereotypical (hyperactive) trope and kids with it aren’t causing problems in the classroom etc; instead they’re just being labelled as ‘day dreamers’ and are left to slowly fall behind or put under pressure to sort themselves out with no support.

Ironically, whilst the Hyperactive/impulsive symptoms are more well-known, due to being more visible, they are in-fact less common than inattentive ones, both for women and adults in general. These symptoms often become more “internal” when they persist; as adults learn to manage their hyperactivity; which historically led medical practitioners to believe that ADHD symptoms decreased after childhood, which is now known to be incorrect. Currently 2.8% of adults in the UK have ADHD, but many are undiagnosed and the number of adult diagnosis’s is increasing every year; it is believed that as many as 1 in 20 adults in the UK are likely to have ADHD.   

So, what is ADHD?

ADHD as a developmental disorder that affects the brain’s executive functions. Executive functions are the cognitive processes that organises thoughts and activities, prioritises tasks, manages time efficiently, and makes decisions. They’re basically the little office manager that lives in our heads.

Research suggests that many people with ADHD tend to be perfectionists who fear getting things wrong; they struggle to cope with failure or letting others down. Most people with ADHD are seen to be extremely empathetic to others’ emotions and suffer from Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (an extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by a sense of falling short—failing to meet their own high standards or others’ expectations; being rejected or criticized by important people in their life.)

Many people with ADHD struggle with procrastination issues; at one time this was seen as people with ADHD being ‘lazy’ or ‘stupid’ however, research has shown that due to issues with executive functioning, people with ADHD struggle with ‘knowing where to begin’. When the size or scale of the work needed to complete things is ‘too big’, or ‘there is too much to do’ they are unable to start for fear they won’t be able to finish and will only fail or disappoint. 

This often leads to people with ADHD leaving everything to the end when a deadline looms or the amount of work becomes overwhelming, and the work cannot be delayed any longer. From the outside it can be viewing as everything being ‘rushed’ at the end rather than logically planned and spaced out to give enough time. 

However, this ‘scramble’ to complete work before a deadline, will produce a larger dopamine release as the brain views it as a bigger win vs. a scheduled timely plan, which will produce less dopamine, and therefor offer less ‘reward’. Studies suggest that ADHD brains have lower levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine (a chemical released by nerve cells into the brain that allows us to regulate emotional responses and take action to achieve specific rewards. It’s responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward.)

Due to this inability to regulate dopamine properly, ADHD brains are constantly seeking more; leaving people with ADHD with the constant desire to move from task to task, focusing on ‘the most interesting’ or ‘most urgent’ work which will offer the greatest feeling of reward; and struggling to start or complete ‘boring’ or ‘mundane’ tasks that aren’t interesting and don’t offer the ‘dopamine hit’. 

Many people with ADHD also have Sensory Processing Disorder, which means they could be ‘over-stimulated’ by sounds, sights or smells, with unexpected noises or changes in light levels etc. causing sensory overload and breaking their concentration or making it harder to focus.

How to best support employees with ADHD

Because ADHD is so misunderstood, many employers worry about disclosing their ADHD status; and many employers struggle to understand how to best support their staff. Studies suggest that adults with ADHD are change jobs frequently and are more likely to be fired, to miss work, and to have troubled relationships with co-workers; but employees with ADHD can thrive in the right environments and with the right support. There are many useful places out there offering advice on how to best tailor workplace environments so as to take the best advantage of people with ADHD’s strong points (such as their creativity or people skills), whilst also minimising any negative impacts of their ADHD; and I’ve captured many of the commonly agreed useful strategies below.

But as an employee or manager, there here are a couple of important things to note:

  • Many people (between 25-50%) with ADHD also suffer from sleep issues; and many ADHD medications can make these issues worse.
  • While ADHD medication can be beneficial in helping combat the symptoms of ADHD, medical titration can be a long process which can cause some symptoms to get worse before they get better and have many side effects.

The Scottish ADHD coalition wrote this guide for employers which offers helpful advice and guidance.

