Over 5 years on and with no end in sight – trying to avoid despondency

It’s been that long since I went through a mental health crisis that took out my ability to work full-time hours. About six months prior to that I left the civil service on the back of the first major round of austerity job cuts.

In that time, I’ve tried my hand at a whole host of things but never really found a niche until now – with all things in a project that I believe could last many years simply because of the stories hidden within and the amount of unpublished and hidden material there is out there. The only thing that will limit it as far as I am concerned is the ambition of the city and its institutions. The other limitation is me. I see myself as the weakest link in project for a whole host of reasons.

“Yer not a kid anymore!”

One of the bad things of having moved back to Cambridge from London (and also from Brighton prior to that) is being surrounded by childhood history that is hard to run away from. Over the past few months I’ve really begun to feel my age – in particular getting it into my mind that over 2 decades have passed since I did my GCSEs, even though for a long time it felt like almost yesterday. Ditto with A-levels & university until I came to terms with the idea of this world having social media and those worlds not. It’s something I remind myself regarding the time of history I’m studying with Cambridge’s civic history: I’m studying a time period when there was no internet, no TV and in most cases, no radio. Perhaps just as importantly, no vinyl records, tape cassettes nor CD players. The idea you could hide away in your room and listen to music is a very recent phenomenon.

The more important thing though is getting used to the idea that my body is physically not able to do the stuff I took for granted until 2012. And I’m not just talking about hangover recovery – which had already reached the stage of needing a whole weekend to recover from a Friday night session by my very late 20s. No, this is the basics of cycling into town. Despite having a cycle, I always take the bus, even though I’ve procrastinated about getting back onto two wheels. The inevitable problem of moving back in with family is that you cease to be in control of your living circumstances – it’s not your house. You can’t make the changes to it that you would do if it were your own place. But in a place like Cambridge, moving out to somewhere else isn’t easy for anyone. We have a ‘hidden homelessness’ problem here of people who would like to move out but cannot. The problem is we don’t really show up on the statistics so there’s little political incentive for politicians to deal with it.

The other paradox with all of this is that I don’t know if I could cope with living on my own in my current state – though it’s something I’m more-and-more ready to give another shot again. Staying where I am feels unsustainable emotionally more than anything else.

On letting dreams go

When I left the civil service I always had it in mind that I’d get back into dancing (ballroom etc) again. But by then the club that I was once part of in the last decade prior to moving to London, had shrunk from its peak in 2005. The buzz that was once there was no longer there. I too was getting older and felt it more and more. Today I can’t see myself going back into the main venue where they host lessons. Funnily enough, since doing historical research on the political history of the town, the hall turns out to be one of the most well-used venues for a number of locally significant political meetings – in particular on votes for women, and the growth of the Labour movement.

Instinctively though, my body still has this strange yearning to go dancing – and cycling…and to play football too. It’s like when you do a given activity over an extended period of time in your relative youth, it becomes second nature. Yet at the same time, because of the regular bouts of (mental) exhaustion I get, I have to consider getting to and from venues in a way which I never had to in times gone by. Turns out I’ve not been the only person thinking about this – a number of local public policy types have started linking public transport access to venues as part of the county’s future leisure strategies. For me it’s an obvious point – I’m dependent on buses.  But if you’re a rural councillor from an affluent background, driving is the normal thing to do.

A career as a lifestyle

I assumed that this is what London would be like – work hard, play hard and socialise with the people you worked with. It didn’t quite turn out like that. Ironically, the people in the civil service who I probably felt the most comfortable with during my time there were the group that would later form the Government Digital Service. It was around the time many of us were considering our futures and I thought to myself that this is the group of people who I wanted to work with on something exciting, dynamic and socially productive. Many of these people were Puffles’ earliest followers. But there were no sideways moves and I had already signed my career away. The civil service that ministers were mismanaging was not a place I wanted to be in – and was also a place I couldn’t see myself surviving in. I needed a break.

