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Tag: Public Service

#GovermentIsOpen

Why we need to bring user centric design into our Communications in the public Sector.

Having been involved in the hiring of many Content and Interaction Designers in the last few years, we’ve always preferred candidates from within the Public Sector, because they tend to have the same specialisms as we in the Digital Data and Technology (DDaT) Profession have, looking down our nose a little at applicants from the private sector who seem to be a bit of a ‘jack of all trades of design’ doing some social media, some UX and some content design.

A Neon sign showing 0 likes.

We want people who understand user centric design, who design services based on user needs. We want content designers used to working in multidisciplinary teams designing and developing services. We want Content Designers who are used to designing what ‘we’ class as Content, which having spoken to people interested in applying for our roles seems to be quite often different, or at least a narrower definition, to what the wider industry classes as Content. A search for content design jobs online shows the breadth of jobs that can fall under that category.

But in the last year or so I’ve begun to look at those we have left behind with this approach, those we have excluded and where this has left us, especially in terms of both recruitement, and our engagement with our users.

The Government Design community is constantly growing and expanding. With the salaries being offered quickly outsripping the number of candidates we have available. We are all constantly stealing candidates from each other, and those departments and agencies that can’t afford to pay that much, are left relaying on contractors because we can’t hire people.

Digital is seen as a channel for contact, and within the public sector we are moving our products and services online. However, social media is generally not considered as part of that transformation. It is not a transactional service, and therefor generally not considered within the remit of the Digital design teams. The content we put out on social media is seen as the same as we put out to the press, it is a tool for giving out information, as such the people on our social media teams tend to be comms professionals, or people with a background in journalism or marketting.

People looking at their phones

Interestingly Social Media teams are not generally included within the Government design community, and until a conversation 18 months ago with Joanne Rewcastle at DWP Digital I’d never really thought about that. The DDaT roles are based around the roles first needed by Gov.uk and expanded on from there as part of the work by GDS. As such these are the roles needed to design and develop transactional services. Which makes sense.

However, it means we are not thinking about what our users need from our social media. We are not designing the content we put on social media in the same way as the content we put on our digital services, or even our websites.

Also, it means when it comes to recruitment, we are not looking preferably on those people who have a social media or wider comms background as they are not, by the DDaT definition, Content Designers, and unfortunately it is currently quite hard for people working in Social media or wider comms to move over into the Content Design space as they tend to not have the experience of working in multidisciplinary teams or on transactional user needs driven services we are looking for.

With our digital services we have to ensure they are accessible. Our content designers and interaction designers are experts in making sure our content is accessible and understandable by everyone. But in my experience we haven’t been making sure our social media teams are experts in that as well.

A keyboard with an accessibility symbol

It was from Content Design and Accessibility expert colleagues I learned the rule of #CapatalisingYourHashTags so that they can be better understood by accessibility software. The same goes for images and emojis, are we all making sure we’re using them in such a way that screen readers and accessibility software can understand them? If our users are using social media, if that is a service we offer, then do we not have the same responsibility to make sure that service is as usable and accessible as any other service we offer? Even if it isn’t ‘transactional’.

Our Social media colleagues are generally great in helping us think about how to design messages in ways to engage the audiences on different channels, they understand the demographics of the users on the different platforms and what messages work best with which users where. They often have a wealth of data and evidence regarding our users that could benefit Product Development teams. When we’re considering as Product teams how to engage our users it seems to me that is a great time to engage with our social media colleagues. Equally, Product teams, through user research sessions and user needs analysis collect a lot of evidence and data teams that could benefit our Social Media colleagues. Unfortunately I’ve seen very few places pulling those skills together well.

Full credit to DWP Digital’s social media team here, where the team reached out and joined up with the content design community even though they were not officially part of it according to the DDaT professions, to ensure they were considering user needs in how they used social media. That team worked incredibly hard to build people’s awareness of how to use social media, to ensure content was accessible and usable.