Some helpful strategies people with ADHD use: 

  • Having clear priorities, reviewed daily; with no more that 5 items on to complete at any one time. 
  • Making colour-coded lists and notes, to make it easy to find information easily. 
  • Breaking tasks down into smaller chunks that can be tackled independently rather than all at once. ADHD brains tend to work best in 15 minute intervals; many people with ADHD find setting a timer for 10 to 15 minutes to focus on one task; then when the timer chimes, deciding if they have the energy to continue on that task or, if completed, start a new timer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. If they still feel motivated, resetting the timer and continue working in short intervals for as long as they can.
  • Avoiding multi-tasking. This is more likely to lead to distraction; only work on one thing at any time (working in 15 min chunks where possible). 
  • Setting time-limits for decision making. 
  • Setting a ‘WIP limit’ to avoid over-committing to work, For each new commitment made, giving up an old one.
  • Associating ‘rewards’ with mundane task completion, “if I complete X then I can spend 5 minutes doing Y before I move onto Z”
  • Clustering similar tasks together under the same time umbrella, i.e. Answering emails and returning phone calls once in the morning and once in the afternoon, instead of throughout the day, to avoid getting side tracked from priority work; 
  • Replaying instructions, repeating back verbal instructions, or confirming in writing to ensure they have been understood correctly. 
  • Setting electronic alarms and reminders, to remind them to move onto the next task or meeting. 
  • Setting aside time each day to deal with ‘additional thoughts and ideas that have popped up’ to avoid getting side tracked when completing tasks. 
  • Using noise-cancelling headphones or listening to music when focusing on a task. Research shows that music structure helps the ADHD brain stay on a linear path and address timing deficits.
  • Overestimating how long it will take to complete something, adding at least 10 minutes to how long it will take to finish a task.
  • Building in a 5 minute break between tasks to allow the brain time to reset before focusing on the next thing. 
  • Using a “body double.” Many people with ADHD find when tackling mundane or boring tasks, sitting with someone else who is quietly doing another ‘mundane’ task creates a productive atmosphere.

So, to sum up; Not all folks with ADHD are hyperactive boys. If you have a member of staff who has (or you suspect has) ADHD; great! Research shows employees with ADHD can be more curious, creative, imaginative, innovative, and inventive. They tend to be out-of-the-box thinkers, with an approach that can be highly prized in the workplace.

Any potential weaknesses can be overcome with just a little bit of effort and some open, honest conversations; talk to them, focus on their strengths (there are lots of them) and what they do well; and put some plans in place to help them succeed and you’ll all be happy!

5 positive traits of ADHD.

Neurodiverse parenting

One thing I’ve noticed, since I started blogging and talking more openly about being Neurodiverse myself, is how many people have reached out to me virtually or in real life to chat about how they as parents support their children who are (or might be) neurodiverse.

I’ve spoken publicly many times (especially on twitter) about the journey we’ve been on as a family to get my son’s diagnosis; and to get him the support he needs at school etc. The process to get an EHCP in and of itself was a minefield; and finding a secondary school that could not just ‘cope’ with his ASD and ADHD, but actually allow him to thrive; far harder than it should have been!

Interestingly, since joining Kainos and the Neurodiversity working group, I’ve had a number of colleagues approach me to get advice from someone, or just have someone to talk too; who has a neurodiverse child themselves and is perhaps ‘further along in the process’. Far more people in fact than have contacted me to chat about having ADHD myself.

The official services that exist to support neurodiverse children and their families are massively over subscribed and underfunded so trying to get accurate advice and support isn’t that easy. This leaves many parents and carers relying on the internet for help. If you google “does my child have ADHD or Autism” you’ll get a bazillion results back, and it can be quite overwhelming knowing where to start. They’re a millions of Facebook groups and online forums out there for parents and carers looking for help or advice on how to best support their neurodiverse children. The problem is different countries and regions do things in different ways; so what worked for one family in the US, won’t necessarily work for another family in the UK; heck the process a family in London followed won’t even necessarily be the same process that a family in Manchester has to follow.

Many organisations ask staff to disclose if they are the parent to a child with caring needs; but many parents won’t think about ticking that box unless their child has complex physical healthcare conditions, which can leave them in a tricky position (unless they have an understanding manager) when they start needing time off in order to navigate the confusing waters of getting their child a diagnosis or support for neurodiversity.