Needing a break, but not a breakdown

I’d heard the phrase about people ‘going into the city, working hard, playing hard and burning out when they got to 30’. I just didn’t think it’d happen to me. Well it did. It’s like when the media gives out the 1-in-4 stat about the number of people who’ll suffer from a mental health problem in their lifetime. I’m one of the ones-in-four.

How are you supposed to manage a mental health condition when the NHS structures imposed by Lansley and Hunt don’t even give you a named general practitioner anymore?

This is why I despise with a passion the current and former health secretaries – and the prime ministers that appointed them. It speaks volumes these days that the former Health Secretary now only seems to appear at private meetings when discussing public policy. It’s almost as if he knows how hated he is by the general public that he dare not show his face. (Check those interests). A reflection of just how toxic our politics has become.

The thing is the politicians have known about the lack of funding of mental health services for over a century. Again, the newspaper archive reports are strikingly blunt in how they report inquests and hearings from the coroner’s office. Essentially when someone has an ‘unnatural death’ the county coroner is involved. (See this guide). This includes people taking their own life. (Don’t worry – I’m not about to take mine, but let’s not pretend the thought hasn’t cross my mind ever since I was diagnosed back in 2000). Even then it was crystal clear that mental health should not be ignored in the drive to improve physical health and hygiene as people became more aware. That’s why I’m like “Shut the fuck up about what you’re going to do, come back when it’s done”.

Sick of ‘let’s talk about mental health’

No. I’m sick of it. I’m sick to fucking death of it. I want all of us to have access to decent comprehensive mental healthcare treatment that is ours of right but isn’t being delivered because of political choices being made by ministers. You’ve been in power for over seven years: own it.

…because if you talk too much about it, you lose friends…

I have a number of people in my mind where I look back and think what a difference it would have made if that comprehensive system of support had been in place. The various crises I’ve had were not for them to bear the burden of helping me through. That was for the NHS – it’s what our taxes paid for. In particular having known how to make best use of tranquilliser medication which, up until my breakdown was something I thought was only for very serious cases. It would have helped stabilise my moods at some really critical points. Part of me thinks “How the fuck did you make it so far in the face of all of that?”

That’s why these days I try to bottle most of it in and/or distract myself

Fortunately I’ve got something to keep me distracted for a very long time – and fingers crossed our funding applications that I and a few others have started working on will mean I become somewhat independent and have a group of people to work with. Augusts generally are grim for me because everyone goes away and everything stops. Also, when I’m at my most irritable I need to get out of the house and away from people – which is why archives are very useful in that regard. No one disturbs you in archives. Given the nature of what I’m researching, very few people will have found the sorts of things I’ve been pulling out – mainly things in long-forgotten newspaper columns from a century ago. It’s the stuff that unexpectedly makes you laugh or smile that’s the nicest. Such as ‘red tape gone mad’.

Liberal Socialist farming spoof - 13 Oct 1926

…through to one of the earliest photographs of people (in this case children at the old Milton Road Primary School) smiling for the camera

Milton Road School PLay

(Click on the image and expand – the top photo in particular).

Then you’ve got things that simply smash negative stereotypes – such as the myth that girls cannot throw.

Miss Olive Johnson County High School Sports 30 June 1920

That’s Miss Olive Johnson at the Cambridge County High School for Girls Sports Day – 30 June 1920. We now call that institution Long Road Sixth Form College. And that is a cricket ball Olive is about to hurl.

Managing other people’s expectations

Never an easy one to talk about in terms of family expectations because the whole thing is loaded with things from the past that were outside the control of many of us. So I won’t go there.

But the inertia of past expectations and the social culture of what ‘middle class Cambridge’ was until I left to go to university in the late 1990s is one I can only describe looking with hindsight as absolutely toxic. It surprises me even now that we allowed churches and religious institutions to have such a stranglehold on our lives. The one thing that really strikes me is the impact the internet has had. As a child up until the internet became mainstream, you took what you were given knowledge-wise and were told to pass exams. Do well and you get treats, do badly and all hell breaks loose. I took that to heart and as a result ended up stepping back from a whole host of things to put exams first, when actually doing those other things would have been of immense benefit. The mindset at the time was that you only studied languages if you wanted to be a translator and that you played a musical instrument so that if you could not find a job anywhere else, you could always become a music teacher. (I still remember being told this by more than one adult).

