Week #32 at the Digital Service: Notes for 5–9 December

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6 members of the DigitalService design team collecting colourful sticky notes on a glass wall in a modern office space

This week was social, reflective and celebratory.

On Tuesday, the design team got together for an extended afternoon to continue some work started on the away day 2.5 months ago.

On Wednesday, the German development agency GIZ and the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development invited me to their ‘digilab’ lunch talk series to speak about ‘innovation labs for transformational policy’.

On Friday, we had the internal DigitalService winter festivities, for which our office got transformed with plenty of seasonal lights for us to have a meal, a laugh and dance together.

The year feels like it’s coming to an end. Things are a little bit slower, but still not slow. And I’d still like to do plenty of things before my break.

Taking stock, taking steps

With the design team reaching 15 people and two-thirds of us joining DigitalService in 2022, we need time for a more profound exchange. So we took an afternoon to recap the year, appreciate everyone’s work and make progress with some of our discipline workstreams. We looked at the number of people we included in qualitative research formats, how we made the design team more visible and established new internal-facing formats.

Taking a cue from what worked well last year at GDS, I shared a form to ‘submit an appreciation for another designer’. As the team has done a tremendous amount of work over the last months, I wanted us to reflect on it and appreciate the many things done and achieved together in 2022. So everyone could submit short appreciations for colleagues. It could be about a specific piece of work, approach or behaviour – or something else. In the end, everyone received various anonymous appreciations, which we read out in the afternoon, taking turns.

In another block for the afternoon, the 5-people design principle working group shared their preliminary draft. My colleagues Carina and Marlene facilitated a 2-session to familiarise everyone with the principles, raise feedback, check what’s missing or redundant, and think about what to do with the principles. With clever prompts, we went through all 7 proposed principles and left plenty of comments and suggestions. The cues included questions like “How would you explain this principle to someone who has nothing to do with design?”, “When could this have helped you? Was there a situation/ conflict/empowerment around this in your work life?” or “What would help you to make this more tangible in your everyday life?”.

Design principles must be relevant, applicable and help resolve situational questions. So I’m looking forward to seeing where this work is going and when we can share it more broadly.

The next day, during our weekly get-together, I also ran a retro to find out how things are in the design discipline. For that, I used the three-little-pigs retro format to uncover what’s already working well and where our focus should be for the new year. It’s the third time I used the format; for this context, it’s a helpful framing. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to derive enough takeaways, but we will continue next week.

For the Friday festive, I was asked to put together a short list of highlights for the design discipline and reduced it to this:

  • Involving almost 300 users in qualitative research sessions throughout the year
  • Making the design work visible through blog posts, meetups and conference talks
  • Starting a more visual culture to express our values and working principles through stickers and posters
  • Putting accessibility more firmly on the agenda with new formats
  • Growing the design team to 15 people

There is plenty to do in 2023. Five things that are almost guaranteed are these:

  • Accessibility – investing more in skills and capability
  • Content design – demonstrating with our justice service work how we can communicate more clearly with users
  • Cross-public sector exchange – establishing it formally through the NExT network
  • Inclusivity and representation – ensuring that in all parts of product development
  • User research processes – aligning and maturing how we do research across projects and teams

Other things

After a bit of back and forth, we updated our projects page and finally have everything we do at DigitalService listed on a single page.

Towards the end of the week, we discussed how you know that it’s time to stop discovering and move to make things. It’s something that we have discussed so often. So I didn’t think there would have been much discussion on Twitter after this tweet.

What’s next

There are less than 2 weeks left to work. So let’s see what things I can get finished and published. Getting at least another blog post out would be good.

On Monday, Nadine and I will run the first version of our new introduction to accessibility module. After that, it will become part of the onboarding week for new starters. As there aren’t that many new starters in December, we also invited people who joined in the past couple of months.

We’ll spend the entire Thursday on a delivery offsite, including design, engineering, product, and transformation. We will have some inputs, a few rounds of unconference sessions and a quick show and tell.