When I first started down the diagnosis pathway for my son (over 6 years ago) I was still working in the public sector, and was very lucky to have a line manager who herself was in the process of trying to get a diagnosis for her son; we were able to swap tips and advice; and she was very understanding of the multiple appointments I had to attend to try and get my son help. But I know from talking to other parents, not everyone is that lucky. Many have had to either go part time, or give up work altogether, in order to be able to support their children, let down by the systems that are meant to support them.

As we move into ‘the new world’ post pandemic, so many organisations are recognising the importance of focusing on their culture and their staff’s wellbeing; which is great to see. Within Kainos we’ve been having a number of really good conversations about how we better support our neurodiverse staff to thrive; and how we can create an inclusive culture that ensures ‘our staff who choose to remain working from home for what ever reason are fully supported.

Twitter post announcing the Kainos Neurodiversity Employee Network launch

More companies now a days are prioritising private healthcare as part of their staff offer; however, as ADHD and Autism etc. are not acute disorders; most healthcare insurers don’t cover them, nor will they cover any treatment for conditions relating too or arising from them. The ones slight exception to this seems to be Bupa. Recently, Bupa has removed ADHD from its general restrictions list which means they will now cover mental health conditions (such as anxiety, stress, and depression) even if they relate to or arise from ADHD; and they will also fund diagnostic tests to rule out ADHD when a mental health condition is suspected. 

With waiting lists for adult diagnosis averaging at 2 years+ for the NHS, and 6 months+ for private diagnosis; the picture for children isn’t much better; with the average NHS waiting list being around 18 months; but some trusts have been reporting waiting lists of up to 7 years for diagnosis and titration (where appropriate). Should you choose to go private, the costs for children’s assessments are higher than for adults; with the costs for a child ADHD assessment ranging from £700 to £1,500 for the diagnosis alone; and for ASD the costs range from £1700 to over £3,500; and while the waiting times may be shorter; not all local authorities will accept a private assessment as proof of a diagnosis or eligibility for support.

Leaving aside the process of getting diagnosed; for parents and careers there’s also the stress of trying to get your child the help they’ll need at school. The process of getting an EHCP is a logistical nightmare; and there are whole forums and sites out there dedicated to helping parents figure out how to apply for an EHCP. Even once you’ve managed to figure out how to get the ball rolling, getting the EHCP finalised and put in place as no easy task. While the law states EHCP’s should be finalised within 20 weeks; some local authorities had such large backlogs, even before the pandemic, that the process was reported to be taking over two years to get in multiple areas.

On top of that, a 2012 survey of teachers found that over 70% of mainstream teachers didn’t feel that their training adequately prepared them to teach pupils with special educational needs. It’s possibly no surprise in that case that almost 30% of neurodiverse children in 2019 were being homeschooled; and that number is believed to have gone up during the pandemic.

The pandemic has had another impact on children and young people; with the number of children suffering with mental health issues rising dramatically. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that spike has been especially high for neurodiverse children; and that in turn has been impacting their families. One study in particular noted the negative impact the pandemic has had on parents and families of neurodiverse children.

As such, as employers, we need to be considering not only how we best support our neurodiverse staff, but we also need to acknowledge the extra responsibilities and pressures our staff with neurodiverse children might be facing. We need to create a culture that supports them, so that they can balance their work and parental responsibilities successfully without having to worry; enabling them to thrive at home, and at work.

Looking for the positives

We’re all skilled in many different ways; when it comes to our careers; why do we apologies for our weaknesses, rather than celebrate our strengths?

Another slightly introspective blog from me today, but one I think worth writing, as I know I’m not the only one guilty of this.

As we move through our careers, there are always opportunities to grow and learn new skills and take on new challenges; sometimes those opportunities can open us up to new strengths we never knew we had; sometimes those opportunities can help us realise something is definitely not for us. Both of those are valid outcomes, but we often fail to acknowledge that it’s as important to recognise what skills you don’t have, and what doesn’t spark joy for you; as much as it it’s important to recognise what skills you do have.

As managers and leaders we should be encouraging our staff and teams to be transparent about both. By helping our staff recognise their own strengths, and their weaknesses, we can then help them to have fluffing careers that focus on those strengths, rather than constantly highlight the things they’re not as strong on.