The problem was that when I got to university and moved from a world where I didn’t have the internet to one where I did, I found that the institutions who I had trustingly obeyed throughout my childhood at left me woefully underprepared for the real world. What I also didn’t realise was that university was about to do exactly the same thing in my economics degree, only this time I didn’t fall into line. Much of what I was taught in that degree was called into question by the banking crisis – hence organisations such as and got set up.

“So, when are you going to get married and have children then?”

One of the reasons why I tend to avoid family gatherings these days. That plus a few years ago I started getting panic attacks at them so now I simply don’t go.

In a strange way I always assumed that getting married and having kids is what was going to happen. I was told before I went to university that I’d meet a new stable group of friends and a future spouse – none of which happened. One of the biggest shortcomings of higher education policy for decades has been ignoring the housing/student accommodation element. The housing situation in Brighton plus my old uni’s policy towards it did so much damage not just to me, but to many other people I spoke to at the time in terms of their experience there.

Post-civil service I’ve made the judgement call that my health simply is not strong enough to be a parent – even if I did meet the perfect partner. It’s such an awesome responsibility to have for such an extended period of time that I would inevitably fall short. We all make rash decisions when we’re tired and under pressure. Given that a high state of mental exhaustion is my starting point – combined with not being able to work full time anyway to support anyone, let alone myself, I’ve written myself out of it. But I’m reconciled to that and am at ease with it.

You could say that narrows the field in terms of searching for a life partner, but then I’ve not really been looking ever since my breakdown on the grounds that I’m not in a fit state of health. That plus having had to move back into my childhood home and not being in full time employment – and not fully independent means I’m hardly going to be topping the criteria list, let’s put it that way!

But rather than going on ***Oh woe is me!*** on that front (I’ve spent most of the previous paragraphs doing that), I’ve unwittingly followed the example of one of my top historical heroes, Eglantyne Jebb, who (following heartbreak) found a cause that chimed with her and didn’t look back.

Eglantyne Jebb in Cambridge

Eglantyne Jebb: Author of Cambridge: A brief study in social questions. 1906. Photo in Feminism & Voluntary Action by L Mahood. Photo from around the time Eglantyne was active in Cambridge (1903-1913).

When I first read her book I had no idea who she was. All I knew was that in the first two chapters she had taught me more about the civic history of Cambridge up to the year 1900 than the rest of the city put together. It was only when I found out that she founded Save The Children that I wondered why the story of her work in Cambridge wasn’t known much more widely. Like me, Eglantyne suffered from mental health problems, was incredibly highly strung/intense as a persona, liked partner dancing – and also never married. Reading her biographies I can’t help but think she worked herself into an early grave dying in her early 50s but looking decades older in her final years.

The reason why I’m committing my next however many years of living to this project is that the life stories of the women who transformed Cambridge is one of the most inspiring that I’ve read about, yet so few know about it.

“Does that mean giving up politics?”

Hell…no. History and politics are joined at the hip. Brexit being an example of politics going badly wrong because collectively we’ve gotten our histories in a big mess. Interestingly I’m in a situation where I spend a lot of time researching the lives and actions of long-deceased heroic women while at the same time spending a similar amount of time scrutinising the actions of panels and committees that are unfortunately mainly if not entirely male. (Greater Cambridge City Deal Board, Cambridge & Peterborough Combined Authority Cabinets are all-male).







Original source – A dragon’s best friend

After nearly two years at dxw, the time has come for me to move on.

I have not been particularly good at writing blog posts for dxw. In fact, writing blog posts used to be a big part of a previous job, and then I only wrote about two per year. So when I was asked if I would write a goodbye blog post my response was instant: Can I stay?

