Last week, we headed off to a campsite in Dorset for the very first CommsUnplugged event, keeping our fingers crossed that the rain would hold off for at least most of the day, and luckily we weren’t disappointed.

After a great keynote opener by Giles Henschel from Olives et al and other workshops and panels (you can read more about them here), we kicked off our anti-pattern workshop: ‘Building a collaborative relationship with your suppliers.”

First things first, what is an anti-pattern workshop?

Commonly used in coding terminology, an ‘anti-pattern’ strategy is to look at a topic and realise what the WORST ways of dealing with it could be.

So we set about asking our workshop participants what were the worst things they could do to their relationships with suppliers. After a few minutes of frenetic Post-it activity, we shared a few of the (many) ideas about how to destroy a client-supplier relationship – the worst possibly being ‘never speak to them.’

As there were so many suggestions, ranging from never answering phone calls to not providing a brief, we categorised these into four themes – engagement, project briefs, payment and procurement.

We thought we’d dig a little deeper into the two themes which got the most feedback – briefs and engagement.


Participants told us what they would do to make project briefs terrible for suppliers such as: lie in them, change them each week and be intentionally vague to create confusion.

Everyone took turns to discuss what could be done to improve those things, and we were able to share our experiences of how we deal with briefs at dxw.


For instance, we start every piece of client work with an inception roadmapping session, where we have the right people in the room together (the right people in this instance being stakeholders and people whose lives will be affected by the project we’re doing), in order to understand the context for the work and people’s angles on it and what their expectations are.

In this phase, we have a set of questions we ask which allow us to consider different possible angles and outcomes, such as ‘what might we need to learn or prove?’ People working on any project will often have assumptions about what the solution will be, but only by asking them what their desired outcome is will we know if it’s been successful. These inception sessions also allow us to understand the business context  – who will be using the service and what their needs are.

A roadmapping workshop is an open and honest discussion and works well to get the different stakeholders on the same page and to expose any contradictory views (and resolve any issues arising from them).


The issues surrounding engagement struck a chord with everyone in the workshop, as they all had lots of experience where engagement had broken down. There were lots of great ideas for destroying communication channels between a supplier and a client.

Some of these were:  don’t answer the phone, don’t have a specific person that the supplier can talk to in order to help orientate them in the business, don’t communicate progress regularly, and set unachievable goals and deadlines.

There were plenty of ideas for turning around bad engagement practices that our groups had had some experience of – for example, regular and scheduled meetings.

At this stage, we were able to share the ways in which we like to work with our clients at dxw. For example, creating a single project team and co-locating with the client (either in their offices or with the client working in our Hoxton Square office).

We also like to have a named, responsible, empowered product owner at the client’s organisation who is our main point of contact, and who can help us get to the people we need to talk to.

We communicate progress regularly in a couple of ways: working in the open, using Trello boards with the client, show and tells for the wider stakeholder group, and week notes every Friday to make visible what we’re working on and to ensure we’re flagging up anything we’re worried about.

Although we may be saying similar things in these updates and weekly notes, having a variety of regular communications allows people to engage with us in the way that they prefer. Not everyone can make every ‘show and tell’, but they can read updates. If they need a lower level of detail (or want to take a look at work in progress), then Trello is open to them. We also adapt these to suit individual clients, and our sprint/project retrospectives are an important way in which we can relay any changes back to the client.

One great example of collaborating with a client was our project with The Department of Health.

We began with an inception workshop to identify the needs of over 2200 staff. We needed to bring about wider organisational change to deliver the intranet, so we worked closely with DH to transfer the skills and capabilities needed to run an agile product team. After working with us, their internal comms team is now running sprints without their digital team. They used it as a model for capability building – a great testament to collaboration ‘done right’


An anti-pattern workshop is a fun way of starting a discussion about any topic that might be contentious. By looking at the worst ways of tackling a problem, it’s sometimes easier to see the exact opposite and find simple solutions for how to engage with a client or supplier successfully.

It was great to see so many people sharing experiences of good, solid ways of working that they know are effective.

If you’d like to learn more about the way we work or attend one of our workshops (such as the upcoming roadmapping workshop in November), you can sign up to our Newsletter here.

Thanks to the CommsUnplugged team for organising such a great event! (and for keeping the rain at bay until the very final hour :)). See you in 2018.


Original source – dxw

Mapping service design and policy design

I am often asked by designers for specific examples where design approaches have been used in the creation of policy. From a design perspective, the ‘concreteness’ of physical artefacts is much easier to describe, whereas both service design and policy design retain enigmatic qualities. We have often said that Policy Lab is easier to experience than explain. There is something about policy that is hard to pin down, both because it is very context specific and because it is largely intangible. This is not only the case with policy, but also echoed in the debates around ‘what is service design?’ that have accompanied this week’s service design fringe festival.  

Service design and policy design

The Policy Lab uses innovative approaches including design, digital and data science techniques to develop policy. As a result we have an array of examples from digital policing to mediation and divorce. Yet when asked about these examples they often raise further questions, for example about the difference between service design and policy design. Paul Maltby’s excellent series of blogs unpacking policy for digital professionals are a must read if you are interested in the intersection of design, digital and policy. Paul notes ‘policy is a word used to describe the government’s approach to a particular issue’. The Policy Lab provides real examples, through our practical projects, to demonstrate what this means in practice. Having delivered many projects now across different departments, it is not surprising that we have started to notice patterns. As a result we have begun mapping some broader frameworks which we are testing further. In this blog I wanted to share two of the frameworks we are currently using that relate to policy practice and design practice.

