Daily note for 21 December 2023

Am playing around a bit with Feedland, Dave Winer’s newish RSS aggregating thing. I like how it is all public, so anyone can see the feeds I subscribe to and what is in them. Am enjoying the desktop app feel of NetNewsWire for now, so don’t think I will be switching, but it’s fun to play 🙂

Principles, guidance, and standards to support people delivering joined-up, effective, user-centred outcomes for people who use Department for Education services.”

Laura Bunt is great and this interview gives an insight into how!

“What next for digital government and Government as a Platform?” Very interesting:

The next step for government as a platform is to directly help services transform. We’ll do this in two ways: first by going much further to help people make better design decisions for their services, and second, by helping services continually optimise themselves.

“The Transforming Government Services team in the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) is redesigning the products and services offered to other government departments to support the delivery of their services. This includes updating existing standards and guidance, so that more services are implemented to a ‘great’ standard.”

On what we should call the folk who engage with local public services

Bit of an old chestnut, this, that I referred to in another post and I have been mulling on for a while.

User feels a bit techie, a bit too transactional, and sometimes like somebody who indulges in illicit substances. However it is delightfully generic.

Customers tend to have somewhere else to go, unlike many of those who engage with local public services. It does have it’s benefits though – it works for businesses and communities as well as individuals, and it is helpful to get colleagues to take improving the ‘customer’ experience seriously.

Citizens is a very complicated term in the UK, and besides, many of the people we work with are citizens of other places, not the UK.

Residents is one that I have liked for a while, but it doesn’t cover people who commute in, or visit for other reasons.

Businesses and community groups need to be factored in and the more individual terms don’t really cover this base. In work in the past, I have used the long and rather awkward ‘residents, communities, and businesses’. I now look on this period with a sense of shame.

On LinkedIn, Craig Hervey from Solihull asked why we don’t just use ‘the public’ – and he had a point. On mulling this though, I find the need for the definitive article a bit clumsy sometimes, and often plain old ‘public’ sounds just a bit weird.

On a current project working on digital strategy for a small local authority, I’ve needed to come up with a term to use, and this time I am trying to stick with ‘people’. Sometimes it can appear vague, which is a problem, but I then do a bit of work on the rest of the sentence to try and provide any additional context that is needed.

So that’s that, for now, for me. Those who engage with local public services are people.

Daily note for 18 December 2023

I’m barely posting any links into Raindrop. I just like linking to them here, on my blog. But I worry they get lost. Not that I ever seem to look for them.

I newslettered.

Some nice bits in Matt Mullenweg’s bag.

Public Digital’s data strategy playbook. Plenty of good stuff to learn from in here.

A literal twist on the classic Minesweeper game.

How product teams are using prototyping in the public sector:

A few teams were very mature in their prototyping practices. When they needed to move fast, try out loads of ideas and surface issues quickly, they used low-fidelity prototypes in paper, Powerpoint, and Mural or Miro. These helped them test out different journeys and flows. They progressed to Figma and Prototype Kit when they needed more fidelity or to test out technical approaches.

More good stuff from Steve: all of this post is worth reading, but the section on Cycles, not sprints is great:

For research and development work (like discovery and alpha), you need a little bit longer to get your head into a domain and have time to play around making scrappy prototypes. For build work, a two-week sprint isn’t really two weeks. With all the ceremonies required for co-ordination and sharing information – which is a lot more labour-intensive in remote-first settings – you lose a couple of days with two-week sprints.

Sprint goals suck too. It’s far too easy to push it along and limp from fortnight to fortnight, never really considering whether you should stop the workstream. It’s better to think about your appetite for doing something, and then to focus on getting valuable iterations out there rather than committing to a whole thing.

Daily note for 17 December 2023

Lovely bit of LocalGov blogging: Nature’s Genius: Service Innovation through Biomimicry.

This is a great story, about the wonder that was Yahoo Pipes, beautifully told… and now I am really interested in Retool, so I guess it did its job (tech marketers, take note)!

Working as a community to iterate the task list pattern:

We kicked off with an open call to join an online workshop, and had over 120 participants attend from dozens of government organisations. This helped us to understand the diversity of ways in which the task list pattern was being used, from application forms to case management systems, as well as collecting research findings, and user needs that the pattern was helping with.

From the workshops a smaller group, comprising designers and researchers from across different government departments, was formed to work on iterating the actual design.

Collaborating in this way wasn’t always fast – the work had to be fitted in around everyone’s main roles – but a dedicated Slack channel and semi-regular calls helped to maintain momentum.

Also this:

Daily note for 14 December 2023

Not been looking forward to today really. I have to go to see a foot specialist about an ulcerated wound on the balls of my right foot. It’ll be good to start getting it sorted, but it involves going somewhere I have never been before, not sure about parking etc, and the whole thing fills me a bit with worry.

I had no idea that Sarah Lay was back working in local gov, but am delighted she is.

A reflective, open and personal post from Carl. People – including ourselves – are not perfect, and that’s just the way it should be.