Often we let years go past without really knowing what we spent them on, but the (almost) two years I spent at dxw have been packed full of interesting and rewarding challenges.

I’ve learned a lot, shipped a lot of code, and managed three different projects.

The most rewarding thing, however, has been the friendships that have developed over the years. And none is more exemplified by the Stonehenge coaster.

Last year, dxw moved from Zeus House to Hoxton Square. We took a lot of odd things that had accumulated in the old office, including a coaster, showing a commemorative watercolour of Stonehenge.

I didn’t really want this coaster, so I gave it to Tom Hipkin. Tom didn’t really want it either, so he put it in my coat pocket. I found it on the way home, and the game began.

This coaster has been going back and forth for about a year now. It has been sent through the post. It has been in bags, coats and jumpers. It has been stuck to the ceiling. Sewn into a chair. Its image has replaced avatars on one of dashboards.

Only last week did I discover there are actually two coasters. I’m not sure how I missed that. It opens up many new and exciting opportunities. Sadly, these are not opportunities for me to pursue. I have to take on the new challenge I have set myself and build my own business.

I’m really excited about the future and hope many of our paths will cross again.

Then again maybe there is room for just one more round with the Stonehenge coaster…

Original source – dxw

It’s my last day today at DWP Digital. I feel like I’ve given them my best possible work for 3 years. Work isn’t about winning. It’s about taking part and putting your true self into that work. The best option […]

Original source – Ben Holliday


We’re writing a whitepaper on income generation in comms teams. In a sneak peak at the results a surprise conclusion emerges.

By Dan Slee

There’s a famous saying I like to quote from an American statistician who rebuilt the Japanese economy post-1945 from rubble of war.

“Without data,” he once said, “You are nothing more than another person with an opinion.” 
It’s an unusually snappy line for a numbers man. It’s also a line that I’ve thought of more than once as I sift through the data from a major survey we’ve carried out with the nice folk at Granicus. The full results will be published in a whitepaper I’m writing with Darren Caveney. It will be published at Granicus’ annual event in September. The event is free. Myself and Darren are comparing. You really should come. You can register here.

A sneak peak at survey numbers

Here are three sets of data. Firstly, on budgets. More than 60 per cent of public sector comms teams have seen their budgets fall. A fifth stay the same and just 13 per cent have seen an increase. What’s the data saying? Times are hard for most people. 
There’s a pile of data on income targets. There is a pile of ideas we’ve gathered on where to generate revenue that we’ll include in the whitepaper. But less than 20 per cent of teams have income targets. Worryingly, feedback from those that have them isn’t great. They are difficult. They are time-consuming. Strikingly, teams don’t have the skills. As one survey respondent said: ‘How can a journalist turned press officer become a salesperson overnight?’ What does the data say? Income targets are hard. But they are not universal yet.

An idea emerges from the data: income targets as a force for good

If the data says income targets are not universal, there is time to shape things. Mulling over the data a clear idea emerged. The world has changed. We know that. We are being asked to chip-in financially to make a difference to the organisation we serve. Some people are great at bringing in money. It has been great to gather the case studies around this. But shouldn’t we as comms people be playing to our strengths?

Instead of trying to sell ads on your website to your local leisure centre wouldn’t we be better served using our time to do what we are good at? Good comms that would make a difference? So, does a campaign that maybe saves £20,000 of calls centre time have a role in this new world?

This doesn’t mean business as usual. What I’m starting to think is good evaluated comms that has a financial measurement must be part of the answer. So, the campaign to drive traffic to the website instead of the calls centre could and should be measured in pounds, shillings and pence. What’s the average length of a call you are encouraging people not to make? What’s the cost of that? How many went to the website instead? And – this is key – what is the saving in officer time and the value of that time. All this can and should be counted.