A framework for policy interventions

Over the summer in the Policy Lab we have started mapping different policy options, showing the variety of ways policy-makers might use their power to influence people’s actions and behaviours. We have grouped these into seven categories from low level to large scale interventions.

Carrots or sticks

These styles of intervention include traditional law-making powers (sticks) or applying softer influencing powers (carrots)  such as system stewardship.   In reality policy-making is much more complex than most people imagine.  From this starting point we’ve created a grid of 28 different ways policy-makers operate at different stages of maturity. This is still work in progress so we would very much welcome your thoughts. We are currently building examples for each of the styles from across government.  The design choices for policy-makers early in policy development shape how a policy is delivered and the kind of results that can be achieved. We have played around a lot with the language, and will continue to test this in the Lab.  However, it should be clear from the array of possibilities that determining which course of action, which levers will deliver the outcomes needed, in any particular circumstance requires great skill and judgement.

The other discussions this week have been about defining service design, in particular in the (Her)Story event at the RSA where ‘service design pioneers’ met (some for the first time) to discuss the last 30 years of service design practice. At that event I shared our other framework, one that maps that relationship between traditional design, service design and policy design.

A framework for understanding design practice in policy

Back in 2014, I wrote in the RSA journal about the etymological similarities between policy, reform and design. Both design and policy in my experience are acts of synthesis, of bringing things together through iteration, sense-making and (increasingly in policy) involve experimentation and exploration.  Paul also notes this in his blog when he says ‘the best [policy-makers] have a good dose of creativity in problem solving which is used to tackle a challenging situation.’ Using problem solving techniques and applying creativity are central to design practice. These designerly skills (which some call design thinking) have helped policy-makers explore different ideas before deciding which options to follow.

At the Service Design Fringe I mentioned a keynote I gave back in 2001 in Seoul which proposed three levels of design; D1: the design of detail, D2: design of services and systems and D3: the design of policy. Over the years I have found this simple framework helpful. It also shows how designers ‘zoom in’ to the detail and ‘zoom out’ to the context when exploring new ideas, shaping both the brief and the solution together.  Over the last three and a half years I have been working mostly at the ‘D3 level’ in the Policy Lab.  As a result when I talk about design, I use the term broadly, I don’t see any contradiction between service design, policy design and traditional design.

For me design offers an approach, what I have defined as ‘purposeful creativity’, which has a lot more in common with policy-making than many might think.


Original source – Policy Lab

Hi, I’m Bryan Sharp, Delivery Manager for DWP Digital’s Tax Credit Debt – Employer Payments Allocation service.

Bryan Sharp, DWP

Bryan Sharp, DWP

It’s a new service set up to provide a simple, fast, accurate, and secure way of allocating payments to the right debtor accounts. Our users are employers who make deductions from the earnings of debtors issued with a Direct Earnings Attachment (DEA), and internal DWP Debt Management staff tasked with reconciling payments received with individual debt accounts.

Who are we?

The core team consists of Tracy Drabble as Product Owner working alongside two Business Analysts – Louise Reilly and Stephen Morley. A user researcher Euan Gillespie, is also part of the core team along with Vimla Appadoo, a Service Designer. Wider support comes from a Technical Architect, Mark Charlton, who is providing an early view on possible solutions that might meet emerging user needs.

Bryan (right) with (l-r) Mark, Tracy and Vimla from the Tax Credit Debt team

Bryan (right) with (l-r) Mark, Tracy and Vimla from the Tax Credit Debt team

Our aim is to build a service around user needs that reduces the amount of money DWP cannot immediately allocate, increases process efficiency, and reduces avoidable contact with employers and debtors. We want to see how we can change things so we improve the experience of everyone involved.

We’re currently in discovery and over the next few months we’ll be writing a series of blogs about each stage of our journey to give a real insight into what it’s like to take a digital service from discovery to the stage where we hopefully go live.

What’s the user need for the service?

Currently, DWP asks employers to apply a Direct Earnings Attachment (DEA) to an individual’s salary in order to recover a debt (this could be an overpayment of a Social Security benefit or to repay a Social Fund Crisis Loan. DWP would only apply a DEA if they haven’t been able to agree a repayment plan with the debtor).

Employers send payments via BACs or cheque to DWP Debt Management for them to reconcile the payment against the debtor’s account.

Unfortunately, allocating DEA payments to the right debtor accounts can be a lengthy process and relies on employers providing timely and accurate information. The existing process is prone to error which not only delays the recovery of debt, it can inconvenience employers and result in frustration for individuals who continue to receive letters demanding repayment of a debt they believe is being recovered. The ensuing phone calls to, and investigations by Debt Management creates additional work for them.

In April 2018 HMRC will begin to transfer 600,000 Tax Credit debts to DWP over three years. The additional cases transferred from HMRC will increase the pressure on the small team within DWP Debt Management who deal with this work.

Our Discovery Phase aims to explore how this process might be improved for employers and DWP.

