The workshop that Lizzie and I delivered went down pretty well, I think. You can find out for yourself by watching it back.
It’s a quick canter through different methods of undertaking user research, aimed at those new to the whole idea. I think user research is a super-important thing for digital teams to get involved with as quickly as possible, because it’s a cultural game changer. If you want to be more user-centric in your work, there’s no better way of doing it than actually speaking to, and understanding, your users.
I think it is fair to say that this really is just the start of this conversation, but I really hope that folk can take inspiration from what Eddie shares in terms of thinking about how certain services could be completely transformed from the ground up.
As I explained in this post, it isn’t always going to be possible to be truly transformative, and sometimes less ambitious approaches are more suitable. But I think every council needs to have this kind of thinking in their lockers, ready to take the opportunities as they arise.
For any digital transformation effort to be a success, it needs to have a organisation that is open to change to work with.
This is often a bit of a stumbling block, because even if you have an amazing digital team and a kick-ass programme in place, if the people across the organisation don’t understand what you’re on about, then you’re in trouble.
This is why one of the projects you need to initiate early on is a digital capability programme. This should provide just enough digital knowledge, understanding and – most important – confidence in the people you work with to keep things running smoothly.
There are a few different ways to approach this. Here’s some of the things I have found work well – you can pick and choose and adapt as you see fit!
Build your leaders’ digital confidence
There is no getting around the fact that you must have the buy in from senior people in your organisation. In fact, buy in doesn’t really cut it – they need to own this thing. Oftentimes leaders -whether they be politicians or senior management types – need a regular reminder of what really matters when it comes to digital and what they need to do to support this.
What I have found is that a one-off workshop is great for getting some excitement and momentum, but it’s really, really easy for that to dissipate if you don’t follow it up. I’d recommend getting workshops booked in for every other month with your most senior management team, if you can.
Another idea is to put in place a form of one to one coaching for senior people. Often they might not be willing to confess to not knowing things within a group context, so providing a safe space where they can perhaps be a little more vulnerable might be a good idea. It also helps foster your own relationship with them and builds trust, and gives you the chance to help them take a long term view of their need for understanding and commitment to the digital cause.
Digital champions or advocates
Building a network of enthusiastic and knowledgeable digital people across your organisation can be an incredibly useful way to spread goodwill about your efforts in departments other than your own. It’s really important though to avoid ‘milk monitor syndrome’ in creating yet another opportunity for people to volunteer for something nobody wants to do. One way to do this is to maybe avoid titles like ‘champions’ and instead go for something newer sounding – I like ‘advocates’.
One key thing is to engage with the already-enthused. Any network or community of practice like this will die a death if people feel they are forced to be there. Find those hidden, motivated digital enthusiasts who want to be a part of something and will make change happen because they want to.
Some of the things you can do to make your advocates network something people might actually want to join:
Run face to face events as well as online networking to build trust in the network
Make things available to your advocate network that other’s don’t get – whether early access to new digital services, learning and development opportunities or even just a sticker for their laptop
Organise an excursion – maybe to visit another similar organisation to yours to see how they do things, or perhaps to a digital company in another sector
Big thanks to the digital doers community for their help in sharing what has worked for them building these internal enthusiast networks.
10 things you need to know
This is something I have been banging on about for a while, and I have seen it – or similar – done really well in a couple of places. To me there is a basic amount of knowledge that you would want everybody in the organisation to know about digital and transformation. Not the specifics on how to use certain products or services, or even how to run agile ceremonies or user research, but instead focusing on the big picture things people really need to understand to ‘get’ what you are trying to achieve.
This could be delivered in a number of ways, but I like the scalability of an e-learning course, one that could be pitched to anyone in the organisation, from the CEO to front line workers. It should give everyone the core knowledge they need, so you can move quickly when working with other service areas.
Internal blogging or newsletter
Working in the open makes things better, we know this. However sometimes we can work more openly internally, to let people know what we are up to. It’s a great way to spread your cultural tentacles, whether in the form of a regular newsletter or an internal blog. It helps you ‘show the thing’ to a wider audience than can attend show and tells, for instance, and can bring your weeknotes to more people’s attention.
