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Tag: Service Design

The Day Data went Viral

This week the UK Government and Parliament petitions website has been getting a lot of attention, both good and not so good. This site has been a great example of how the Digital Service Standards work to ensure what we deliver in the public sector meets user needs.

On the 20th of February a petition was created on the petitions website to Revoke Article 50 and remain within the EU, on the 21st of March the petition went viral, and as of writing this blog has currently got 5,536,580 5,608,428 5,714,965 signatures. This is the biggest petition to have ever been started since the sites launch. Not only that, it is now the most supported petition in the world, ever.

Screenshot of the petitions website

The first version of the site was developed in 2010 after the election. Originally intended to replace the Number 10 petition site, which had a subtly different purpose. The new version of the Parliamentary petitions site was then launched in 2015, as an easy way for users to make sure their concerns were heard by the government and parliament. The original version of the service was developed by Pete Herlihy and Mark O’Neill back in the very early days of Digital Government, before the Digital Service Standard was born.

The site was built using open source code, meaning anyone can access the source code used to build the site, making it is easy to interrogate the data. With a number of sites, like unboxed, developing tools to help map signatories of petitions etc based off the data available.

Screenshot of the unboxed website

Within the Governments Digital Design standards using open source code has always been one of the standards some departments have really struggled with, it’s digital standard number 8, and is often a bit contentious. But looking at the accusations being lobbied at the Revoke Article 50 petition, that people outside of the UK are unfairly signing the petition, that people are creating fake emails to sign the petition etc, it shows why open source data is so important. While the petitions committee won’t comment in detail about the security measures they use; examining the code you can see the validation the designers built into the site to try and ensure it was being used seurely and fairly.

britorbot data analysis

Speaking of security measures, that’s digital service standard number 7, making sure the service has the right security levels, the petitions site apparently uses both automated and manual techniques to spot bots; disposable email addresses and other fraudulent activities. This works with digital standard number 15, using tools for analysis that collect performance data; to monitor signing patterns etc. Analysing the data, 96% of signatories have been within the UK (what the committee would expect from a petition like this).

tweet from the Petitions Committee from 22nd March

Another key service standard is building a service that can be iterated and improved on a frequent basis (digital standard number 5), which mean that when the petition went viral, the team were able to spot that the site wasn’t coping with the frankly huge amount of traffic headed it’s way and quickly doubled the capacity of the service within a handful of hours.

tweet from Pete Herlihy (product manager – petitions website)

This also calls out the importance of testing your service end to end (standard number 10) and ensuring its scalable; and if and when it goes down (as the petitions website did a number of times given the large amount of traffic that hit it, you need to have a plan for what to do when it goes down (standard number 11), which for the poor Petitions team meant some very polite apologetic messages being shared over social media while the team worked hard and fast to get the service back online.

tweet from the Petitions Committee from 21st March

The staggering volume of traffic to the site, and the meteoric speed in which the petition went vial, shows that at its heart, the team who developed the service had followed Digital Service Standard number 1. Understand your user’s needs.

In today’s culture of social media, people have high expectations of services and departments with there interactions online, we live in a time of near instant news, entertainment and information- and an expectation of having the world available at our fingertips with a click of a button. People want and need to feel that their voice is being heard, and the petitions website tapped into that need, delivering it effectively under conditions that are unprecedented.

Interestingly when the site was first developed, Mark himself admitted they didn’t know if anyone would use it. There was a lot of concern from people that 100,000 signatures was too high a figure to trigger a debate; but within the first 100 days six petitions had already reached the threshold and become eligible for a debate in the Commons. Pete wrote a great blog back in 2011 summing up what those first 100 days looked like.

It’s an example of great form design, and following digital service standard number 12, it is simple and intuitive to use. This has not been recognised or celebrated enough over the last few days, both the hard work of the team who developed the service and those maintaining and iterating it today. In my opinion this service has proven over the last few days that it is a success, and that the principles behind the Digital Service Standards that provided the design foundations for the site are still relevant and adding value today.

tweet from Mark O’Neill (part of the original team)

Speak Agile To Me:

I have blogged about some of these elsewhere, but a quick glossary of terms that you might hear when talking Agile or Digital Transformation.

Agile: A change methodology, focusing on delivering value as early as possible, iterating and testing regularly.

Waterfall: A Change methodology, focusing on a linear lifecycle delivering a project based on requirements gathered upfront.

Scrum: A type of Agile, based on daily communication and the flexible iteration of plans that are carried out in short timeboxes of work.

Kanban: A type of Agile, based on limiting throughput and the amount of work in progress.

The Agile Lifecycle: Similar to other change methodology lifecycles, the agile lifecycle is the stages a project has to go through. Unlike other lifecycles, agile is not a linear process, and products or services may go around the agile lifecycle several times before they are decommissioned.