Suddenly, it starts to be clear that the dead-weight of income targets can work to comms advantage. People complain about not having a voice at the top table or being taken seriously as professionals. So, if finance support an approach of evaluating comms this could be a game changer. Yes, evaluation like this isn’t easy. But if you have the support of finance, maybe it becomes a little easier. 

Yes, but what do finance people think? 

Testing the water with finance people so far the feedback has been positive. Would finance listen to the comms team who offered an income target of evaluated comms? Surprisingly, they would. 
“We’d far rather people used their skills to make a difference,” one said, “than have to re-train or bring new people in with all the on-cost that entails.”

Our whitepaper will be published at Granicus’ Public Sector Communications Conference in London on September 26. You can register and attend for free by clicking through here. You’ll get a free copy of the finished whitepaper.

Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.

Picture credit: images money / flickr.

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and Warwick Business School (WBS) have launched an Executive Education Programme. We think it’s the first programme of its kind – a collaboration between an academic institution and BIT that combines a deep dive into the academic literature with a practical focus on solving real world problems.

The academic content of the programme will be led by Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at WBS. Nick will focus on uncovering many of the core insights from the behavioural science literature. Michael Sanders, BIT’s Chief Scientist, and Owain Service, BIT’s Managing Director, will then explore how these ideas can be applied to real world problems.

The programme is an intensive five days, during which participants will get the opportunity not just to learn from what others have done, but to apply this knowledge to a challenge they are set at the start of the week.

So if you’re an ambitious leader working in a government, charity or business, who wants to know how to apply behavioural science for good, register your interest now.

Original source – Behavioural Insights Team

A task for the creative communicator, which never goes away, is the ability to simplify – to take the complicated and explain it simply and in an interesting way.

by Rebecca Roberts

Yes, I like Albert Einstein quotes too. It’s a pertinent one though; when brands explain what they offer and try to impress, they often miss the mark by not getting it across simply enough.

So as marketers and communicators, how do we better balance the corporate needs with wider audience demands and preferences and simply get the right content to the right people?

As Harvard Professor Stephen Pinker, author of several must-read books on language, psychology and human nature, puts it;

“The main cause of incomprehensible prose is the difficulty of imagining what it’s like for someone else not to know something that you know”.

Too often then, content on websites, marketing material, press releases and social media, morphs into a communications beast that assumes everything and under explains, making it harder to understand.

This goes for all content too. Having worked with scientific, medical and academic material, the chants of ‘don’t dumb it down’ still ring loudly in my ears. What I love most about this quote attributed to Einstein is the final part;

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

It’s not about making a point any less complete, but if there are various ways of explaining something, the simpler one is usually better, the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation is (check out Occam’s razor if you want to get a little more academic on this!).

Back to Pinker who talks extensively about different writing styles and rules in A Sense of Style;

“The key to good style, far more than obeying any list of commandments, is to have a clear conception of the make-believe world in which you’re pretending to communicate.”

Essentially, whilst it’s natural to speak, it’s unnatural to write, so establishing a rapport with the reader is key. Classic style, according to Pinker, positions the “writer, in conversation with a reader, directs the reader’s gaze to something in the world….and it works particularly well because it makes the unnatural act of writing seem like two of our most natural acts: talking and seeing.”

But as well as being able to get things across in a simple and effective way, this also needs to fit within the parameters of a message architecture. A small set of words – terms, phrases, or statements – arranged hierarchically to convey an organisation’s messaging priorities, its communication goals. It can help all teams or departments deliver consistent messages in all types of content.

“It’s called an architecture because it acts as “scaffolding for your content, supporting and shaping the content you actually produce,” says Erin Kissane in her book, The Elements of Content Strategy.