A mix of laptops and smartphones on a desk

A few other Departments have done simillar, and I think that is a good thing. But I also think we need to look again at social media across the public sector. It’s not just a marketing tool anymore, In the age of the internet a good social media presence can make or break a company. Nothing is ever really gone from the internet, and that tweet or Facebook post from 5 years ago can come back to bite you on the bum.

So why are more places not using the principles of user design in our social media, or recognising the hard work of those people who are pushing for accessibility and user design in social media as much as those who are designing good content for a website or transactional service?

We need to recognise that the people within our Social Media teams and our Content Design teams have more in common than not, and that when we are recruiting we can gain a lot from people who come form both sides of that bridge.

Why am I going to be flying my Pride flag extra high this Pride Month

Looking round the news over the last 12 months and you could be mistaken for thinking in some places we’re back in the 80’s if not earlier.

This week has brought news of Nazi’s attending Pride marches in America, Russia has been rolling back LGBTQ* rights for over a year now. In the UK there have been protests and debates about the inclusion of LGBTQ* relationships within Primary School education. There are still multiple places in the world where it’s not safe for LGBTQ* individuals to live or travel, never mind be able to marry or adopt.

With Japan ruling that Trans people must be sterilized, Brunei introducing the death penalty for homosexuality (but saying it won’t enforce it after a public outcry), America re-banning Trans in the military and the hot topic of Trans peoples place in sports and bathrooms it has felt very much like our Trans friends and family especially have been bearing the brunt of a lot of unwanted attention.

Trans Flag

I know there are many people, both in this country, and all over the world who can not be out. Who have to hide a part of themselves and remain in the closet. Pride marches still have problems, they still struggle with accessibility and inclusion; be they too white, or not disability friendly. A number of Pride March’s last year had their message co-opted by TERF groups. There have been arguments about the inclusion of organisations like the police or government departments in Pride events in some cities this year, with the concern that having people in uniforms as part of Pride will put some members of the community off attending.

Pride Flag

I have only been out as Queer for a couple of years now, and as a Cis, white woman with a son I could be seen to have ‘passing privilege’, in that people make assumptions about my sexuality. But I have to deal with the typical invisibility that most Bisexual or Queer people face, especially those who have children, in that assumption that your sexuality is based on who you are currently dating. However, in the grand scheme of things I’m well aware I have been very lucky, as I have never had to face the discrimination or abuse that others have had. Nor have I ever had to deal with any overt problems from my family, friends or colleagues when I came out. I resisted coming out for a long time because of hearing comments about Bisexual people’s presumed promiscuity or ‘inability to choose’, but actually when I worked up the courage to finally come out, those around me were very supportive; and I appreciate how privileged that makes me.

Recently I have been trying to be both a more vocal ally and a more visible member of the LGBTQ* community. The LGBTQ* networks in the public sector that I have found have all been very welcoming. While there is definitely more that needs to be done in terms of awareness and providing support for those members of the community who are facing bullying, harassment or discrimination, things like the cross government LGBT community event last year which was jointly sponsored by #OneTeamGov and DWP was really lovely to be part of, and the cross government #OneTeamGov LGBT+ slack group is a fantastic safe space for members of the community to discuss issues and upcoming events.

I asked on Twitter and the Slack channel for some examples of lanyards from the LGBTQ* networks from across the Public Sector using the #ShowUsYourLanyard.

Left to Right: Care Quality Commission; Prison & Probation Service; a:Gender; Ministry of Justice; The Insolvency Service; Department of Heath & Social Care; and Departments for Works and Pensions.

As @HMPPS_PIPP says, lanyards are a way to show our everyday commitment and support for our community, a way to make a small gesture, but have a massive impact.

This year as some parts of the world begin to look more frightening, and with politics moving more to the right in many places I feel that I need to stand up and be counted now more than ever, to support those around me who can not come out and live there life in the open, to be an ally to those in our community who do face discrimination or attacks regularly.