What have we done in Discovery?

Discovery is all about user needs. So apart from setting the team up, the first thing we did was talk to employers and payroll providers to understand how requests to recover debt impacts them.

They’ve told us that DEAs are just one of a number of debt recovery orders they’re asked to implement – and there isn’t any real consistency in how money is sent back to the various organisations requesting it. We’re still at quite an early stage of employer user research and need to talk to more so we can identify and validate user needs.

We have also talked to Debt Management colleagues to understand and map the current journey and their experience. We’ve held focus groups and held one-to- one discussions. We’re talking to them regularly to understand if any particular part of the
user journey is more problematic than others – for example: are there areas which if improved, make a bigger overall difference?

These on-going discussions will inform the user needs for the project and help us to identify priorities and where to focus effort.

What have we learned?

Starting from scratch can be both good and bad at times. At first it was daunting for us to grasp the sheer scale of what’s involved in the project and find the best place to start. But it’s an opportunity to build a new team and use people’s skills and expertise to make sure the project is focused on the right things. Having a common understanding of the problem to be addressed and working collaboratively are key to successful delivery.

And the work we’ve done during discovery has shown us that the range of users is vast. Feedback from employers and payroll providers during our initial user research is challenging some of the internal perceptions about how to improve the process.

What’s next?

An alpha phase is planned to start in autumn 2017. We’ll blog again when we’ve moved into alpha to let you know how it’s going.

Original source – DWP Digital

We’re embarking on a huge programme of work to design a single taxonomy and transform our operating model and the content that is published on GOV.UK. The aim of this work is to make it easier for people to find the information they are looking for. And we need to find a simple way to measure if we are improving this for our users.

It’s a question that matters to all of us who work on GOV.UK.

We have many measures that tell us the technical performance of GOV.UK. For example, uptime or page speed. We have other measures for specific improvement projects, or to measure a team’s output. But these don’t tell us if we’re quantifiably getting better according to our users over longer time periods.

We need new, different measures

the content transformation team stand up meeting

People come to GOV.UK to do many many different things. They come to apply for a driving licence, to find out about how to become a magistrate, or to interrogate government policy.

People come to complete a task, and these tasks have many different shapes. We need performance measures that reflect these tasks and our users successful completion.

GOV.UK is not just a GDS team in Whitechapel managing some pages and the rest of Whitehall managing other bits.

A user comes to GOV.UK and it’s one thing, one website, one design, one interface to government.

Through all of the work on content operating models that Trisha Doyle has talked about, we learnt that to we need to have a sense of collective ownership of GOV.UK if we are going to improve it.

We work in silos because it seems easier for humans to manage things in that way. But users are suffering.

So we are looking for a measure that is:

  • user-centred – measuring the outcome not our output
  • something that everyone can understand
  • measuring GOV.UK as the government’s website, the product of all our effort

We need to be brave to step out of the silo and do this, to make things better for the user.

Benchmarking tasks

Usability benchmarking is a way to do all of those three things.

We’ve been doing this already – benchmarking some GOV.UK tasks for the last 4 years. This year, alongside the content transformation work, we’re going to go up a gear, and increase the amount of benchmarking we do.

Benchmarking tasks involves two measures: time to complete a task, and failure (or completion) rate.

For example, one of the tasks we currently benchmark on GOV.UK is around the subject of pensions. We ask “Jeff was born on 5th December 1959, find out when he will be able to get his state pension”.

We have kept the task consistent over the last 3 years, and have found the percentage of people succeeding in this task has gone up. At the last round of benchmarking it stood at 84%. The average time it takes for someone to complete this task was 2 minutes 40 seconds the first time we did benchmarking. Now stands at 2 minutes and 1 second.

Which tasks?

It is impossible for us benchmark every task on GOV.UK. There is too much content, too many pages to make this practical.

This is where the Top Tasks management process comes in. We need to choose the tasks that are most important for us to get right, and measure how quickly they are completed.

We’ve been working to formulate a process for government to define Top Tasks alongside Gerry McGovern, an expert on digital user experience and developer of the Top Tasks management model.

All the people who own or publish the content agree on the list of Top Tasks together.

Track performance over time

The aim of all of this is to track our shared performance over time and to help government feel more collective ownership of GOV.UK.

We will work on Top Tasks alongside our work on content transformation, to measure how we improve GOV.UK through that programme.

As part of signing up to group and transform your content with the content transformation team on GOV.UK, you get the chance to work with us to define the Top Tasks for each theme and measure their performance.

After having identified the Top Tasks and benchmarked our performance we will continue to measure the performance of those Top Tasks every year.

Katie Taylor is User Research Lead for GOV.UK. You can follow her on Twitter.

Original source – Inside GOV.UK


Here’s five pieces of compelling digital content you can learn from.

by Dan Slee

A while ago I had this amazing moment of revelation where all of a sudden the penny dropped.

For years now I’ve been reading, looking at and watching good content but what were the ingredients that made them work.

With a piece of paper I scribbled out the things that made them fly.

For me, they boiled down into any of these five things. If they make you feel at least one they work. If you feel more that’s all well and good. They are oooh!, aah! OMG! ha! and lastly, I didn’t know that.

Here is some content for you that has those ingredients. My main focus is public s ector communications but there’s also a couple of others that I think we can all learn from.