And to be clear, when marketers say ‘messaging’ they’re not being prescriptive over the content creation, but giving a framework for the type of impression they want customers to take away from the content. The content marketing institute adds;

“While a message architecture should align with the corporate vision, mission, and brand values, it’s not the same as any of those things. It has three distinguishing qualities (as noted in Margot Bloomstein’s book, Content Strategy at Work):

– It conveys level of priority

– It’s actionable (in that it directly informs content decisions)

– It’s specific to communication”

Here are a few templates you might find useful:

· Download comms2point0’s essential comms planning guide

·  from Neo is a great template for mapping out a behavioural change campaign, based on some fascinating work from the Art of Hosting

· Also this article from the Content Marketing Institute on Message Architecture

And before we cower at the obvious point that this blog post may not have got things across as simply as it could have – the art of getting from A-B is always a work in progress!

Rebecca Roberts is Founder, Thread & Fable and on Twitter is @rebecca7roberts

image via Orange County Archives

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

We’ve consolidated the templates used by short text content types on GOV.UK.

We’ve blogged before about the difference between templates and content types. Templates are used to display content on GOV.UK. Content types (also known as formats) allow publishers to enter different kinds of information into GOV.UK publishing applications, depending on the kind of content.

We’ve been working to reduce the number of templates used on GOV.UK to make it easier for our developers and designers to make changes and improvements. It will also create a more consistent experience for our users. Here’s an update of the work we’ve done.

The template consolidation team at work

Simplifying our frontend architecture

We first grouped content types by similarity in design across GOV.UK. This helped us compare the templates and find the similarities and differences, allowing us to consolidate them down into fewer templates.

Our short text templates display 79 content types that usually have small to moderate amounts of content with navigation. These templates are currently used on pages that get about 50% of pageviews on GOV.UK.

Consolidating the short text templates in our architecture has retired 3 frontend applications and reduced our dependency on another. We did this by creating 2 short text templates. The first is a generic short text template which is used by content types such as detailed guides, document collections and contact pages. The second is a multi page template, for content types like guides and travel advice.

This means 79 content types now render from one frontend application and use the same design patterns in our 2 templates. This makes it simpler and faster for product teams to iterate on GOV.UK.

Consistent user experience

As we were bringing different templates together, we needed to consider the variations in their designs.

We updated the content list so that it only shows one or two levels depending on the type of content – as opposed to 3. We made this decision based on a review of how users had been interacting with content lists over time.

We noted that mobile navigation across short text templates varied. Around 40% of our users use small screens so this was an important consideration. Content lists were displayed differently on mobiles and in some cases were hidden in an accordion structure. After testing with users, we introduced a consistent uncollapsed view of the content list and introduced a back to top button on all short text content types. By doing this, we helped to introduce consistent navigation on mobiles.

We’ve also updated the metadata block which displays information about the content such as the organisation that published it and the date it was published. We’ve increased the font size and collapsed lists that are longer than 5 items. We did this because our device lab testing showed that the text was too small for user on mobiles, and the metadata block can get very long.

This work has delivered a consistent user experience on mobile and made it more accessible for all.

Making the GOV.UK platform sustainable to work on

We’re excited by this year’s roadmap. The short text templates will be getting further improvements from other teams. Our work has allowed us to iterate faster in one application and make consistent design changes, so that all users can benefit.

Humin is an associate product manager on GOV.UK. You can follow him on Twitter.

Original source – Inside GOV.UK

Digital Marketplace team members in front of a board with post-it notes

The UK is part of the Working Party of Digital Government Officials, known as E-Leaders. It is a forum within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The forum enables governments to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems.

Since October last year, I’ve been leading one of the ‘E-Leaders’ thematic groups. The focus of the group was ‘ICT procurement reform’.

My colleague Chad Bond, Deputy Director, Standards Assurance, supported me. Contributions also came from our counterparts in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Chile.

There are many practical challenges facing the public sector procurement and contracting. As it moves away from the traditional approach, we want to find solutions.

Why procurement?

We want to realise the vision for a digital government, a Brilliant Civil Service, and to create a vibrant, diverse economy of digital and technology suppliers.

In order for this to happen, we need a step change in public procurement and contracting.

We want to remove as much friction as we can from the procurement and contracting process.

