Week #103 at the Digital Service: Notes for 15–19 April 2024

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6 people in a modern bare-concrete office space with a few people sitting and a few sitting, all looking at a projected canvas

Accessibility isn’t a topic only designers and user researchers can progress. Of course, full multidisciplinary teams are needed to make products and services as accessible as possible.

What’s even better, though, is teaming up with legal.

That is what we have been doing in the past weeks.

Senior legal counsel Jana, legal designer Franziska, designer and accessibility specialist Marion, and I have been getting together twice this week alone.

Broadening and widening the conversation about accessibility

On Wednesday, we met with the team at the Federal Monitoring Centre for Accessibility (Überwachungsstelle des Bundes für Barrierefreiheit). We learnt more about their setup, capabilities, remit and ambition. We also heard about their challenges and frustrations. They are, no surprise there, similar to those of their colleagues in Berlin we talked to earlier this month.

We were positively surprised to learn they offer extensive consultation services, not only to the Federal government or the wider public sector but also to non-government-owned healthcare insurance providers and businesses. They only have to ask. Indeed, we will respond to that offer in the coming months as more services progress. We also discussed teaming up for some events in the coming weeks and months and continuing our exchange.

On Thursday, the 4 of us ran an accessibility special with the product management and transformation management disciplines. Hijacking and merging their regular disciplines weekly, we had a fruitful exchange about responsibilities for creating accessible public services.

For the session, we promised the following:

  • You know which regulation applies to your project and where to find more info.
  • You know what you must do to comply with regulations and how to do it.
  • You know who is accountable for accessibility compliance and can start the conversation within your team about how you share the responsibilities.

After a short recap of why accessibility matters and why there is no legal and moral dimension to pay attention to it, I asked, “How often have you been discussing accessibility or taking action for it in your project in the past 6 months?” The product and transformation managers, many of them at a senior level and leading projects and teams, mapped their answers along a board with 3 sections ranging from ‘We never mentioned it’ to ‘We talk about it when we reach key milestones’ to ‘We discuss it at every sprint review’. It came to a typical bell-curve distribution of 10 projects. On the very left were 2 strategic projects, far away from digital delivery, so I had little reason to worry. We also asked for quotes from ministerial stakeholders and partners they remember, as we wanted to understand their views.

My legal colleagues then presented a neat Confluence page offering accessibility 101. It answers all the good questions like:

  • What is legally required for our digital services?
  • What needs to be digitally accessible?
  • Are there exceptions?
  • What if there are no requirements?
  • Who is responsible for accessibility compliance?
  • What can we do to ensure accessibility compliance?
  • When to take a look at compliance?
  • How to check your compliance status?
  • How can I get an accessibility statement?
  • What must an accessibility statement contain?
  • What is an “accessible feedback mechanism”?
  • Someone contacted us through our accessibility statement. What should we do?

One of the main questions is who is responsible for accessibility in the team, which we have answered mostly. Following a responsibility assignment matrix model, we declared the project lead accountable. Our accessibility ambassadors should be consulted, and project stakeholders should be informed. The person or people responsible should be decided in the team.

We followed with a short breakout round in which a mixed group discussed scenarios like, “You are starting a new project from scratch. What could you do to ensure accessibility compliance from the start?“ or, “You received the report of your first accessibility audit, and there are a lot of issues. What do you do regarding your upcoming launch?”

With discussions ongoing, we ran over time and into the lunch break. People stayed as they enjoyed the exchange. We found a note on the board saying, “Loved the workshop – great reminder and refresher”. Now, we can only hope some discussion points stick, and people will consult the Confluence page when they should.

Finding time to get to know each other

Reaching week 3 of our 4 new starters, 10 user-centred design folks went to a pub on a fresh, sunny afternoon. That’s only two-fifths of the team, but it was an excellent opportunity for a sociable exchange.

All 4 of them expressed their satisfaction with our onboarding into the organisation. It might be the most refined onboarding we have created so far. Onboarding also became a point of discussion with international colleagues following a post from Andy Jones, Head of Design at the UK Department for Education.

This week, we started planning another ‘Let’s talk …‘ edition for May. The last session was in June 2023, so it’s about time. We plan to add another social outing for that day and also have a June offsite on the calendar.

To welcome another two new starters in May, I prepared little welcome packages. They contain copies of Christina’s column booklets, the latest German Service Gazette, and a personal note. I started sending them a couple of weeks before people started—not too early, not too late.

Warming up for October, the Finnish colleagues opened up the call for ideas for the 2-day Helsinki International Design in Government conference. The response on LinkedIn has been very positve, and I hope many international folks will participate.

Design-minded public servants, shape our upcoming conference! From 1–2 October, together with the Finnish #GovDesign community Julkis-muotoilijat, we will bring back an in-person format we’ve been missing since the Pandemic. Join us in Helsinki & submit your ideas! docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1F…

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— Martin Jordan (@martinjordan.com) Apr 20, 2024 at 8:32

What’s next

In the coming week, I want to make progress with some blog posts, finally, after my colleagues Sonja and Lisa got theirs about user research as a dedicated function out this week.

I will also start interviewing the first candidates for the communications designer role.

On Friday, we will have our next learning cluster session with the selected lighthouse projects of the Federal government’s digital strategy.

If time allows, I would also like to help with some graphics for the Helsinki conference.