Week #54 at the Digital Service: Notes for 8–12 May 2023

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A digital workshop board on a TV screen on the service standard with various notes and virtual stickie notes

In 2 different and different scoped workshops, my colleague Caroline and I ran tax and justice teams through the Service Standard. Some members were already familiar with it, others not at all. One team is in discovery, and the other is developing alpha prototypes already.

For both, we gave some context first and allowed them to read all 19 points in silence. Afterwards, we collected and discussed their questions and how to record progress continuously. In one team, some had already worked against the standard and written a detailed self-assessment against a service they had been previously developing. So we did some story time to let the team members hear about their experience.

For both teams, we plotted a path forward, discussed how to formalise such workshops and make them available to other digital teams in the public sector later, too.

Completing the blog post documenting our efforts to meet the Service Standard, I wrote further sections to include also the workshops we ran. It’s almost complete, already too long and needs some good editing.

Spending time with designers discussing design and being designers

In this ‘Design Weekly’, we discussed roles, responsibilities, promotions and pay. I gave an overview of how we work as a design discipline, how to change the work someone does and what they earn. Currently, we have a design leadership team, and we have people managers. Some people managers are part of the design leadership team, and others are not. I spoke about how people can change the work they do and work on other things – via their people manager. We talked about taking further responsibilities and how that is related to promotions. And we discussed how seniority is related to someone’s grown capability to apply their craft and their ability to lead topics, projects or people around them.

Taking good inspiration from a presentation from GDS’s design leadership team that Lou had put together over 5 years ago, I talked about what more seniority means. Linked to our design skill level matrix, we are tying 5 things to more seniority:

  1. Working on multiple complex tasks
  2. Influencing others
  3. Navigating constraints
  4. Planning for long term change
  5. Leading and mentoring others

I shared how the design leadership team reviews where everyone is every 6 months – always before our organisation-wide salary and promotion cycles. And, as it’s well-documented on our intranet, I talked about how salary adjustments are linked to and depend on a person’s contributions, achievements, behaviour and development. I shared my slides afterwards. Complementary, Charlotte put together a page explaining our design skill level matrix and how to use it.

Later in the week, I sat down with Charlotte and the other designers working on the new legal information platform for the Federal Ministry of Justice and the courts. They walked me through the current state of their development and how they are making progress against the specialist internal user journey they are designing for. For this quarter, we are trialling a relatively frequent design-sharing format for the project and its various design streams.

By the end of the week, we have made offers to 2 designers – a working student communications designer to support the communications teams and an experienced senior designer who has gained international public sector experience to help with our work on the national digital strategy. They would both start within the next 3 weeks.

Sharing and helping others share their work

DigitalService’s executive leadership team had a strategic offsite with our key ministerial stakeholders, shareholders, and the supervisory board. I stopped by to give input and an overview of what GDS in the UK has been doing for the past decade. I spoke about how it was set up, how it is structured, what it does with what intent and what impact has been. There were curious questions, and I still don’t get tired or bored talking about that experience – if it helps make sound, well-informed strategic decisions.

Slightly delayed, we had our 31st International Design in Government community call on ‘designing digital certificates and wallets’. Eventually, only the Dutch colleagues could join. That allowed them to go deeper, share the work they have done so far on a national wallet reference design and spend almost 30 minutes just on the questions of their foreign colleagues. Given the interest and commitment from Australian and German colleagues to share their work, we will run a second call on the same topic in less than a month.

Together with our colleagues from CityLAB Berlin and Kara and Paloma from GDS, we outlined our additional activities for Creative Bureaucracy Festival. We will put together the second public-facing meetup that we launched last month. As the Creative Bureaucracy Festival runs on 15 June and a related global innovator’s unconference takes place on 14 June, we will run our meetup on Tuesday, 13 June. We hope enough international people will be in town already to have a broader and more diverse group of participants.

In the meantime, our core conference activity, a fish bowl-style conversation format, went up on the conference website. And after about a year, I finally updated the international community page, adding the upcoming event.

To finally get a German public sector user-centred design community off the ground, I reached out to Maria, who works as a service designer at the German statutory pension insurance, a public body. She is interested in getting involved, reviewing the community outline and potentially co-running the new community of practice. We’ll talk again in a few days.

Reflecting that we have 2 user researchers in our organisation – one permanent and one freelance researcher – our CEO Christina and CPO Stephanie agreed to change my job title from ‘Head of Design’ to ‘Head of Design and User Research’. In the past weeks, a couple of people have wondered if user research is a discipline linked to product management or design. Externally, it should also signal and clarify how we are involving users in our development processes and what importance user research has in our organisation.

What’s next

Next week is a short week. I will finish my proposal for the NExT community so we can do the edits in the following week. And I’m hoping to get our Service Standard blog post out.