Discovery: The first stage of the agile lifecycle, all about understanding who your users are; what they need and the problem you are trying to fix. Developing assumptions and hypothesis. Identifying a MVP that you think will fix the problem you have identified. Prioritising your user needs and
turning them into epic user stories.Akin to the requirements gathering stage in Waterfall.

Alpha: The design and development stage. Building prototypes of your service and testing it with your users. Breaking user needs and Epics into user stories and prioritising them. Identifying risks and issues understanding the architecture and infrastructure you will need prior to build. Akin to the design and implementation stage in Waterfall.

Beta: The build and test stage. Building a working version of your service. Ensuring your service is accessible, secure and scalable. Improving the service based on user feedback, measuring the impact of your service or product on the problem you were trying to fix. Can feature Private and Public Beta. Akin to the Testing and development stage in Waterfall.

Private Beta: Testing with a restricted number of users. A limited test. Users can be invited to user the service or limited by geographical region etc.

Public Beta: A product still in test phase but open to a wider audience, users are no longer invited in, but should be aware they product is still in test phase.

Live: Once you know your service meets all the user needs identified within your MVP, you are sure it is accessible, secure and scalable, and you have a clear plan to keep iterating and supporting it then you can go live. Akin to the Maintenance stage in Waterfall.

MVP: The Minimum Viable Product, the smallest releasable product with just enough features to meet user needs, and to provide feedback for future product development.

User Needs: The things your users need, evidenced by user research and testing. Akin to business requirements in Waterfall and other methodologies.

GDS: Government Digital Services, part of the Cabinet Office, leading digital transformation for Government, setting the Digital Service Standard that all Government Departments must meet when developing digital products and services.

The Digital Service Standards: https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/service-standard 18 standards all government digital services should meet when developing products and services.

Service Design: Looking at your Product or Service holistically, keeping it user focused while ensuring it aligns with your organisation strategy.

User Centric Design (UCD): The principles of user centric design are very simple, that you keep the users (both internal and external) at the heart of everything you do. This means involving users in the design process, rather than using ‘proxy’ users (people acting like users), you involve actual users throughout the design and development process. Recognising different users (and user groups) have different needs and that the best way to design services that meet those needs is to keep engaging with the users.

Why it’s ok to recognise that not everyone is the same.

At our LGBT* AGM a few weeks ago there were some really good conversations about what we could do to keep growing our network and supporting both the LGBT* members of our organisation, and ensuring as an organisation we are recognising what good looks like in terms of care for LGBT* people, and how we can best collaborate with other networks to support each other.

One thing that came up, that I’ve heard a few times before, is that, when talking to people outside of the network, the answer “I treat everyone the same” is thought to be a good answer when we ask care providers about the services they offer people.

Is that good enough? Are everyone’s needs the same? How do we work with service providers to explain why treating everyone as if they are the same isn’t necessarily the right thing to do. Do we understand why it isn’t?

Kylie Havelock does a great session on Equality vs. Equity that really helped me understand the issues we face when we strive to ‘treat everyone the same’.

The fundamental issue is that when we talk about treating everyone the same, we are often taking about treating everyone like what looks good to us. So, by deciding what good looks like for everyone else, we’re often approaching the problem from the point of view of our own privilege and what we think everyone needs based on our own assumptions and life experiences.

The intent is good, but the delivery is flawed. If we don’t take the effort to understand where someone else is starting from, and what they need, then we can never ensure we are treating them in the way that will most benefit them.

If you search online there’s a few pictures out there that help sum up the difference between Equality and Equity. To put it simply, Equality is where we treat everyone the same. Which assumes the same thing will benefit everyone in the same way. Equity is treating people fairly, looking at what they need to ensure they have access the same opportunities.

The photo below is fairly famous now, or at least the one you have probably seen the most if you’ve been following the conversation about Equality and Equity.

By treating everyone the same we ignore that the individuals in the picture are all different heights, so giving each a box to look over the fence isn’t actually very useful. The tallest person can already see fine and doesn’t need help. The middle person can now see with the aid of the box, but the smallest person still can’t see.

By treating them fairly we give each the help they need. So, we don’t give a box to the tallest individual, as they don’t need it. We give the middle individual one box, so they can see, but we then give the smallest individual two boxes, as they had the most height to make up, and they can also now see over the fence. Which is great.

Interestingly the above picture has its own issues, simply because it suggests that some people just need more of the same help than others, rather than the fact that for some people you need to think of a different approach to your solution.

To put it simply, not everyone can stand on a box, and ignoring that fact means we can spend a fortune investing in boxes to ensure everyone can see over that fence, but in reality we are still not recognising what people might need to ensure equal access. So yes, some people might not need a box at all; some might need one box; some might need two, but others might need a ramp, or if they are visually impaired they might need someone to describe what’s happening on the other side of the fence.

