Week #63 at the Digital Service: Notes for 10–14 July 2023

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A woman with red hair and light skin sitting in front of a big TV screen showing a website and a menu listing website links, another person with dark hair sits in the very foreground

On Tuesday evening, we had pizza. It powered another cross-team accessibility check – this time for a new legal advice service we want to launch in some weeks. Some 15 colleagues from all kinds of backgrounds participated in it.

After a first external accessibility consultation and before we have a full accessibility audit in some weeks, it was an opportunity to spot issues and collectively learn more about assistive technologies and build awareness for the experience that people with access needs may have with the service.

Building on the GOV.UK accessibility persona profiles, my colleagues Marlene and Nadine created versions for the context of the legal advice service and wrote 6 different scripts to follow. Small teams of 2 to 3 people used the persona profiles. Each came with assistive technology – like large screen magnification or screen reader – or a simulation of people’s experience to better judge the service quality. Some teams had to use the service keyboard-only, with a text-altering tool resembling the experience for users with dyslexia or with a heavily blurring browser extension to gain insight into the experience of users with low vision.

Teams found previously unseen mistakes and bugs or realised the challenges with unstructured long text or too similar link titles. Most importantly, using the simulation tools or assistive tech for people with access needs increased the participants’ empathy with affected users and helped them glimpse the potential negative impact of unaccessible services on a significant group of users.

In the coming days and weeks, the team will fix the identified issues and then receive more feedback from the format accessibility audit report before the service launch in a few weeks.

In other accessibility news: This week, we made an offer to a designer with a focus on accessibility and – lucky us – they accepted our offer. I hope they will increase our capability and spread their experience and knowledge once they join later in autumn.

Reflecting on resilience and broad thinking

On Monday, I talked with a colleague about ‘visionary thinking’. They asked me about my take on it as it’s related to their personal growth goal. It’s not the language or category I’m using, but it helped me reflect and think while articulating some thoughts.

Over the years, I have used writing and speaking to progress my thinking and – over time – identify a common thread and larger narrative that fits many shorter and contemporary fibres. I’ve described that common thread for the last few years as ‘making services work better for all people’. Most of the work I do relates to it in some way. It’s not a tiny ambition but also not too broad. The focus is still on service, as influencing policy to change people’s outcomes vastly is not my home turf. Looking back a few years, blog posts, talks and articles from 2017 link to that theme as much as many do today. Still, various things have evolved and progressed.

On Friday, I touched on this as well – but from a very different angle. We had a lunchtime conversation about motivation, frustration and resilience. Having a larger motivating objective allows me to better deal with setbacks, blockers, and obstacles. And knowing that progress isn’t linear or only going forward, but all too often also steps backwards, that documentation through blog posts, talks and articles for future selves and a broad possible range of colleagues is vital.

My intermediate outputs can be other people’s inputs and reference points. And the same is true for me. Only recently, I could build on some Service Standard and Service Manual work from a few years ago. Creating those outputs get me visibly closer to my goal or mission and can also function as orienting breadcrumbs when I get a little lost.

Finishing things before the summer break

Otherwise, the week was packed with meetings and workshops. Colleagues ran a half-day workshop on the role of the project lead. And I spent another 8 hours in the same room looking at our cross-discipline ways of working and quarterly objectives. Recognising our pace so far, we trimmed some key results while I re-committed to some others.

It felt like everyone around me wanted to get as many items off their list as possible before going into an extended summer break. I hope things calm down in the coming days so I can work on some of my quarterly QKRs.

What’s next

I have an extended weekend break, escaping to the Baltic Sea until Monday evening.

On Tuesday, I will be in my student’s thesis presentation that I supported as the secondary supervisor for the past few months.

Then on Wednesday, I am co-running Service Standard workshops with colleagues working on justice services.