Week #108 at the Digital Service: Notes for 20–24 May 2024

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A dozen people in casual summer clothes in a modern, light-flooded meeting space with a 2 woman standing in front of a whiteboard – all people are laughing or smiling

Continuing from last summer, we had another ‘Let’s Talk Vision’ session. This format started even before I joined. It brings a member of the senior executive team together with the user-centred design discipline.

On Tuesday afternoon, our Chief of Staff & Strategy, Magdalena, stopped by for 90 minutes for a chat and extended exchange. About two-thirds of our discipline attended the session with popcorn and chocolate bars. After some introductory words from organisers Charlotte and Tine, Magdalena quickly got herself a whiteboard and started explaining versions of Digital Service’s strategy development. She sliced her approach into 3 sequenced steps:

  • Problem diagnosis – top-down change is impossible in the current German government setup
  • Guiding policy – change through delivery
  • Coordinated action – 6 goals like developing digital offerings with an exceeding user satisfaction

We had collected questions in small breakout sessions in a previous weekly discipline meeting. Tine also made sure the room setup supported conversation and exchange. In her sketching and explaining part, Magdalena already addressed many of the designers’ and user researchers’ questions. One angle was how design and user research initiatives contribute to organisational strategy and how strategy affects our disciplines as a whole.

It’s vital for a team’s motivation to have a thorough understanding of their organisation’s strategy and to be able to sync with their leaders about its details. In the previous engagement survey, the score for strategic alignment and understanding had dropped. With the next edition having kicked off, I hope the score will show an upward trend again.

I’m always grateful for the time everyone takes at Digital Service for such activities. The series will continue. We have not yet spoken to our Chief Financial Officer, Anja. That would be next. Afterwards, we should talk to an incoming Chief Technology Officer, whom we are currently trying to hire.

Discussing leavers and building blocks for good public service design

Earlier that day, on Tuesday morning, I joined a workshop on procurement for more user-centricity and accessibility. My colleague Jana and I gave a short input on how we are embracing the Service Standard at Digital Service, how it’s referenced in our contractual agreements with the ministries, and what different contract types have advantages, disadvantages, and risks. As usual, our slides are available on GitHub.

Before and after us, there were presentations by a procurement manager of public sector IT and digital outcome supplier Dataport, a digital government lead of the City of Bonn, and a colleague from BFIT, the Federal Monitoring Centre for Accessibility. Breakout sessions allowed us to collect viewpoints on ‘How might we’ questions. One focussed on making sure requests for proposals are phrased so that suppliers follow good user-centred design practices. Another one was on enabling contracting authorities to develop knowledge and experience around roles, activities and outcomes of user-centred design practices.

More work will be needed regarding public procurement rules and user-centred design approaches. I had an insightful exchange with some transformation managers about almost non-existent dynamic procurement frameworks we have seen in other countries. I need to better understand the gap in Germany in this field. It still puzzles me, so I want to know why.

On Thursday, in our design and user research weekly, Christin and Tine gave an overview of all efforts around building component libraries and versions of design systems at Digital Service. That was particularly useful for the 7 new starters we had in 2024. They went back 3 years to explain the origins of their work, which is happening now and in the future. They also explained how it ties into the evaluating work stream with other public sector entities aiming to consolidate parallel efforts across the German sector.

Preparing for even more new starters

We will have new starting designers in June, July, and August. So, I prepared envelopes for them with reading material and a personal note. That has been my default since the beginning of the year. They have been very positively received. Now, I’m looking at how I can improve them further. My latest idea is adding a reference to Charlotte’s TEDx talk, as it provides a very accessible entry point to our work.

Welcoming 3 more designers in a few weeks — so I’m preparing little packages I’ve been sending out since the beginning of the year to every new joiner. They include a note, the latest copy of the #ServiceGazette and 2 issues of our CEO’s column magazines. What else could I add? Any suggestions?

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— Martin Jordan (@martinjordan.com) May 24, 2024 at 18:24

On Bluesky, the responses to my picture of the envelopes were positive. I started wondering if it is time to draft a blog post about building a designerly culture team and designing a growing user-centred design team. I believe we have built something remarkable and pretty unique. Colleagues from Canada and the UK have stated that. Hence, writing something up for colleagues in the German public sector could offer practical value. It would also be another warm-up exercise for a chapter of Strong Design, which hasn’t made much progress in the past year.

There are also some new starters in product and transformation manage I will have to help onboard on a new project next month. I started structuring activities that might help them get into their topic. I will need to continue that next week.

What’s next

Surprisingly, next week is a bit calmer. I will have time to prepare a talk for the week after for the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. Their innovation office runs a ‘Digital morning’ format, and I am invited to talk about user-centred design in the public sector.

Later in the week, I will attend the 3rd Service Standard sounding board meeting. On Friday, there might also be the 4th meeting of the cross-government design system.

If time allows, I will finish a blog post about the digital principles in the digital check and Service Standard.