Bing Crosby is playing through some laptop speakers, there’s a stack of mince pie boxes on the secure document disposal and if you squint your eyes, there might just be snow in the air. In Chelmsford, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.
For its last show and tell of 2018, the Essex Service Design team took an appropriately celebratory - and retrospective - tone, casting a dewy eye back over the work we’ve done this year. Head of Profession, Service Design Vicki James kicked things off, outlining the context of our work, and why the council has committed to this way of working.
Then, a series of team members took the attendees through a tale of some of the highlights of this year. Gather round for a story of what we’ve been up to in 2018, the inaugural Essex Service Design team 12 Christmas Things:
Head Product Manager Helen West began...Back in the spring, the first big mission for the newly formed Service Design team was to deliver a vision for essex.gov.uk. We started to map and audit all the existing websites - 65 and counting… - and begin our technical and content discovery. It was a big task, but we broke it down and got started.
We had a mission, then we had to find people to deliver it. This meant forging some new roles and ways of working for ECC, based on what we were learning from the success of the Government Digital Service. We recruited:
- Content Designers
- Web Analysts
- User Researchers
- Delivery Managers
We were lucky to find some great experienced people who really hit the ground running. It was great to see how a self-managed, multidisciplinary team can pull together to get the job done.
Over the year we’ve set things in place to help make better use of data. Web analyst Chris Babajide talked about building a culture and capability of improving access to data and awareness of best practice, building relationships with, and training, other teams, and establishing KPI frameworks to be used across the council.
As well as the quantitative data generated through our sites and call centres, we’ve also used lots of qualitative information to help better shape our content. John Newton (Content Designer) talked about how the team used its first project, rewriting some of the Living Well content, to quickly establish our agile ways of working and a commitment to focussing on the user.
Lead Service Designer Nic Ward explained how we created this blog. Designed, built and deployed in just two weeks, the process itself became an exemplar tool to show the value of working in the open; and reusing of common components (the gov.uk blogging platform in this instance).
Essex County Council now has 2 teams regularly blogging, Insight and Service Design, with plans for more in 2019. The posts so far have had some great internal and external feedback, which is really encouraging.
We’ve also been using our tools and know how to help in flight projects review their work and make accessibility changes, in line with the latest best practice. Helen West described how the team have responded to new statute that require websites and apps AA compliant and the paper she took to the central leadership team to start a project to manage this. We’ve also made contact with the Disabled Employees Network and we’ll be asking them to help us test our new site.
At the heart of a successful user-focussed project is testing. The idea is you build it, test it with users, see what works and what doesn't, refine it and repeat. After learning how the pros do it, we’ve made our own test lab at County Hall that we’re now regularly using to run user testing sessions.
Thanks to learning from external experts, using some basic technology that we had to hand, and some well-coordinated room booking, we've now got a setup just like theirs, at a fraction of the cost. More importantly, by getting this in house, we’ve further narrowed the gap between developing things and testing them with users.
As well as having a mechanism for quickly getting your material in front of users and recording the observations we need a steady supply of people to test with. Working closely with Research and Citizen Insights colleagues, in the latter half of this year, we’ve built our own network of residents to engage in regular testing activity - started with 0, now up to 374 people.
Content designer Sheila Nicdao explained that this means we can set up and schedule testing quickly, get faster insights and get better uptake because everyone on the panel has agreed to help us. We’re still looking for more people, particularly more under 25s so do get in touch if you’d like to join it.
Ben Mann (User Researcher) talked about his experience this year on the Futures Academy, an immersive 12 week design-led experience facilitated by FutureGov, that exposed the group to the rhythms and rituals of agile teams and also gave them an opportunity to learn about different tools and techniques used in human-centred design. The next phase of the Futures Academy is planned for early 2019.
Another significant milestone, in July this year, was co-launching the Local Digital Declaration, a set of principles around reuse and collaboration that we are already modelling in a number of areas.
We’re following the principles of the local digital declaration: including working with Stockport on our website platform, using the GDS patterns and prototyping kit on our website prototype, building relationships across the Essex Online Partnership and working more closely with Tech Services colleagues both in delivery and at a more strategic level in terms of ‘fixing the plumbing’.
Ian Hutchison (FutureGov Snr Delivery Manager) gave an overview of two exciting service design projects which have kicked off this year, one focussed on helping get people home from hospital, another looking at how to better provide information, advice and guidance.
And finally, a big one to end on…Helen West talked about the exciting progress on the Essex.gov.uk project which has moved from alpha to beta, hitting the timescales we said we would, along the way to budget and to spec and establishing ways of working with Tech Services and other ECC teams (procurement, legal) in the process. We’re looking forward to continuing this in the new year!
Vicki James drew things to a close, thanking everyone for their engagement, encouragement and support, internally and externally. And congratulated Nic and Helen for their permanent appointments to the team. It’s been a great year for making progress with agile ways of working; learning and adapting through the delivery of projects; and building an open and collaborative culture that puts us in really good shape for next year. We’ve a lot to do in 2019 and we’re recruiting - come and join us!