The challenge now for design in policy – I like a lot of the stuff in this post, which includes lessons that work for many relatively new disciplines, not just design.

WordPress and email

I’ve been moving a few of the sites that I manage away from a simple shared hosting arrangement onto something a bit more proper, with Steph’s advice (this blog, being incredibly simple albeit with a fairly hefty archive going back to 2004 or something, remains on the shared hosting for now). The new ‘platform’ is made up of using SpinupWP to manage the setup of the servers and WordPress itself, which is all hosted on DigitalOcean, with all the benefits that come from having this kind of control over the environment.

One area that has been causing me some worry is around sending emails out of these sites. The emails that WordPress sends, like password resets etc, can be a bit flakey in getting delivered at the best of times, but to make it more complicated, SpinupWP doesn’t install a means of sending emails itself, you have to configure your own, using an email sending provider like Amazon SES or Mailgun. It sounds complicated – and it is, in a way – but there are plugins and things to make it easier.

I’ve played with a few ways of doing it, but think I have settled on one, that I will now move all the sites onto over time. I’m going to be using the WP Mail SMTP plugin to get everything set up and working, and linking it up with SendLayer to do the actual emailing. When setting these things up, you need a domain to use, and each one needs configuring in SendLayer. To make life easier for myself, I have registered a specific domain to use for this, and so emails will come from sitename@davesemaildomain.notreal, which hopefully will keep things simple.

Daily note for 13 December 2023

Lloyd mentions how he likes writing the date at the top of his daily posts, as it reminds him of school. It does me too, on these posts, but also on the daily notes that I write more religiously using my Kindle Scribe. I am writing a log of pretty much everything that is happening, or that I see, or think, that feels particularly meaningful. It’s a marvellous aid to my memory, particularly as I discover more about how I struggle retaining information a lot of the time.

Indieblocks could be an easy-ish way of doing my preferred way of blogging through chunks and links in WordPress, maybe.

Am rather liking the challenging nature of some of dxw’s blogging these days: Service delivery is broken – it’s time to join it up.

Why Neil Williams writes weeknotes.

CAPE is quite interesting, collecting data and plans from councils on climate stuff.

Jeremy weeknoted. It really is just like old times.

GOV.UK Cookie banner and why it “won’t go away”

The struggles of the web browser.

Drafting the ‘so what?’ of the digital quality model

A bit of feedback from the recent call about the Local Government Digital Quality Model call was that the materials really need to sell the ‘so what’ around all of this.

I think there are 2 things here:

  • so what about the model
  • so what about being good at digital, design, data and technology

I have had a go at the second one initially, because I think this might make it easier to do the first one!

So, what I have come up with is this, as a first draft:

Why should councils care about the quality of their digital design, data and technology?

  • Efficiency – the better you are at digital, the cheaper and quicker your services will be at successfully meeting the needs of residents (etc)
  • Prevention – good use of digital helps the council to prevent need from arising in the first place, reducing demand on the council’s services
  • Resident (etc) experience – better use of digital means the users of services get a better experience, and are less likely to complain, or resort to other channels
  • Agility – councils with high quality approaches to digital are adaptive organisations, able to respond to change quickly and successfully
  • Risk reduction – good digital councils lessen the level of information security risk and the risk of projects or services not working as planned

As always I am struggling with the word resident – ‘user’ sounds too techie, and ‘customer’ puts a lot of people off. Any ideas for that?

Any feedback welcome!

Daily note for 1 December 2023

Really impressive what Sarah and her team at Swindon are achieving. Just goes to show what can happen when people are given just a little scope for experimentation.

Been tempted by a Remarkable e-ink notepad for ages, but always felt I couldn’t justify it. So instead treated myself to the Kindle Scribe, which on Black Friday was half the price of the Remarkable. It’s pretty good! It’s great having a single, relatively small and lightweight, thing that I can have with me most of the time for scribbling things down to get them out of my head. I’m also using it to note down stuff that happens during the day, I often find that by 6pm I can’t remember a thing about the previous 10 hours!

Am switching to deck.blue for engaging with Bluesky for a bit. It’s got columns, like Tweetdeck had when that was a thing. Now Bluesky is getting busier, it does make it easier not to miss things.

Daily note for 27 November 2023

Miserable day here, weather wise. Very cold and very wet. Sort of weather than makes me want to hibernate!

I newslettered for the first time in a while. Lots of lovely people replied to say it doesn’t matter if I don’t get round to it as often as I feel I ought to. Love you all.

Neil’s weeknotes really are a joy to behold.

Been using Zoom a bit more recently for online meetings. There’s something about hte simplicity of it that I really enjoy. Also the idea – not limited to Zoom, of course – that it is a simple, cheap technology that you can use for whatever you want. It’d be easy to start a business with a website, an email address and a Zoom account.

Digital and Data – Continuous improvement assessment framework (via Ben Cheetham) – worth bearing in mind as I work with others on the Local Government Digital Quality Model.

Get involved with the launch of early access to GOV.UK Forms.

Why’s it so difficult for councils to adopt the same technologies?