YouTuber JeffHK published this amazing 10-minute film of 30 days of travel around the globe on a ship shot as timelapse. It’s amazing. There’s no talking. There’s no narrative. There’s no plot. It’s just spectacle and it’s brilliant. The shots of the night sky make me want to head to sea right now.


 What this can teach you: Arresting content to get people’s attention can be fine.  

What you can learn from it: Sometimes content that just is beautiful and engaging is fine. It’ll build an audience for your calls to action.


The Dodo is an online media company that produces animal-focussed content. If the internet is little more than cute cats then The Dodo aims to monetise that. That’s fine. This film of a lamb with a soft toy just goes for the ‘aaah!’ factor. Often, when I’m training people in the public sector often mention the working farm that’s owned by their council. If you have the good fortune to have one make the most of it. You have content people want to engage with. 

What you can learn from it: Cute is fine. People come for the ‘aaah!’ and they may stick around for your other messages.


Hampshire Fire and Rescue used dodgy moustaches to capture attention to tell people about what they do to combat arson. I love it.

What you can learn: Having fan can make a dry subject engaging with people.


Museums can be such dry places which is a shame when they are filled with such amazing stories. A Twitter spat that wasn’t really a spat hit the headlines as two museum Twitter accounts boasted about the amazing things they each had. It’s great. Human. Engaging. Fun as this account shows.. 


What you can learn: Even museums can be human so what is your excuse?

I didn’t know that

There’s one council in the North East of England who are taking video and are really making it fly. If you are interested in seeing how video can be used for comms then take a look at their Facebook stream.

This live video shot after the Great North Run is brilliant. Informal. Informative and it takes you on a behind-the-scenes-tour of the post-race clean-up operation. Better still an idea on how to better recycle emerged from the comments that the council acknowledged.


What you can learn: People love behind-the-scenes insights.

Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.

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


Future visions/plans of Cambridge such as the ones listed at have all too often lacked the ‘human’ element, perhaps being too descriptive or focusing on one particular element. What if it was written in the style of the old ‘Life in the day of…’ columns in the Sunday Times? Noting that predicting the future is notoriously difficult thing to do.

“I’m sitting here writing my memoirs in one of Cambridge’s famous tea houses. They’ve experienced something of a renaissance of late as the popularity of coffee went into decline following Brexit and the great implosion of 2020. Coffee became too expensive so we all switched to tea.

“I’m meeting up with my sister in law to pick up her grand children from school. They are my great niece and great nephew. I never had any children of my own. I never married. Do I regret it? Of course. But that was in the days before they found a cure for my anxiety and exhaustion. It came too late for me, so I give what support I can to the next generations in my family and wider community.

“The school they go to is a nice local school. All of our schools are run by the city council now. We’ve not had private schools since the Great Nationalisation Act brought in under the Commissars – oh, Corbyn and McDonnell. Following Brexit we had a great implosion of our economy. Inequalities were so great and public services so underfunded that civil disorder broke out everywhere. Despite attempts to give the nation-wide privatised security guards full policing powers under the so-called G-4orce Act, day-to-day life temporarily seized up. Rather than risk a full on civil war, the government fell – hence the brief rule of the Commissars.

“Fortunately Cambridge escaped the worst of the disturbances – and before long the people insisted that Parliament remain in power – curtailing somewhat the worst excesses of the rule of the Commissars. The most damaged areas were the shopping areas – mainly the ones selling luxury and designer goods. Funnily enough no one touched the bookshops – which speaks volumes. The colleges remained unscathed give or take a bit of graffiti here and there. Students past and present seemed to make their way to the gates and walls of their colleges to keep out the crowds.

“The students however, didn’t give their colleges blank cheques. In return for saving the colleges, the students demanded some very big changes on how things were done not just inside their colleges, but outside too. The work that the Cambridge Hub had been doing in Cambridge’s council estates had an impact across the colleges – no longer were they prepared to walk on by in the face of the symptoms of what had become one of the most unequal places to live in Europe.

“To their credit, many of the students went out of their way to get us townfolk involved in shaping the future of this new ‘Great Cambridge’. Some bright sparks had gone through my ancient scribblings online about town history (or Herstories as they called them) and resolved to put right the historic wrongs.

“That’s why we have that magnificent Museum of Cambridge up on Castle Hill – essentially the rebuilt courthouse.

Shire House Law Courts

“There was a prison on the site before the old county council pulled it down and built Shire Hall on it. It was turned into a hotel before the former Mayor Palmer abolished the county council in the pre-Brexit reforms. Unfortunately for him, the Commissars got rid of his mayoral post. Thus we now have a single council at The Guildhall. Quite unexpectedly though, the Commissars and Mayor Palmer got on splendidly – and Palmer was kept on as Chairman of the light rail delivery company. Thus he spent the next decade working on and delivering the much-needed underground light rail.

“That wasn’t the end of the building either – we also got our guildhall overhauled too. We made good Sir Horace Darwin’s dream of 1898, giving John Belcher’s design a refresh while maintaining much of the structural integrity of Charles Cowes-Vosey’s guildhall built under the chairmanship of the Mother of Modern Cambridge, Florence Ada Keynes.