This will attract the right suppliers. By ‘right suppliers’ I mean people who work in the right ways, with the right products, services and skills. It means we will deliver successful public sector programmes and projects together.

The procurement reform playbook

My thematic group is drafting a playbook for digital and technology procurement reform. It will help public sector organisations to reform their approach, and it will be open source.

We are interested in:

  • opening up data throughout the procurement and contracting lifecycle
  • encouraging more modular and agile approaches to contracting
  • procurement transparency to help tackle corruption and improve value for money
  • stimulating and accessing a more diverse digital and technology supply base
  • encouraging more flexible, digital, agile and transparent interactions focused on joint delivery
  • sharing and reusing platforms and components, and better practices for delivering successful programmes

Practical action: how you can take part

We are running an event in partnership with Crown Commercial Service (CCS), Digital Catapult. It will take place on 11 September.

The event will incorporate some short presentations, followed by hack-style sessions. There’s no pre-set agenda; attendees will shape the day.

Similar events are being organised by the other governments contributing to the thematic group. They will take place in their countries around the same date.

We’ll talk about our findings to develop the procurement reform playbook.

These types of events have been running in government for some time now. The One Team Government movement held a recent event.  One of its founders, Kit Collingwood-Richardson talks about it in this blog post:

Although talking is vital, we will be defined more by the things we do than the things we say. We will create change by taking small, measured steps every day…We will create chances for passionate reformers to get together, create ideas and take action.

Our event takes the same approach. We will bring together a broad cross-section of the Civil Service, and its digital and technology suppliers.

We want to have an open discussion about making  procurement and contracting more effective for a digital government. We want to talk to:

  • digital, data and technology policy makers and delivery teams
  • procurement and commercial policy makers and practitioners
  • micro, small, medium and large providers of digital and technology services

We want to hear from you. We want to know what’s most important to you and the things that aren’t working so well. We want to identify how to remove friction from the end-to-end buying and selling process.

Sign up now to attend ‘Open procurement for a digital government’.

Original source – Government Digital Service

So what have babies and employee engagement got in common? One comms manager claims to have no idea, but she’s going to find out…

by Natalie Corney

In a short while, I’ll be taking a temporary break from my career as my husband and I get ready for the arrival of our first child.

You might have thought that after nearly four years of fertility treatment, including a number of failures, I’d be bouncing up and down with the excitement of it all.

But, whilst I am obviously happy, leaving my career and something I’m so passionate about is going to be really hard. Through all the fertility treatment (and for those of you lucky not to have had to experience it, I can tell you it’s very unpleasant and emotionally draining) my career has always been there. My passion for making a difference through good communications has driven me to keep going and one of the biggest parts of that is employee engagement.

No matter what happens in my private life, there are always people in my workplace who want things to improve, who long for better communication, who need to feel respected, enthused and valued for what they do, myself included. It’s been a privilege to help to improve those areas and hopefully make people’s lives just that little bit better, because aside from the office, you never really know what other struggles people are facing.

Employee engagement is a tough gig. Working to change the culture of an organisation is no easy task. After all, you’re looking at about seven years to start seeing a real difference, and whilst you can measure some outputs and outcomes along the way, it really is a long-term game.

Simply just shoving out some comms via your channels is not going to achieve that. Messaging has to be thought through, and everything should align with your organisation’s vision and values. It needs to be timely (I’ll say that again, it needs to be timely) and it needs to engage – whether that’s because it’s fun, quirky or emotive. If it doesn’t spark interest then quite frankly it’s a waste of everyone’s time and just a tick box exercise to say you’ve communicated it.

Just for the record, communicating something– though I’m probably preaching to the converted if you are reading this – does NOT mean it’s been understood and it is not ‘engagement’.

Since joining my current organisation, my team and I have worked immensely hard to try and do this. We don’t always get it right, not everything works, but we are not just sitting back and doing the same thing day after day and expecting a different outcome.

