Week #52 at the Digital Service: Notes for 24–28 April 2023

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Two posters framed in metal frames standing on the floor leaned against a wall – one is detailled with various small quotes, the other has a big phrase: ‘New approaches in the public sector’

To support organisational memory and record activities in our office space, I framed two recently printed posters.

Daphne put together a poster collecting the team’s favourite feedback for the property tax declaration service, which is slowly phasing out. The poster contains quotes from individual users who contacted our support or posted on social media and what various journalists wrote about the service. Our ministerial partners received copies of the posters and also got a small booklet version of those quotes and some more.

The second poster is the one from last week’s meetup. May it be a good reminder to keep our doors open and invite people to formats like these. The 4 video recordings from the meetup have received close to 300 views. That means more people saw the talks after the event than during.

After the meetup is before the meetup. So we started discussing the follow-up event – for around the same time as the ‘Creative Bureaucracy Festival’ takes place in Berlin in mid-June. Turning it into some international cross-collaboration, I spoke with meetup co-runners Christian and Magda, and also GDS colleagues Kara and Paloma about it.

With Kara and Paloma, I am looking into organising a fish bowl-style conversation as part of the core festival programme. Our working title for the 45-minute conversation format is ‘The long slog of public service transformation’. We reached out to colleagues from Cyprus, Estonia, France, and Italy. After discussing the challenges of public service transformation in last week’s Apolitical session, it struck a cord on social media.

In the coming months, we will develop the talk and ideas around that theme. Kara’s and my submission for the ‘Service design in government’ conference in September got accepted. So we’ll talk about the long slog of public service design in Edinburgh. And we’ll make another submission for the Service Design Network conference coming to Berlin in autumn. A few different formats spanning several months will allow us to develop the material more nuanced and interactively.

Discussing the application of values and principles

Continuing my work on applying service standards, I spoke to Theo, the service assurance lead in the Government of Cyprus. He walked me through their approach to assessing the work on 30 contracted digital suppliers and kindly shared their material with me. I’m summarising what I learned from international colleagues in the past few weeks and will share it with more people around me.

For several teams at Digital Service, we scheduled follow-up sessions to discuss the German service standard and how to meet its 19 principles. Naturally, the format will differ and depend on the maturity of the work and the phase of their development. I also continued to make good progress on a related blog post about its application in our organisation and have the publication of our 2 service self-assessments ready for publication shortly.

With a focus on internally applied principles, we had the organisation-wide introduction of our collectively written values.

Those values are:

  • Focus on impact
  • Care to challenge
  • Take ownership
  • Open by default
  • Embrace diverse perspectives
  • Dare to learn

They have been in the works for a few months, with my colleagues Fabian and Sonja navigating and steering the process. They included a working group consisting of people from all disciplines and involved two rounds of review with the extended leadership.

To make them tangible, get people to make themselves familiar with them and share stories about how we have used them in the past, Fabian and Sonja ran a 90-minute in-person workshop. Another remote version is planned for next week. In addition, Daphne and I are working on some visualisations to manifest the values in our office space. I also expect a blog post to present them shortly on our website and summarise the engaging development process.

Meanwhile, in the design discipline, my colleagues Carina and Marlene shared the latest version of our design principles. Colleagues from our communication team helped refine them over the last few weeks, and I cannot wait to put them on our website shortly, too. The design principles guide us in developing and designing products and services, while the organisational values guide individual behaviour and support teams’ decision-making.

What’s next

On Tuesday, our first in-house senior user researcher starts. It’s been about 9 months since we first opened the role, started recruiting and got her to sign the contract just before Christmas. I’m glad and excited that we can work on improving our research practice with focus and attention.

Next week, we’ll wrap up some interviews and hopefully make applicants offers. There is quite a bit of work to do on a number of projects. So, we will benefit from a few more designers to help us and grow our capacity and capability.

Wrapping up my first year at Digital Service, I’ve started penning a short article with tips for senior digital leaders trying to improve public services. That is timely as the City of Berlin just changed government and appointed a new Chief Digital Officer.