“You can’t see it in this drawing, but behind the roof is the rooftop cafe and bar and the big glass dome on top. We got the existing chamber behind the facade raised up to the top, creating a void that gave us a new state of the art lecture hall that is extremely popular with academics and the private sector alike. The rooftop cafe bar more than pays its way – tourists and wealthy locals more than happy to splash out with some of the best views in the city.

Cam Castle

Built in the style of Norwich Castle, but with far more windows and more colour and patterns in the brickwork, we built a new home for the Cambridge and county archives.


“Local historians and archivists were outraged when developers reneged on a promise to build a new home for the archives in the banking crash just after the millennium. Although the men involved are long gone, there is a big exhibition of the worst culprits who exploited the town over the centuries, culminating in the frenzy of speculative developments completed before Brexit.

“Cam Castle was named after the historian Professor Helen Cam of Girton and later Harvard. Many people still think it’s just an abbreviation of Cambridge Castle, but it’s only when they see the big display and statue of Professor Cam that they realise we named one of our main historical attractions after a history professor. At the top of the Castle is another cafe bar with some of the best views of the city looking south. What it’s done is extend the tourist trail of the city as people head in their thousands to enjoy the castle, museum and parkland on that site.

Cambridge’s new legal quarter

“It wasn’t all ‘smash up the post war concrete blocks’ with this newfound love of Cambridge’s town history. The awful bland and cheaply built offices round the back of the Shire Hall were demolished and replaced by a new quarter for the magistrates, county and crown courts alongside a massive new joint law faculty for the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University – the first of its kind. A number of big legal firms also moved to the quarter that were housed in buildings inspired by the unbuilt court houses of the 1950s and 1960s.

“Despite some complaints from traditionalists, the court houses proved to be very popular with students, lawyers, academics and researchers alike. It was the students that came up with the idea of a joint faculty for both Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University, marking the start of what would be a number of joint activities bringing students from many different backgrounds together. Many people said it couldn’t be done, but the young people proved them all wrong.

Cambridge’s new grand concert hall – Florence Hall

“I described Florence Ada Keynes as the Mother of Modern Cambridge. It wasn’t until after Brexit that Newnham College – where Florence studied when she first arrived here – commissioned a project exploring the local work of their local graduates. From that project spun out a number of different projects, including the construction of a brand new concert hall for over 2,000 people on the corner of Hills Road and Gonville Place. It was ideal – the land was owned by Cambridge University and within walking distance of Anglia Ruskin University on East Road, the railway station, the main underground interchange, the bus routes, car, bike and pod parks and even local hotels.

“Inspired by the Sala Sao Paulo in Brazil, the hall has a movable ceiling allowing the panels to be adjusted to suit the acoustics of whatever show is on stage. It wasn’t all smooth going in the planning. The hotel next door vigorously opposed the scheme due to its size and impact. Or rather, it did until one of the colleges bought the hotel’s holding company, after which the opposition evaporated.

Cambridge Light Rail Underground – a model for other towns and cities

“The one thing the promoters of the light rail didn’t predict was the cultural impact it would have on our small but growing city: It made us more outward-looking to our siblings in the fens. The light rail link to Ely had an extension built – a westward spur that linked it to the towns of Ramsay and Chatteris. Suddenly a whole host of facilities and attractions that were otherwise hidden in the market towns were available to tens of thousands more people. Wisbech and Haverhill benefitted too – Wisbech once again becoming a jewel of the fens.

The three ladies of the three lakes

“The Three Lakes Country Park between Romsey and Cherry Hinton – a nature reserve and before that a large cement works (Cambridge did have some heavy industry once!) has since become a very popular country park. We named each of the lakes after three of the most prominent women in the town’s history – Clara Rackham, Eva Hartree and Leah Manning. Clara was one of the longest serving councillors in our city’s history – starting off her work campaigning against the absolute poverty of pre-WWI Cambridge and finishing up protesting against nuclear weapons in the 1960s. Eva was our first woman Mayor of Cambridge. She also formed the group of women that set up the first civic receptions for refugees fleeing the rise of fascism across Europe – at a time when too many press barons and politicians were going over to the continent to sing their praises. Leah Manning, another anti-fascist who fought in Spain, was one of the first women to be elected to the House of Commons – serving briefly in 1931 and again in Clement Attlee’s government. Despite representing constituencies outside of the city, she maintained her main home here.

Eglantyne Country Park

“One of the problems that Cambridge struggled with for centuries was poor air quality. The great smogs of 2020 seemed to coincide with the riots and civil unrest. The city responded in part by electing a swathe of Green councillors who, taking full advantage of the powers granted by the Commissars forced the new Great Cambridge Council to ban all fossil fuel cars and to shut down the airport at the same time. The move was incredibly unpopular with the business community until they realised just how few people actually used the airport. They had more of a problem with the local flying schools, but the overall result was the transferring of what was left of the aviation industry out to Mildenhall on a new north-eastern spur of the light rail. They got lucky because the light rail system ended up bringing in far more revenue than anyone had expected, thus the extensions were built relatively quickly.

