I think this is the first that anyone’s said publicly about some really cool cool work we’re doing trying to answer the big question: what is MHCLG for, and how can we do it better.
So another week, let’s have another public weeknote. This is a brain dump and not an exhaustive pick over every single activity from the week. Some questions presented are rhetorical, have been dug into further but not going into that detail here or may actually be where does the thinking go next?. Expect a few things in italics or “air quotes” because things can get woolly, might not be defined — and italics and air quotes are useful mechanisms for dealing with people who pick over the meaning of every single word and whose only feedback draws upon pedantry.
If you didn’t catch last week’s note I am currently helping the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to map their services.
We — the team — are talking to more people next week, listening to what they say about their roles, trying to understand how wider information of the department’s service could help them and how they could contribute to help others who have those needs. Interviews always seems a strong way of describing the sessions, suggesting a formality, maybe even feedback at the end, a score. We’re having chats, but then that feels a little too informal. The team’s user researcher is a star and is really good at thinking through stuff — like how will we structure our limited time with people — and presenting that thinking really clearly, and not just in a “That’s done!” way. One massively good point (of a few) about the team is the willingness to share. I’ve yet to have a “ta da!” moment from the team yet, always sharing, involving, earlier than that. Our user researcher took us through the possibilities, some of the challenges and the team worked together to shape it.
Ahead of that the content designer and I have mainly been working through an in-browser prototype, a fake website. We have done one before a month back, but that was created more to help us have conversations with department staff. We more or less threw that away and have been starting again. (More on that in last week’s note.) We’ve split this into three chunks of work:
- The home page
- The indexes
- The service detail page
Not solutions we are clinging to but we’ve found a web based thing would be easily accessible and the commonly aware concept of a website is a useful way of rendering our intent on a number of levels.
We’ve also started calling this The Service List. It might not stick but at the mo we have a mega list of just over 60 things (we’re not worrying too much on calling them services, more in a mo on that), which we can create other lists from and attach other information and data to. Working primarily with the content designer we progressively did five versions of the detail page this week, with several reviews with the team as we went along and referring back to previous research sessions too. To help test the structure and the availability of the information needed, the content designer concentrated on crafting a Proper Example using a Real Service. Some nice work there to lean into a more “user” (never sure about the word but please don’t @ me about this) centred view of services. The lists and home page got the bulk of the attention later in the week. We’ve stripped them back, created a “launch pad” home page for the sake of researching, clear “if you click this you will see this next” links to see how useful (and useless) the drill downs are.
Some good chats the last fortnight about the information we store, last updated versus last reviewed for example. Also though: How useful are things like, say, maps of services? How long does the “as is” remain? How are they changing, why are they changing? Has the team looked into the possibilities of mapping a future better service? Do we need to delve in the movement from the “as is” to the now towards the “future state”? I guess that’s the fun of mapping all the services: you should get to see a rich portmanteau of approaches, and we need to be mindful there is no one way. We are always looking for Problem -> policy -> programmes / projects / services -> outcomes and how that loops back but it’s not that set. There’s a few wiggles in there — eg. services can have services nested within — and hey it’s fun. (A lot more to say on this for another time.)
Question for next week: How do we record intent or desired outcomes? How do we share these? Can we share these? Will people in those teams be happy to?
We have a decent idea of how we might categorise aspects of a service to store — emergent, sure — but need some solid time to rake through it properly. Feels we can do this now though. We have enough to look through and understand how it needs shaping to be useful and understood.
A thing worth highlighting: “Delivering a service”. MHCLG does a lot of the policy and a lot of the funding, but a number of other bodies do a lot of the “serving” bit of a service. If you line out from the problem through policy to the service is all of that delivering — or is just the the service delivering? If you have people in policy who want to enable better outcomes does ringfencing delivery to just the service bit seem… unfair?
This week available time where the team were all available together (there must be a German word for that. mannschaft zeitschaft?) was a little tighter than usual, few slots where the team could be together. There’s stuff you can do on your own. There’s stuff you can do in pairs. And there’s stuff you try to do with the whole team.
Nice to end the week with a session defining what good looks like, even if it was around service names. It’s not just about getting the work done; It’s about doing the work together so we all stretch our thinking and we can learn in some way. This means 1. We have an idea of how good a service name is because we’ve got shared understanding as a team; 2. Other teams providing info see what good looks like too because we’re recording some guidance (when we get to the point of drawing further info in). Yes, some of this stuff sits about which we’ve drawn on but also recognised some stuff that could be better. Not everything can be better though.
Tuesday was probably the first day all the little lockdown things got too much. I ended up banging my desk in frustration. I didn’t shout at anyone or anything like that. Most of the whys I don’t want to share, but there are some parts I am fine to, which might be useful to anyone reading:
- My new Mac not playing nicely with some software I use regularly and I assumed I could just roll on with. I worked it out, one aspect being the gov.uk prototype kit. I shared what I did to get it to work (because feedback loops should be two way between the product/service and user)
- My regular catch up with my physio (detailed more in another post wasn’t as progressive as I expected. I am having to go back on my exercising efforts, take things slower, do less for the time being.
- After the son being with me in my work shed a couple of weeks back, being physically alone in a 2 metres by 2 metres space for long days felt more caged than normal.
I managed to do some walking before work and at the end of the normal working day. I took the dog up towards the nearby school fields and surrounding tracks most days. I think she appreciated being somewhere with hardly any other dogs. I enjoyed the calmness whenever we went, even if several nights could have ended in a sudden slip onto my arse.
On Thursday we had a get together for “design people” in and around the department. The awkward first meeting, where people introduce themselves and we decide if these sort of meetings are useful by getting down some things that they could be useful for. Another is booked in for early March.
Reflecting back this is the most satisfying role I have had since my NHS Beta days.
Last weekend I posted a quick post on cycles of doing things.
A good read I think you might gain from too: What I learned in two years of moving government forms online