(Credit to: http://muslimgirl.com/46703/heres-care-equity-equality/ )

In a business setting, talking about fairness vs. sameness can be beneficial, especially where people have recognised there is a problem. But sometimes you need to go a step further and help people understand why what works for them isn’t what works for everyone, and that can be a little bit tougher, as that can take a conversation about understanding their own privilege.

In my experience, privilege seems to have become a dirty work, as soon as you try to talk to some people about it, they immediately become defensive, because they assumption is made that you are accusing them of intolerance of some kind.

But the truth is we all have some level of bias based on our own upbringing and experiences. Within the civil service and the public sector we have training to help us deal with unconscious bias, but I think we could go one step further with that training and get everyone to understand their own privilege, and where they are starting from in communications or day to day life in comparison to others.

In some areas we will have more privilege, in others we may have less. Understanding that helps us to understand where others are coming from and can then help us to treat people more fairly, rather than simply treating everyone the same.

If you’ve never examined your privilege there are some interesting tests out there, whatever score you get, the questions alone might help you consider things you’ve never considered as privilege before (be that your race, your ability to afford prescriptions or whether you’ve ever had to hide any elements of your identity.) While there are probably better ones out there, this one on buzzfeed is quite simple and easy to understand for a start.

I got 53%, which if I’m honest surprised me a little, I’d assumed I would get a slightly higher score. But the important thing for me is recognised those areas where I did score a point, and reflecting on those when I’m dealing with others to ensure I am being fair to them and not just treating them how I would expect to be treated because of my own privileges.

For those of us in diversity equality groups, when talking to others we need to check our own privilege, find common ground to start a conversation from, and recognise that as children we’re are often told to “be fair and treat everyone equally” now we just have to be able to help people recognise that Fairness and Equality are not the same thing, and it is important that we can all recognise that.

And when designing or delivering public services, it’s always worth us understanding our privilege, and why we need to ensure the services we delivery are fair and give equal opportunities to all those that may need them.

Originally posted on Medium

Making a change or making progress.

At a leadership conference recently there was an interesting debate about whether people perceived making a change or making progress to be more important.

Everyone on my table voted for making a change, my vote initially was for making progress, and so we debated what the difference was.

For me, change can be positive or negative. A negative change isn’t necessarily bad, you can learn from it, but it won’t necessarily move you in the right direction. If you don’t know what outcome you’re looking to acheive or how you will measure whether the change has had the effect you want, how do you know if the you have delivered value or not. There is little value in making changes just for the sake of it.

Progress to me means you are moving in the right direction, towards the outcomes you are looking to acheive. It can be slow, or achieved in small increments, but it is always valuable.

But both good changes and delivering progress both depend on you knowing the outcomes you are looking to achieve, and in my experience that is where organisations tend to struggle most.

They can say what they think the problems are, recognise that things are right, and be willing to make changes to help themselves make progress, but a lot of the time the changes are superficial, offering what are thought to be quick solutions to what are actually much deeper problems, and so the progress is slow and painful.

To transform an organisation and the services it delivers requires a massive change in how the organisation is structured, and more importantly how it thinks.

In my experience this change often starts within Digital, because the organisation views its technology or digital teams as not delivering. And yet the teams can not deliver because the organisation can not express the outcomes it is seeking to achieve or understand the wider problems it is seeking to fix.

This is why user research and business analysis are so important. Why we run Discoveries and encourage service design approaches that span the organisation as a whole, rather than remain within the silos the organisation has structured itself into.

These conversations can be uncomfortable, they challenge hierarchies, organisational structures and traditional assumptions, but they are there to help. Service Design and Product Management is about fostering and supporting those people able to lead those critical conversations, creating the environment we need to deliver outcomes for users and value for organisations.

Being transparent about what the real problems are, and open to new ideas and approaches at an organisational level is key if we want to change and adapt in order to make progress.

When looking to make changes its important to consider the environment we are working within. No conversation is best done via board papers or email, it is best done in the room face to face.

If we can’t move to a culture that values the time and commitment it takes to have those conversations then we must acknowledge that any progress we make will be slow and painful and not deliver any real value or acheive the outcomes we were looking for.

But for all that, recognising that change is needed is the best first step. Stepping up and admitting there is a problem that needs fixing in order to allow you to make any progress against the outcomes you want to acheive is not always easy, but it is important and something we should talk about more.

Needing to change doesn’t mean you have failed or not made progress or delivered no value. It just means you have learnt from what you have done, and recognise there is still more to do and we should celebrate that and talk about it more positively.

Originally posted on Medium