Week #71 at the Digital Service: Notes for 4–8 September 2023

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A middle aged white man in a dark shirt speaking in modern office space in front of a group of circa 15 people who are sitting in chairs front of him – he is smiling and raising his arms; standing next to a projector canvas

On Friday, while Berlin was experiencing yet another day with 30 degrees, I welcomed the new Work4Germany fellowship cohort. I shared thoughts, tips and casual advice on digital transformation with the 20 fellows who started working in over a dozen ministries this week. In the photo above, I talk about bunting in government offices and how it became an indicator of a change of culture and a symbol of commitment to a new way of doing things.

The cohort is remarkably diverse and experienced. It’s people from all walks of life and of all ages. They will work on a broad range of projects across the ministries for the coming 6 months – each in tandem with 1 project partner as a buddy. One is looking into scalable people management, another into rethinking property tax declaration, and a few others into digital strategies for different ministries. Some work is tied to services, but it’s instead the exception.

I framed my 90-minute session through stickers we made and put on our laptops over the years, making the following points, evidenced by specific examples, experiences, and situations:

  • ‘You are not the user’: User research is always a good idea – including internal users
  • ‘Zoom in – zoom out’: Build missing bridges and make visible what isn’t – by looking at the larger picture and connecting the dots
  • ‘Look sideways’: Draw on things from elsewhere – cause a generation of public servants has done plenty across borders
  • ‘The Service Standard is applied here’: It’s your friend – even when you don’t build services
  • ‘Be bold’: Wisely play your outsider wildcard and start interventions other people on the inside cannot
  • ‘No nerd project’: our work matters more than ever, especially now when trust in democratically elected governments fade
  • ‘Open by default’: Share whatever you can – as widely as you can, the people following you will be grateful
Collage of English and German stickers: You are not the user, Zoom out – zoom in, Look sideways, The  Service Standard is applied here, Be bold, No nerd project, Open by default

It was a chatty session with educated questions. The fellows also have assigned buddies from the delivery teams of Digital Service – including designers. I hope to check in with them in the coming weeks and multiple times over the coming 6 months.

Practising working-in-the-open

Following the recent Service Standard peer review, we are preparing the report’s publication. For that, we had to change our report templates and reorganise the section for reports – dividing them into self-audits and peer reviews. Daphne and David from the comms team were quick and helped me find a solid German translation for the missing intermediate ‘on track’ label. The report should go up on Monday afternoon and represent the 3rd Federal ministry we are applying the Service Standard with.

The designers and user researcher tinkered with it and tweaked it for a while – and finally got out the blog post summarising their insights gained over researcher for the past 10 months. In some detail, they share what they learned while researching people seeking legal advice, court clerks and lawyers. The blog post is rather written for 2nd and 3rd-degree stakeholders – in courts, the digital justice bubble and people in partnering federal states – and less for the curious layperson. Maybe that’s OK. There is much more to say, but that needs to be said in another blog post in autumn.

The team also published a ‘How we work’ page on their ‘Access to Justice’ project website. It further educates partners and interested citizens about our approach. And it references the Service Standard, of course.

All of this helps to demonstrate our ways of working – which particularly matters for potential applicants. For the new senior user research role, I interviewed another 3 candidates this week. In addition, we re-opened mid-level and senior design roles for the first time since late spring. With further tech company layoffs in recent weeks, I am curious how it will affect the number of applications.

In another open activity, I attended the NExT network’s summer party on our rooftop. Like last year, it allowed some relaxed conversations with attending civil servants, people from think tanks and members of parliament.

Announcing autumn activities

We announced community events for the coming weeks – for September and October.

On Tuesday, we’re running our 3rd public sector meetup, discussing how Berlin is becoming more digital. We have 3 talks: One on the redesigned Berlin.de platform, one on visualising the Berlin state budget, and a third on bringing new ways of doing things into the city’s government and senate departments.

The 50 tickets we opened up were gone in less than 20 hours, and by the end of the weekend, as many people were on the waiting list. As before, we will be recording the talks and making them available on YouTube.

With less fanfare, we announced an international community gathering for the 4th of October – right ahead of the Service Design Network Global Conference. Initially, we considered having a more formal unconference with an organisational partner. After that didn’t materialise, I am glad we keep it small and informal instead. In the first few days, we had several sign-ups from Canada, Uganda and the United Kingdom.

We have received more interest in the late-November remote conference. About 40 people signed up for that, with little more than a quarter considering presenting work in the event format. Before preparing that, there’s plenty of other work to do, though.

What’s next

This week, our little group of heads of delivery continued writing OKRs for the coming quarter. We plan to finish that in the coming week. There’s also some preparation for performance reviews I need to do. And it will be the last full week in Berlin before leaving for the UK and France.