None of us like being ‘bad’ at things; and there’s nothing more demoralising that slogging away at a role and always feeling like you’re the weakest link; so why do so many of us stick at jobs or roles where we’re doing just that? Sometimes all it takes is one meeting to make you recognise what your skills are and where you can add real value; and as organisations we should be making space for people to pursue those skills, or we risk losing them, and the value they can add to our business.

Orange coloured rocket rising on the top between the hot air balloons.
Everyone deserves to soar high.

I’ve been lucky throughout my career to have had some great line managers who have supported me in having those conversations and enabling me to focus on my skills and choosing roles where I can utilise my strengths best; and I similarly now try to be that person for those I manage.

One of the things I always advise my mentee’s and staff to do, is spend some time thinking about what their skills are, what are their strengths, what do they bring to the party (as it were) that others might not? I then try to work with them to think about how their skills and strengths can benefit their role; the organisation and how they could build a career based on those skills. Sometimes this just means a small change to their role, sometimes it means supporting them in moving to a new role where they can better utilise their skills, and sometimes it means a change in their career path.

Wooden singpost with "help, support, advice, guidance" arrows against blue sky.
Signposting

When I have had this conversations with staff or mentee’s in the past, one fear many voice is the fear that they will come across as ‘ungrateful’, or ‘self-important’ and like they think ‘they’re better than they are’ or that by acknowledging the areas that are not their strengths they would be jeopardise their career. Obviously, I can’t speak for every organisation, or every manager; as a senior leader I have always believed we get the best out of people when we support them to be their best. We can only do that by recognising not everyone is the same, nor do they have the same skills or strengths. Jobs descriptions are a generic label that covers what we expect the person doing that role to be doing; but three people doing the same job will all have slightly different strengths and skills, and as long as we do so in a fair and transparent way, recognising peoples strengths and how those can impact how they do their role, means they’re more likely to add real value to the team.

One thing I’ve really appreciated since joining Kainos is that we differentiate between individuals goals, and role responsibilities/targets. Staff are given opportunities to set individial goals that they feel best match their skills and strengths, as well as having targets for their roles. We have people managers who we work with to understand how we can be supported to meet our personal goals as well as project/line managers with whom we work to meet our role targets etc. People managers and line managers work together when staff members feel their roles/skills/strengths don’t quite align to identify to understand how we can support them either into new roles or to suggest wider opportunities they could get involved in (or lead) where those skills could be best utilised. The benefit of this can be seen when looking at Kainos’ staff retention, and the number of staff who joined the company as a graduate developer (as an example) and are still here over 10 years later having moved into Product or Business Growth as they have developed their skills and identified areas their personal strengths align too where they can add more value.

I think as we come round to End of Year Appraisal time again, it’s important for all us to reflect on what our own skills are, what are strengths are, and are we getting the opportunity to add real value to our organisations using those skills; or is there something else we could be doing that would better utilise those skills and add more value? And as managers we need to be enabling that self reflection and supporting those conversations to happen.

A hand holding a growing seedling
The best things grow when we nurture them.

Reflecting on Career Pathways

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about careers; what does a good career look like? What are my next steps? How do organisations retain their staff and over them career growth? Are career’s even a big thing anymore?

Growing up it was always drummed into me how important it was to have a career. Conversations at home and at school all focused on “what did I want in terms of my career?” Picking a university course was all about picking the best one to help my career aspirations. The problem in when we’re young, for most of us at least; our career aspirations change almost as much as our favourite TV show.

Given my family have a strong public sector background; when I was younger those were the career options I automatically gravitated towards. When I was younger I wanted to be an anthropologist, but once I realised there were very limited career options for anthropologists I decided I wanted to be a teacher; I stumbled into the Civil Service as a summer job while I was considering my PGCE options; and then realised the Civil Service could give me a good career and why not stay?

My focus was then on having the best career I could within the Civil Service, I joined the Fast Stream, I got my promotions, I did the Crossing Thresholds programme and reaching the Senior Civil Service by the time I was 35; everyone kept congratulating me on how well I was doing within my career given my age. But then I struggled to know what to do next; keep progressing within the Civil Service, try and become a Director by the time I’m 40? My mentor recommended taking time outside of the Civil Service, to work supplier side for a year or two; before going for a Director role within the Civil Service, just to balance my career. This seemed like a good idea, and so I did it (and enjoying it!) But it was all with a view with progressing my career.