You might worry that people won’t be interested but my experience is that people are way more interested than you assume they are – and if you can add some character and humour to your comms, that will help a lot too.
Come along for the ride
A final idea is to get people from other departments involved in the work you are doing even if they wouldn’t ordinarily be a part of the project. Digital volunteering, in other words. Say you have someone who you’d like to expose to agile delivery methods – why not invite them to play a role on the team, attend the ceremonies, and deliver some of the work. There is no better way of learning this stuff than by doing it and being surrounded by others doing it, and creating a way for people to get experience of it before being involved in a project they are truly responsible for is a great approach.
The importance of inclusion
I can’t finish this article without flagging up the importance of taking an inclusive approach to your capability building. People’s backgrounds can have a huge impact on how they engage with change and new ways of looking at work, and it’s important to ensure that whatever training, workshops or other learning activity you put in place acknowledge this and are built around the needs of those engaging with it. Take the time to understand the people you are going to be working with, and demonstrate that digital doesn’t just mean churning out cookie-cutter experiences using technology.
In other words, your capability programme should be a great exemplar of user centred design itself!
Even if we adopt Tom Loosemore’s definition of digital – and we should – it’s still necessary to interpret it in the context of the service you are looking to digitise.
I’ve worked out a really simple framework for thinking about this, by dividing the options into three distinct levels, or approaches to, digital change. None is necessarily right or wrong, but it’s always likely that one is more appropriate to achieving the outcome you desire for a particular service, in a particular context. Moreover, they shouldn’t be seen as fixed – instead, you can evolve a service through the levels as context changes. The levels are digital access, digital redesign and digital transformation.
Digital access simply means taking a process that currently doesn’t work on the internet, and making sure that it does. Much of the digital work before around 2012 was of this nature, often called things like ‘e-government’ or, later, ‘channel shift’. A lot of the early efforts were based on putting electronic versions of forms on a website, often as a PDF, which would have to be printed out, filled in with a pen and then returned, either by scanning and emailing or, most likely, sticking it in the post.
That sort of thing isn’t really good enough these days, and so the more modern approach is to have online web-based forms that the user can complete there and then. It’s quick and simple and does one of the most important things – it makes things convenient for the user, at least at the start of the process.
The downside is that these forms when used just for digital access tend to email details to the back office, where a human has to read them, process them, enter details into the line of business system and so on. Also, the user won’t be aware of the progress of their transaction unless they phone up and ask. More troubling is that if services never evolve beyond digital access, it masks a lack of progress and ambition.
Convenient for users (especially if they are used to paper)
User will be frustrated with what is still a fundamentally manual service
No efficiency gains for the organisation
Can be a mask for a lack of progress (we’ve digitised all of our services! errrr…)
Digital redesign cranks things up a notch, and I suspect it is the area where most attention is being paid at the moment. It goes beyond digital access by creating real changes to services when they are digitised. These come in two main flavours:
redesigning processes and user experiences
making the technology work smarter, through integrations and introducing new capabilities
Digital redesign takes longer than access, but the rewards are greater in terms of better meeting people’s expectations and potential for savings and other efficiencies. The outcomes are also less certain, which means risk levels are a little higher – so taking an agile approach is definitely a good idea.
To make this work, you’re also going to need to do things like user research and employ some service design thinking – considering the whole service from end to end from the user’s perspective to ensure it meets their needs, as well as those for the organisation.
Greater returns from your effort
It’s actually properly changing something, rather than just sticking forms on the web
It’s not so ambitious that people won’t understand what you’re trying to achieve
Needs more people, more skills, potentially new technology, which means more money
Can take a while, so unless you manage the work in an agile way, it might take time before seeing results
Integrating into back office systems can take years off your life
So what, then, is digital transformation? Well, when a service is truly transformed for the internet era, it takes a completely blank piece of paper approach to its design. You take as first principles that the majority of your users have access to the internet, wherever they may be, and design around that.
