Week #68 at the Digital Service: Notes for 14–18 August 2023

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Three women with lighter skin standing at booth smiling – behind them is pop-up display with the logo of Digital Service and a big headline saying: “For a digital Germany”

The federal government had its annual open house this weekend. That meant thousands of citizens visited the ministry buildings in Berlin’s central government district.

I went to see the Ministry of Finance – hoping to get an architecture tour but only petted the fierce customs dogs in training – and the Ministry of Justice. At the latter, Digital Service had a booth. My colleagues from our upcoming ‘Get help with court fees’ service presented the work to visitors and the minister. The team demonstrated the new digital service – in comparison to the existing paper form – and explained our work to curious citizens.

For the occasion, we created a reusable pop-up display. Having the booklets with Christina’s columns (see weeknote #44) on digital transformation as a giveaway was handy. Other agencies of the Ministry that were present had candy, notepads and tote bags – we had our opinion pieces. That seemed appropriate to me.

It’s paramount we put ourselves out there, join the discourse and openly address our challenges. This week’s edition of The Economist summarised some digital transformation challenges in Germany quite well, including the dominance of lawyers and structural barriers: “Germany’s federal structure has created a patchwork of digital fiefdoms that are fiercely guarded.”

Growing our user research capability

We did not use the open house weekend to promote our open positions. That happens on social media mostly – even though I want to use more events for that purpose. As we know too well, after 2 successful post-meetup hires, events allow people to ask questions and start a dialogue. On Friday, we started advertising our second user research role and the first one in a year.

For social media, having a visual or some graphic for attention-seeking visibility helps to increase engagement. It supports communicating the why and verbalising the purpose of the role. And making such helps me get to the bottom and carve out the essence.

The senior user research position sits within our taxes team and comes with a broad task. It’s a senior individual contributor role that offers quite some freedom. I am hoping the current market situation allows for a good number of high-quality applications. With a new talent acquisition manager on board, I hope we can try out some different approaches for promoting the role and engaging with potential applicants. That makes particular sense as we are preparing to open further design roles in the coming few weeks.

Preparing autumn activities

We published a blog post about our investment in communities of practice on the Digital Service blog. It is a blog post I wanted to get out a while now as provides arguments others can use to make the case for their community investments. That’s at least my hope.

A colleague mentioned in the blog post shared on Slack how much they miss doing particular work and the international exchange that comes with it. From the ongoing analysis of our research into the long slog of public service design, Kara and I see how essential cross-organisational exchange is for motivation, resilience and retention.

On Monday, we will run our 33rd community call and get a little meta – as we discuss ‘building and designing with communities of practice’. Imran from GDS and Mathea from NExt will join us to talk about their work, setups and approaches.

There was more public interest than I anticipated, which is fantastic, given that our slow-moving book is about community, capability and culture.

On Monday morning, we also publish our next international blog post on ‘How the International Design in Government community is coming together again’. In there, we announce our 24-hour remote conference for late November. During the week, I tinkered with Stephen’s existing code for previous international events. Within an evening, I put together the page’s first version to communicate the event. It will grow over the coming weeks.

Our short description says:

On 29 November 2023, we’re planning an all-day global event. We’ll have 24 sessions – so, at least 24 countries, but not more than 1 contribution per country.

The aim is to bring together colleagues from all parts of the globe – not just the Global North, and co-create the most complete overview of the state of government innovation.”

I had a graphic in mind for a few weeks for the page and event. It’s a different take on Stephen’s stylised globe that highlights various time zones in rotation. I made a GIF version for the page and created others for future material. 5 years in, Stephen’s graphical system is robust and feels timeless. I continue to be grateful for what he has gifted the community.

On Friday, Kara and I had a check-in call with the organisers of the Service Design Network Global Conference. We will speak there on day 1 of the event in front of up to 400 people. After the ‘Service Design in Government’ event in Edinburgh in late September, it will be the second presentation of our ‘The long slog of public service design’ talk. We will be in great company – with Lou presenting on the following day and colleagues from Canada’s Ontario government talking about winning talent there, too.

What’s next

With the holiday season ending and colleagues returning, work weeks get more packed again, including more meetings. We start preparing the autumn performance review and salary cycle.

In the coming week, I will help run our first-ever peer review against the Service Standard. For that, I spoke with local government colleagues in England in the past few days. They all had some valuable tips and practical resources to share.

I will facilitate a 2-hour workshop with our design and user-research leads on Monday. Based on Kirsten Skinner and Peter Merholz’s 12 qualities for effective design organisations (see weeknote #49), I want us to reflect and review how we are doing and where we currently are.