Last year as I sat considering my next career steps, and whether I should move back into the Public Sector; I became aware that there was all these other areas I’ve never really explored fully as I’d been focussing on my upwards trajectory. There have always been roles and opportunities I’ve been interested in that I’ve never explored because, while they wouldn’t have hampered my career, they’ve come at the same time as opportunities to progress, and surely the best thing for my career is to keep progressing right? But that constant feeling that you should be progressing upwards brings with it a constant feeling of pressure. It’s no wonder so many career folks burn out, as they try to keep meeting that societal expectation of success. As such I made the decision to take a role that wasn’t ‘a promotion’, in fact it could be seen as a downwards move in terms of my responsibilities; but what it was, was a role that I’d enjoy in a company where I could explore my options and take the time to decide what it was I wanted to do next without that constant weight of expectations and demand.

One of the things I’m enjoying most about working in Kainos is all the conversations I’m having about what do I ‘want to do?’ Yes of course there are the conversations about progression etc; but there’s much more consideration of the fact that you might want to move sideways, or that you could want to get involved in something new. What you bring to the table is more than the narrow ‘career pathway’ you might have travelled on so far; and much more about your skills and what you’re passionate about. There’s the view that what excites you and drives you, could be things that could help the company grow; and as such there’s the time and opportunity for you to explore those opportunities, as long as they benefit the wider business.

This opportunity to focus on the bits of my career I enjoy most, whilst also growing my skills in other areas has reminded me why I do what I do in the first place; and why I’m good at what I do. But it’s also made me recognise how close to burn out I was getting; and made me realise that sometimes we need to take a step back and reconfirm what we is that we enjoy doing, find our passion for our careers and what drove us towards that career in the first place, before we can continue on.

For some people, because of societal pressure and how we were taught as children to ‘get a career’ (any career) they never have had that sense of joy in their career. For others, whom sadly burn out, they realise they don’t know what other skills they have; or what other careers or roles they could pursue; as we were never taught as children to consider those options. We need to change our approach and teach students to identify their strengths and their skills, give them a wider foundation to build their careers off of.

All of this has made me reflect on how we view our careers; and the constant focus on promotions and progression. Now that I’m involved more in educational outreach activities and mentoring; I try to focus less on specific career aspirations; and more on what matters to people, what skills they have, what are they passionate about; I recommend courses and job moves that play into their strengths and can help them grow; helping them have a fulfilling career, rather than necessarily being the next stepping stone on their set career path.

Becoming Product Led

Recently I was asked how I would go about moving an organisation to being Product Led; when agile and user centric design are equally new to the company, or when agile has not delivered in the way that was expected.

Before diving into the how, I think it’s worth first considering the what and they why.

What do we mean by being ‘product led’?

A product led approach is where your product experience is the central focus of your organisation. Within the public sector we incorporate user centric design into our products to ensure that we deliver real value by:š

  • Taking an outside-in perspective (starting with user needs)š;
  • Rapid, early validation of ideas (testing early and often); š
  • Maturing through iteration (based on user feedback)š and
  • Disciplined prioritisation (using quantitative and qualitative data) to deliver value.

Is this not just another name for agile?

This is a question that comes up regularly; and in my opinion, no it’s not. Agile is a delivery methodology; being product led is wider than that. it’s the wrapper that sits above and surrounds the delivery approach you use. It comes ‘before’ you decide on which delivery methodology you will use; and continues long after. It’s your culture and ways of working. The two can often go hand in hand; but if agile is the how, product is the what and the why.

Why is being product led important?

šWell, by moving to a product led approach we allow the organisation to link their outputs to their customer needs and ensuring they align to their organisational capabilities and strategy. šIt also allows organisations to focus on their customers needs and understand their users perspectivesš. By understanding and focusing on user needs it allows organisations to deliver value faster, making it quicker and easier for organisations to learn from what has gone well (and what hasn’t)š which in turn makes cheaper and faster to address any issues or risksš. It also makes it easier for organisations to spot opportunities for innovation and growth.