I’m desperately going to miss my role, even if it is for a short time. I guess if I think about it for more than a nanosecond, it does have some similarities with expectations for my new family life…

It’s going to be hard work, and just because I might say something doesn’t mean it will have been understood. If I don’t find a way of engaging with this small creature that is about to arrive then I’ll never have any success. So, it’s my job to find a way that they want to engage with me – and that isn’t by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

Equally, I’ll have to engage with other types of leaders to share good practice, agree suitable approaches and maybe even learn from each other – I’m mainly talking about my husband here – well he likes to think he’s a leader anyway J

There will be lots of failures, but hopefully lots of success too and after all, behaviour change is a long term game, and whilst it can take around seven years to see the fruits of that, I’ll be honest and say I hope I can master some kind of sleep routine long before then!

Natalie Corney is corporate communications manager at Brent Council

image via Toronto History

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

Craig Abbott, Interaction Designer

Craig Abbott, interaction designer

I’m Craig Abbott, an interaction designer based at DWP Digital’s Newcastle hub. Since joining DWP in 2015, I’ve heard people mention how hard it is to book a meeting room. Something that should be so simple is often a series of frustrating workarounds.

First, we used a Confluence calendar. This was difficult to understand at a glance, and because of this rooms would often end up double-booked. This led to awkward interruptions and wasted time for teams.

After the Confluence calendar, we moved to an off-the-shelf solution that looked promising. However, we quickly realised this excluded many people; not everybody was trained to use it and not everybody is connected to the same network.

This solution also depended on Microsoft Outlook, something MacBook users don’t always have access to. This led to some people moving away from using it and the rooms effectively becoming a free-for-all. It also led to an influx of people from other teams or different buildings using the rooms.

The next solution was a spreadsheet in a shared drive. This reduced double bookings but brought its own problems. The shared drive again isolated people on different networks. And if somebody forgot to close the spreadsheet it would get stuck in read-only mode, locking everyone else out.

Complex Excel macros were then introduced to try to detect when the spreadsheet had been left open and then close it down automatically.

All very complicated. So we began to think about building something better.

Time for a hack day

 A core team of designers, developers, delivery managers and business analysts got together, joined throughout the day by other people dropping in and out. The event brought the whole hub together and really helped us tackle the problem in an agile way. We discovered the user needs so we could build a proper backlog of things to do.

We found that users need to:

  • be able to book a room on whatever device they use
  • book a room so that their meeting can be held somewhere appropriate
  • get confirmation that they have booked a room so that they have evidence if there is any contention
  • know what AV equipment is in the room so that they can book the right room for their meeting

We also found that the hub management team need to make sure that people who work in the building have priority when it comes to booking rooms. People who work outside DWP are welcome to use the service to book rooms in Newcastle, via the hub management team.

Once we had the user stories we started to prototype some ideas. By the end of the hack day we had something that we thought would work. We presented this back to the hub as a show-and-tell, gathered feedback and then turned the prototype into a web application. Just a couple of days later it was handed over to the hub management team so that people could start using it.

A screen showing the 'Book a Room' service

The ‘Book a Room’ service

Up and running

Our custom-made booking system is now being used here in Newcastle, and we are collecting feedback to help refine the backlog. Based on this insight we have already published one iteration since going live. Now we’re working on the next feature and have been collaborating with the analytics team to try and build up a better understanding of how people are using the application.

Digital screen showing if the room is available

A door display shows if the room is available

We are also trialling a door display to let people see the availability of rooms in real time. This was built as a separate web application and installed onto a Raspberry Pi.

Since the new system went live, we’ve definitely noticed fewer people sheepishly backing out of rooms after walking into the wrong meeting.

All of the code is open source. It’s hosted on GitHub, so hopefully more people will be able to contribute and meet even more user needs. If you’re interested in the technology and code behind the system, there will be a follow-up post covering the application in more depth.

In the meantime, you can see what we’ve been doing with the booking system, the supporting application programme interface (API) and the Raspberry Pi display on GitHub.

Original source – DWP Digital