“With the removal of the airport at Cambridge, much of the housing demand was met by the construction of what you can either call South Abbey or North Cherry Hinton. Fortunately it’s all brought together by a very large country park that also links to the Three Lakes. We named the country park after Eglantyne Jebb –  the founder of Save the Children, and the woman who transformed modern charity campaigning. Before she became famous for her charity work, she researched and wrote the first social scientific study of poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge – making her a hero to geography students across the city. Two of her policy recommendations included significantly improved housing design and build, and also for people to have access to the countryside and fresh air. This was also something not lost on the residents of Milton who finally secured for Cambridge a much-needed rowing lake, thus removing a very sore spot in the city of rowers ploughing through wildfowl swimming on the river.

The Coleridge Symbolist Movement

“The secondary school students ran away with this concept after staff at the Museum of Cambridge said to teenagers across the city that big art movements all had to start somewhere. It was an exhibition by some Year 8 students at Parkside Coleridge that came to embody the transformation of a divided and unequal town to a thriving and united city. What was really nice was that it wasn’t affluent ‘opinion formers’ who led the movement, but teenagers from Cambridge’s mainly working class communities.

“The biggest difference they made was persuading the entire city that art and culture wasn’t something only to be passively consumed, but something that we could all actively participate in. Obviously that didn’t suit everyone – there was some kickback from some in their ivory towers who couldn’t think of anything worse than engaging with the general public. Their view was that the public was there to pay, listen, applaud and go home. But the changing ethos of the city meant that hiding away in an ivory tower hoarding knowledge and talent away from the wider public was less and less acceptable.

“Did we get everything right?”


“For a start we didn’t properly crack the inequalities issues. We also got torn to pieces across the piece for being all ‘middle class is magical’. We were an easy target – especially after the turmoil of Brexit. But in the face of those verbal and written attacks, people were more inclined to stand up for each other.

“Brexit as predicted by many, did not solve society’s problems. Brexit was just a symptom that forced us all to accept just how polarised we had become, and how hard the task would be (and still is) to overcome those divisions. Many on the left assumed that the rule of The Commissars would solve it all. ‘Everything will be fine after the revolution!’ they said. It wasn’t – though Corbyn and McDonnell did far far better than anyone had expected – myself included. But such was the pressure on the pair of them that both of them passed away shortly after Parliament reasserted control.

“In the end, we got what we always get with Europe: a bit of a fudge. The UK simply went on being what it always has been: Not quite in Europe but not quite out of it either. But at least the EU realised that it too could not carry on with business as usual. Oh – and the world somehow survived Donald too.

Original source – A dragon’s best friend

Earlier this month, Mark laid out the concept of a Democratic Commons for the Civic Tech community: shared code, data and resources where anyone can contribute, and anyone can benefit.

He also talked about exploring new models for funding the kind of work that we do in our Democracy practice at mySociety.

For many years, our Better Cities work has been proof of concept for one such model: we provide data and software as a service (FixMyStreet, MapIt, Mapumental) to paid clients, the revenue from which then funds our charitable projects. Could a similar system work to sustain our Democracy practice?

That’s the hope, and with Facebook who we first worked with during the UK General Election in June, providing the data that helped people see and connect with their elected representatives, we’ve already seen it in action.

This kind of project is positive on multiple levels: it brings us an income, it brings the benefits of democratic engagement to a wider audience than we could reach on our own, and it contributes data back into EveryPolitician and Wikidata, that everyone can use.

Interesting challenges

The UK election was only the first for which we did this work: we’ve gone on to provide the same service for the French elections and more recently for the rather more eventful Kenyan ones — currently on hold as we await the re-run of the Presidential election next month. And now we’re doing the same for the German elections, where candidate data is being shared this week.

As we’re learning, this is definitely not one-size-fits-all work, and each country has brought its own interesting challenges. We’re learning as we go along — for example, one significant (and perhaps obvious) factor is how much easier it is to work with partners in-country who have a better understanding of the sometimes complex political system and candidates than we can ever hope to pick up. Much as we might enjoy the process, there’s little point in our spending days knee-deep in research, when those who live in-country can find lists of candidates far more quickly, and explain individual levels of government and electoral processes far better.

Then, electoral boundaries are not always easy to find. We’ve used OpenStreetMap where possible, but that still leaves some gaps, especially at the more granular levels where the data is mainly owned and licensed by the government. It’s been an exercise in finding different sources and putting them all together to create boundary data to the level required.

Indeed, that seems to be a general pattern, also replicated across candidate data: at the national level, it’s easy to find and in the public domain. The deeper you go, the less those two descriptors hold true. It was also at this point that we realised how much, here in the UK, we take for granted things like the fact that the spelling of representatives’ names is usually consistent across a variety of sources — not always a given elsewhere, and currently something that only a human can resolve!

Giving back

What makes all the challenges more worthwhile, though, is that we know it’s not just a one-off push that only benefits a single project. Nor is the data going straight into Facebook, never to be seen again.

Much of what we’re collecting, from consistent name data to deep-level boundaries data, is  to be made available to all under open use licenses. For example, where possible we can submit the boundaries back to OpenStreetMap, helping to improve it at a local granular level across whole countries.

The politician data, meanwhile, will go into Wikidata and EveryPolitician so that anyone can use it for their own apps, websites, or research.

There are also important considerations about how this type of data will be used and where and when it is released in the electoral process; finding commercial models for our Democracy work is arguably a more delicate exercise than on some of our other projects. But hopefully it’s now clear exactly how a project like this can both sustain us as a charity, and have wider benefits for everyone — the holy grail for an organisation like us.

