We have a strong design community at HMRC’s Newcastle’s base, a great team.

When we talk about “making things that matter”, HMRC – like it or not – collects the money (it’s called “revenue” within HMRC, but I like to explain things like you’d want them explained to you) that is distributed around government (a point HMRC’s Chief Digital and Information Officer Mark Dearnley made at Thinking Digital back in 2014). As a design community we’re all up for doing our bit to make that happen, believers in the digital by default service standard.

Last week we invited colleagues from DWP to help us with a design crit of the tax credits service we are working on.

Tax credits has a fairly tight deadline for us to get the service available to the public. Deadlines are a great thing, a motivator to make sure we get something together. Sometimes that deadline means you work at a rate that is greater than 100% of your and your team’s capacity. Taking the time out to have a breather, to review the thing, and do that with other critical friends is a vital part of designing collaboratively. The tax credits service we are working on needs that friendly, understanding, and testing assistance, look from the side if you will. Our colleagues from DWP were open to helping us. My thanks to DWP’s head of design Ben Holliday for answering my request. We’ll be doing it more, and hopefully we can help our friends at DWP.

I am fortunate to be part of an intra-city government design community in Newcastle, with HMRC and DWP both working on digital transformation from the city.

And we are also fortunate to be a part of the wider government design community. Cross government learning and sharing is carried in a number of ways, from chat on the cross government email list, Slack, discussing design patterns on Hackpad, pooling our code on Github, and – of course – the digital by default service manual.

Before Christmas, I arranged an experience mapping exercise for one of our weekly community meeting at HMRC. Partly I was quietly pushing to get us thinking wider, thinking more about service design. The room was full of our designers, all hustling, bustling, doing stuff together with smiles on their faces, sharing their thinking and listening to what their colleagues though. Great stuff, and great to be a part of.

There’s also the cross government design meetings, which I love. They show me and remind me we are not alone in working on things that matter. The HMRC design community in Newcastle is a community within a wider community, an awesome design community across government. We should make sure we are part of that. Not just more a part of that, but we are a part of that.

Newcastle is far from the only city in the United Kingdom to have an intra-city design community from a number of government departments. The work in “digitalising” government isn’t just being done by GDS in London. It’s all over the country.

In the coming week designers from cross-government in Sheffield will be spending some time like we did in Newcastle, meeting each other and talk about problems they face and their solutions. Hopefully this will become a monthly occurrence in the steel city. And there could be more of this happening already around the UK. If it isn’t why not get on with it? Suggest and organise it on the cross government email list and Slack.

With the appetite and need for us to think about wider service design this meeting together and working together, sharing, and learning will be more valuable than ever.


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