This is the bit of Tom’s definition of digital that refers to business, or operating, models. One of the best ways to describe this idea is to think about some of the new, digital age companies that have come to have such an impact on our lives:
AirBnB is a global hotel company that owns no hotels
Uber is a global taxi firm that owns no cars
Amazon is a global retail empire that has no (or very few!) actual shops
These companies base their operating model design on the fact that the majority of people have access to the internet the majority of the time. It’s what makes hailing a cab via a smartphone app viable.
True digital transformation does the same thing, but with existing services. Note that this is much harder than it sounds – coming up with workable, transformative operating models isn’t an easy thing to do in the first place, but even less so when a service is live and working already, in a mature organisational setting.
Another issue is that some of the rather trite ways that this is presented – “What is the Uber of social care?” – can be rather off putting – over-simplifying what is an incredibly complex web of interlocking services, providers and funding mechanisms. Nonetheless, sometimes a rather blunt way of expressing a problem space like this (“the AirBnB of emergency accomodation!”) does help people start to think a bit deeper about how they might redesign a service from the ground up in the digital era.
The final consideration I would raise here is that many of the business models of these modern internet companies is also based on their access to many billions of dollars of venture capital funding, which is used to fund fast growth, soak up early losses, and establish brand recognition and market dominance. Public services have no access to such funding, although they do often have a natural monopoly – which while is not the same thing, it could perhaps be leveraged to make an operating model redesign more likely to succeed.
To sum up, true digital transformation is extremely rare, but is the pinnacle of what can be achieved when completely redesigning a service for the internet age. As local public services become increasingly cash-strapped, it’s something that more organisations must start seriously thinking about.
Genuinely transformative, creating services built for the digital age that meet users’ expectations
The kind of change that is needed to protect local public services in the future
You’re likely to attract great people to work on such a project
A lot of work. You’ll have to go back to first principles and design out from there, which will take time and effort
Risky, there are a lot of opportunities to make missteps, so taking an agile approach will be key to minimising the impact
This requires organisation-wide buy in and support, so building a coalition to commit to this will be a massive job
Hopefully that helps. The important thing to remember is that there are different ways of approaching digitisation, each with its own balance of risk and reward. Which you choose will depend on a number of factors, including the digital maturity of the whole organisation and the service itself, the people and tech you have access to, the amount of time you have, and the outcomes you need to achieve.
Also, bear in mind that you don’t have to take just one approach. It’s perfectly plausible to start with applying digital access to a service, then evolving it into a digitally redesigned service, all the while plotting a complete transformation further down the line.
It turns out that if you want to know whether a chatbot is a good idea or not, it’s not as simple as a yes or no. There are a number of factors to bear in mind, such as the complexity of a service, how transactional it is, and what the emotional state of the service user might be.
Add on top of that the fact is that you need to train the chatbots with the good content and provide access to back office data via APIs. Anyone thinking chatbots are a shortcut are very much under the wrong impression!
Check out the project’s website to download the various outputs, so you can benefit from this research too.
I’ve always liked the idea of bringing together in one place all the great stuff that has been shared over the years in blog posts and articles, so people don’t need to answer these problems themselves, over and over again.
So, I’ve started my own library of evergreen, ever-helpful links. What’s more, in the interests of preservation, I’ve also stored my own PDF copy of each article, just in case they disappear from the web, for whatever reason.
Each link has a title and a description, tells you who wrote it, and provides a link to the orifginal, plus to the PDF copy in case you need it. I would always encourage folk to read the originals if you can, so you see them in context and so the author knows their stuff is being read.
Each link is also tagged, so you can easily find other links on related topics, or other content across the SensibleTech site that likewise is along similar lines.
For those that want to keep up to date with additions to the library, there is a trusty RSS feed. I might build out an email alert system at some point, if people would be interested in that.
Hopefully this is a useful thing – do have a browse and let me know your thoughts!
Huge thanks to Steph Gray for his help making this work. I managed to do some clever stuff with custom post types and fields, but needed his magic to make it all look pretty and functional on the front end!