At the moment it’s unclear how many such opportunities exist or if this is a one-off. We’re certainly looking for more avenues to extend the scope of this work and keen to hear more ideas on this approach.

Your contributions help us keep projects like EveryPolitician up and running, for the benefit of all.

Donate now

Photo: Justin Tietsworth, Unsplash

Original source – mySociety

When I was preparing my talk for this year’s Blog Camp – a capability building event for blog editors across government – I came across a slide from one of the talks from last year’s event. It said: ‘Reasons why you may not want to blog: because blogging sounds silly and you’re a grown-up’.

Agnieszka Murdoch speaking at Blog Camp

And yet, we got together again, a year on, to talk about this silly-sounding discipline. We brought together blog editors from across government to share ideas and best practice, to create connections and partnerships, and to consider how we can blog bigger and better.

We did this because blogging is not silly. We did this because blogging is a valuable tool that government departments can leverage to achieve their objectives.

We’re all old ‘in blog years’

My GDS colleague Terence Eden, who opened this year’s event with a short talk about the value of blogging, told us he’s old ‘in blog years’. And I bet that all of you reading this post are old in that sense too. Because things change very quickly in the blogosphere.

Terence Eden speaking at Blog Camp

When they first appeared, blogs tended to be ‘digital diaries’ – websites where you’d jot down your thoughts without necessarily thinking about where your scribblings would take you.

Today, they’re powerful tools that can change your users’ behaviours. The GOV.UK blogs I oversee from GDS are often gateways that drive our users to the services we build and want citizens to know about. They help us recruit talent into the Civil Service. They help us convince stakeholders that they should work with us. They help us to be transparent and accountable for the work we do.

A blog is not just another place where you recycle your press releases. Far from it – it’s a place where you inform and engage your audience, where you start a conversation and where you encourage specific actions you want your audience to take.

Blogging has undergone – and is still undergoing – an evolution. And to keep up with it, and make the most of what it has to offer, we need to work together as a community. Hence knowledge sharing and capability building events like Blog Camp.

Blog readers are users too

As blog editors, if we want to make the most of the potential that blogging has to offer, we need to recognise that blog readers are users too. So we need to follow the same principles we follow when we build user-friendly services.

One of those principles is: ‘Start with user needs.’ With every blog post we publish, we need to ask ourselves what the user need is.

That’s why as part of my talk at Blog Camp, I challenged my audience to take a look at the last page of their Google Analytics report. That’s where they would find the sad figures showing how few people read the least popular post on their blog.

It’s not an exercise in resilience but a way to learn about what your users don’t need. And it can sometimes tell you more than the thousands of clicks recorded on the most popular posts on your blog.

The bigger picture

At this year’s Blog Camp, we held a number of interactive workshops and show-and-tells.

We discussed the role of social media in engaging our audiences, making data-driven decisions about our content, building blogging into your organisation’s wider communication strategy, and much more.

Social media workshop at Blog Camp

And we did all this because blogging in government is not an isolated thing or something we do for fun. It’s an important piece of the communication puzzle that – if used right – will help us achieve our wider objectives.  

We’re still learning

Another one of our design principles is: ‘Iterate. Then iterate again.’

Looking at our blogs’ Google Analytics reports is part of this process, and so is listening to what our users tell us.

We’re still learning as a community and as we learn, we get better at knowing what our audiences need, what works and what doesn’t, what helps us tell the story of transformation and what’s holding us back.

That’s why hearing what other blog editors across government have learned about their audiences is so valuable.  

Blog Camp is just the beginning

We’re not just iterating our blogs. We’ll also continue to iterate how we share knowledge and build skills in the GOV.UK blogging community.

At this year’s Blog Camp, we held discovery workshops to get the attendees’ ideas for how we can develop and share knowledge more easily in our community.

Discovery session at Blog Camp - facilitator in front of a board with post-its

The workshops were a success, with a number of ideas for how we can get better at blogging, how we can raise standards across the GOV.UK blogging platform, and how we can meet our users’ needs more effectively. I’m confident we’re going to learn a lot from that.

We’re now collating the Blog Camp attendees’ feedback and ideas, and thinking about what’s next. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about the outcomes of this soon.

I’m also hoping that Blog Camp and similar events can equip us with examples and case studies that will contribute to blogging being seen as a valuable tool and something that can continue to transform government communications.

If you manage a GOV.UK blog, you can join the Basecamp group where we share best practice and ideas. Send us an email to request access.

Share your ideas for what makes a successful blog in the comments below. You can also follow Agnieszka on Twitter.

Original source – Government Digital Service

When I was a lot younger, back in the early to late ‘80s, I used to travel abroad a lot with my mum, dad, and sisters. In about 1986 my mum got me a little book that had an graphical index of aircraft livery. It was my favourite reference book. It was just right to carry about comfortably everywhere.

I used to love being at airports – Heathrow especially – glimpsing out as we drove up to the airport, as we walked the terminals, as we were in the plane taxing to take off or when we landed. Being able to spot an airline by the tail of the plane was just the best thing.

The boards of flight departures with the codes for airlines were the promise to spot a tail I’d not seen before.