How do you move your organisation to being product led?

First things first, a culture that empowers the asking of questions and testing of hypothesis is essential for innovation. But to allow that to happen, organisations need senior leaders who understand and support their teams to work in this way. The appropriate ,light weight/ adaptable, governance and funding approvals processes being in place are critical to enable product innovation and empower delivery teams.

The second element that’s key is having the right data. Good product orientation depends on having access to quality data; what are our current metrics? Where are our current pain points? Do we understand our current costs? What products/ services have the highest demand? etc. This data enables us to make quality decisions and measure our progress our successes.

Thirdly, we need to have clearly articulated strategy/vision for the organisation; what is our USP (Unique Selling Proposition)? What do we want to achieve? What are our goals? What value are we looking to add? What do we want to be different in 5/10 years from now?

To develop that strategy/vision, we need to have a clear understanding about our users and stakeholders. Who are we developing these products for? Who are our stakeholders? How are we engaging with them? What do they need from us?

Finally, once we’ve got the strategy, the vision, an understanding of our user needs and a set of hypothesis we want to test; we need a healthy delivery approach, with skilled teams in place to enable us to test our ideas and deliver that value. As we’ve said previously, to be product centric we need to be able to design services that are based on user needs, so that we can test regularly with our users to ensure we understand, and are meeting, those needs.

What are the sign of a good product led culture?

  • You are regularly engaging with the users; working to understand their needs and iterating your approach and services based on their feedback.
  • Your culture empowers and encourages people to ask questions. “Why are we doing this?”; “Who are we doing this for”, “Is anyone else already doing this?”, “What will happen if we don’t do this {now)?”, “What have we learnt from our previous failures/successes?”
  • Your teams are working collaboratively, policy and operations teams working hand in hand with tech/digital teams; to ensure you’re delivering value.
  • You’re considering and testing multiple options at each stage; looking for innovative solutions, and working to understand which options will best meet your users needs and add the most value.
  • Linked to the above; You’re testing regularly, being willing to ‘throw away’ what doesn’t work and refine your ideas based on what does work.
  • You’re delivering value early and often.
Prioritising the backlog

Which comes first, the Product Manager, or the product culture?

If you don’t have any trained product people, can you begin to move to a product led culture, or must you hire the product people first? This is the chicken and the egg question. For many organisations, especially those already using agile delivery methodologies or engaged in digital transformation; they may have already sunk a lot of time and money into delivery, and pausing their work whilst they change their culture and hire a load of skilled product folk just isn’t going to work; but, you can begin to move towards a product led approach without hiring a load of Product Managers. Whilst having experience product folk can definitely help, you probably have lots of folks in the organisation who are already over half way there and just need some help on that road.

One stumbling block many organisations fall over on their move to a product led approach is the difference between focusing on outcomes, rather than outputs or features.

An output is a product or service that you create; an outcome is the problem that you solve with that product. A feature is something a product or service does, whereas a benefit is what customers actually need. If we go straight to developing features, we could be making decisions based on untested assumptions. 

There are 5 steps to ensure you’re delivering outcomes that add value and deliver benefits vs. focusing on features that simply deliver an output:š

  • State the Problemš – what are we trying to solve/change?
  • Gather User Data – have we understood the problem correctly?
  • Set Concrete Goals and Define Success Criteria – what would success look like? š
  • Develop Hypothesis – how could we best solve this problem? š
  • Test Multiple Ideas – does this actually solve the problem?

When you’re trying to identify the right problem to fix, look at existing data from previous field studiescompetitive analysisanalytics, and feedback from customer support. Use a mix of quantitative and qualitative data to ensure you have understood your user needs, and their behaviours.  Then analyse the information, spot any gaps, and perform any additional research required to help you verify the hypothesis you have developed when trying to decide how you could solve the problem your users are facing.

They key element to being product led is understanding the problem you are trying to fix and focusing on the value you will deliver for your users by fixing it. It’s about not making assumptions you know what your users want, but by engaging with your users to understand what they need. It’s about spotting gaps and opportunities to innovate and add value, rather than simply building from or replacing what already exists. It’s about focusing on delivering that value early and often.

Making User Centred Design more inclusive

How do we support people from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds to get a career in User Centred Design?