This is doubly true as a Leader, I am trying my hardest to be an visible queer person within the Public Sector, while still be authentic and myself. Talking to others in the community about their issues, and working with networks to identify things we could do better, or seek opportunities to join up with others. This isn’t always the easiest thing to do, trying to find the time to attend network meetings or attend events isn’t easy for any of us, and I’m well aware it’s something I could do better at. This year I feel like I’m letting myself and my community down because I’m struggling to attend my local Pride march.

So, as we here the debate for ‘straight pride’ rear is head again as it did every month; I’m reminding myself why Pride is important, not just for myself, but for others in the community; and a quick look on social media reminds me that I am not taking this stance alone.

While there might still be plenty of people who disapprove of us, who hate us, who want to deny our rights to love who we love, and be who we are; that isn’t true of everyone. As I wrote this blog my news alert pinged with the news that Botswana has decriminalized gay sex. Taiwan legalised gay marriage last month, and in Poland were there are fears of its ruling Conservative government party rolling back LGBTQ* rights, Warsaw had its biggest Pride March yet with it’s mayor in attendance.

So if you are reading this and facing discrimination, please know you are not alone either. We are all here with you. That for me is what Pride month is all about, standing together, supporting each other and letting the world know we are not going anywhere. We matter. You matter. Whether you are out or not, whether you can attend Pride or not ; I am proud of you.

Round and round we go.

In other words Agile isn’t linear so stop making it look like it is.

Most people within the public sector who work in Digital transformation have seen the GDS version of the Alpha lifecycle:

Which aims to demonstrate that developing services starts with user needs, and that projects will move from Discovery to Live, with iterations at each stage of the lifecycle.

The problem with this image of Agile is that it still makes the development of Products and Services seem linear, which it very rarely is. Most Products and Services I know, certainly the big complex ones, will need several cracks at a Discovery. They move into Alpha and then back to Discovery. They may get to Beta, stop and then start again. The more we move to a Service Design mentality, and approach problems holistically, the more complex we realise they are, and this means developing Products and Services that meet user needs is very rarely as simple and straightforward as the GDS Lifecycle makes it appear.

And this is fine, one of the core principles of Agile is failing fast. Stopping things rather than carrying on regardless. We iterate our Products and Services because we realise there is more to learn. More to Discover.

The problem is, especially in organisations new to Agile and the GDS way of working, they see the above image, and its more linear portrayal seems familiar and understandable to them, because they are generally user to Waterfall projects which are linear. So when something doesn’t move from Alpha to Beta, when it needs to go back into Discovery they see that as a failure of the team, of the Project. Sometimes it is, but more not always, sometimes the team have done exactly what they were meant to do, they realised the problem identified at the start wasn’t the right problem to fix because they have tested assumptions and learned from their research. This is what we want them to do.

The second problem with the image put forward in the GDS lifecycle is that it doesn’t demonstrate how additional features are added. The principle of Agile is getting the smallest usable bit of your Product or Service out and being used by users as soon as you can, the minimum viable product (MVP), and this is right. But once you have your MVP live what then? The Service Manual talks about keeping iterating in Live, but if your Product or Service is large or complex, then your MVP might just be for one of your user groups, and now you need to develop the rest. So what do you do? Do you go back into Discovery for the next user segment (ideally, if you need to yes), but the GDS lifecycle doesn’t show that.

As such, again for those organisations new to Agile, they don’t’ factor that in to their business cases, it’s not within the expectations of the stakeholders, and this is where Projects end up with bloated scopes and get stuck forever in Discovery or Alpha because the Project is too big to deliver.

With Public Services being developed to the Digital Service Standards set by GDS, we need a version of the lifecycle that breaks that linear mindset and helps everyone understand that within an Ariel project you will go around and around the lifecycle and back and forwards several times before you are done.

Agile is not a sprint, a race, or a marathon, it’s a game of snakes and ladders. You can get off, go back to the start or go back a phase or two if you need to. You win when all your user needs are met, but as user needs can change over time, you have to keep your eye on the board, and you only really stop playing once you decommission your Product or Service!