I had my favourites. The massive maple leaf of Canada Airlines. The simple, striking TWA. The tree for Middle East Airlines. Lufthansa. The white cross on red of Swiss Air. I could go on.

From 1991 to 1994 (aged 15 to 18) I was at boarding school in England. My mum, dad, and sisters lived abroad. I went out to see my mum, dad, and sisters for the Easter and summer holidays. I flew through Amsterdam Schiphol airport about four times a year.

Going out, I’d fly from Humberside Airport to Schiphol, where I’d pick up a flight onwards. I always got a few hours at Schiphol. As airports went it was relaxing and fun. There was space to sit and chill (I got a lot of reading done on those journeys). And there were the shops to browse, Ajax tops and Sega Game Gears to faun over.

Schiphol’s a great airport to just roam around. Airports don’t tend to be that. I’d been a lot in my life. But Schiphol has something about it. As I got older I realised why: It’s got some great, clear signage to guide you around. Walking around looking for new and rare tails when you’ve got an on-going flight is a lot easier, a lot calmer if you can just walk around.

About ten years back when I was at Brahm I was reading something – a book, a mag, I can’t remember what – about signage at airports. This was the first time I heard of Paul Mijksenaar. It is also the first time I learnt Paul created the wayfaring signage at Schiphol airport. Armed with this I managed to get a copy of Paul’s Visual Function off Abe Books. (I think. Probably was – I got a few books off there back then.)

I’ve been at GDS today helping with the design careers day. A few of us mentioned “How we got into being a designer”. I didn’t go to a design school so don’t think I studied design or designers as part of a course. Over the last 15 years I’ve tried to make up for that. I’ve read books and mags, gone to exhibitions, and worked with designers who know a lot of this stuff and just shared it. (Using the web for designy stuff has only really been something I’ve done in the past five years.)

I guess I too-easily forget I had that book with the airline liveries when I was much younger. I guess I too-easily forget how much I just liked the signage at Amsterdam Schiphol. They have definitely shaped my design education, even if I didn’t know or think it.

After the GDS careers day I hung around for the Gov Design event after work. I’ve wanted to go to one, but just haven’t. At the fourth attempt I managed it. With everything go on the past few weeks with work and the careers day I hadn’t paid too much attention to who was going to be talking. I was just going to sit back and listen.

It took me two minutes of Paul Mijksenaar talking for me to realise it was Paul Mijksenaar talking. It totally made my week. And as Paul shared and unpacked some of his thinking and work (which I know a fair bit about these days), it was still awesome, it still is awesome to see the signage from Schiphol airport. Even now at 41, maybe moreso now I am 41, I realise how much that signage meant and means to me.

Original source – Simon Wilson


For three years I was the sole voice of the council’s Twitter and for five years drew-up its social media strategy and tactics.

We started with one account and when I left there were more than 70 many of which I was really proud of.

There were many things I learned along the way. One that stands out is setting out how you’ll use social media and how you expect others to use it. In other words, ‘Play nice. We’ll talk to you so long as you don’t swear, okay?’ This is only what front counter staff have pinned up and most of the time we never needed it.

I noticed these social media house rules from GDS. They’ve been around for a while but I’ve not seen them before. You can see the original here.

Why they are great

They set out what’s covered, what they’ll do, when they’ll do it, what they can’t do, what they won’t tolerate and what they expect of you. So, if someone shouts and swears they can point at these and show them the red card. Or a user can tweet them and know roughly what to expect.

I’m sure GDS won’t mind if you cut and paste but you’ll need to tweak them a little for your organisation.

The social media team at GDS are responsible for several different social media accounts on a variety of platforms.

We’re happy to help you in any way that we can and look forward to seeing your views and feedback. We do however expect our users to offer us the same level of courtesy that we offer them, so we have a short set of house rules:

  1. All users must comply with the social media platform’s Terms of Use as well as these Terms of Use.
  2. We will remove, in whole or in part, posts that we feel are inappropriate.
  3. We will report and remove any social media profiles that are set up using GOV.UK imagery, including fonts, without permission.
  4. We will block and/or report users on Twitter who direct tweets at us which we believe are:
    1. Abusive or obscene
    2. Deceptive or misleading
    3. In violation of any intellectual property rights
    4. In violation of any law or regulation
    5. Spam (persistent negative and/or abusive tweeting in which the aim is to provoke a response)
  5. You are wholly responsible for any content you post including content that you choose to share.

Anyone repeatedly engaging with us using content or language which falls into the above categories will be blocked and/or reported to the associated social media platform.

Responding to users:

  1. We’ll do our best to respond to your enquiries within four working hours.
  2. We’ll try to help you, or direct you to people and/or departments who can, wherever possible.
  3. Our working hours are 9.00 – 17.00 Monday to Friday. We’ll deal with enquiries sent outside of this time as soon as possible when working hours resume.
  4. The @GOVUK twitter account is here to provide information and support for users of the GOV.UK website.
  5. The @GOVUK Twitter account is not a political account and cannot respond to political tweets.

We do not respond to tweets of a commercial nature

Whilst we are happy to receive such material, we will not respond as we are governed by strict procurement rules. You can keep up to date on our procurement platform, Digital Marketplace by visiting or by contacting

We reserve the right to modify or change these conditions at any time.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?