If you look around for ways to get a careers in Digital/Tech, you would probably trip over half a dozen Apprenticeships, Academies or Earn as you Learn Schemes; not to mention Graduate Schemes; without even trying. However, all those opportunities would probably be within Software Engineering.

If you want to move into a career in Research, Product or Design; opportunities to do that without a Degree, or years of experience, are sparse.

Paper Prototypes/ Wireframes

When trying to find Design Apprenticeship or Entry Level schemes ahead of a talk I was giving to some sixth formers last month; I really struggled to find any opportunities that didn’t requite a Degree. In 2019 Kainos ran it’s first Design Academy, but for placements and Entry Level roles there was still the expectation you’d have a degree in Design; and its Earn as You Learn programme is for people looking for a career as a developer. Hippo are about to run their first Academy for Digital Change Consultants; which will then facilitate graduates moving into Product or Design careers etc, but it’s only for those with existing work experience looking to change careers; not young adults looking for their first career. FutureGov have previously run Design Academies but again these have been focused at Graduates. MadeTech’s Academy accepts people without a Degree, but is only for those interested in Software Engineering. Even the Civil Service Apprenticeships Scheme is focused on Software Engineering roles; with no opportunities within Product or Design. The National Apprenticeship Service does have a section for Design apprenticeships; but all the roles are focused on Content Marketing etc. rather than User Centric Design; and within the Digital Section, all the opportunities are for Technical Apprenticeships. Google have many Apprenticeship options, but their UX Design one only runs in the US.

After hours of searching I did find several opportunities; the first I found was with Amazon; who are now running their own User Experience Design and Research Apprenticeship, sadly however the criteria for candidates specifies that they must be working towards their Bachelors degree, or be an existing Amazon employee. The Second was a previous apprentice discussing their UX Apprenticeship with Barclays Bank, however when I searched for the Apprenticeship with Barclays itself, I could only find Technical ones, and none for Design, so if it does still exist, it’s not easy to find! While I could find plenty of Design Internships; they were all like the Amazon one; designed for students currently studying for the Bachelors degree.

I finally, FINALLY, found one actual opportunity I could share with the students I was speaking to, so well Done AstraZeneca, who seem to have the only real Research and Design Apprenticeship Programme available in the UK. But that was the only opportunity I found at the time of looking.

(EDITED TO ADD: The NHS Business Service Authority have just recruited their very first UCD Apprentices; all being well this programme will continue!)

group of fresh graduates students throwing their academic hat in the air

So, if you’re a budding 17 year old passionate about User Centred Design (UCD), is graduating from University your only real option? And if so, how many of our potential rising star researchers and designers are we losing because they can’t afford to attend University (or don’t want to)? Why are we (unintentionally or not) making Design so elitist?

There is a lot of data to suggest that Design as a career is predominantly white; there are many articles about the intrinsic racism within Graphic Design (as an example), and how racism has manifested itself in UX Design throughout the years. Given most Design roles insist on candidates having a Bachelors Degree or equivalent, the fact is that 72.6% of people starting undergraduate study in the 2019 to 2020 academic year were White. This, by default, suggests that most graduates will be white; and therefor White people will be the most likely to be able to apply for Entry Level roles in Design.

However, we also know that as a group, white students are the least likely to progress to University, and this is in part due to the wide gap in university participation between students who were on Free School Meals and those that weren’t, which is currently at 19.1% and growing. So, not only are most graduates going to be white, they’re also more likely to be from middle/high class backgrounds. Which could help explain (at least in part) why as a career, Design has struggled to diversify.

Given the massive demand for Designers within the Public Sector (and elsewhere) surely we need to once and for all sit down and crack the topic of Design Apprenticeships and Entry Level roles that don’t require a degree? Surely there’s a way we can give helping hand to those people out there who are interested in user centred design and desperately looking for their way in; but can’t or won’t attend university?

The only way we can make UCD as a career actually representative of the communities we’re meant to be designing for is if we can stop prioritising a Degree over passion and skill. So let’s aim to be more inclusive when we’re thinking about how we recruit the Design Leaders of tomorrow.

After all, inclusive design is the whole central principle of User Centred Design!

person in red sweater holding babys hand