Weeknote #2 (16 July 2021)

Here’s what we’ve got for you this week:

Every little automation helps councillor enquiries

Chris, Digital Innovations Lead
Trish, Business Partner

We’re working with the Customer Care teams across Sutton and Kingston to help refine and automate their existing councillor enquiry process.  We know there’s software on the market that would help but we wanted to deliver some improvements while we evaluate products, run procurement and implement a solution.

Currently, the process is very manual.  Enquiries from councillors and members of parliament (MPs) are received by email and manually entered into a spreadsheet tracker, assigned to an officer and sent onwards.  Confirmation emails are sent manually, as are chasers and updates.

Our work will introduce a Google Form to create a consistent structure for all enquiries. We expect this will help us collect the information we need and reduce email back and forths to clarify or get more information.  The form submission is automatically saved to a Google Sheet and extra fields are added depending on context.

Councillors need us to confirm receipt of their enquiry and set a deadline for our response.  Our work will automate this process to make the confirmation more timely for councillors, automatically calculate the deadline, and save the Customer Care team from sending this email manually.  The confirmation email will include an automatically assigned reference number to help everyone involved refer to the enquiry.

The Customer Care team can pick an officer to assign from within the sheet using custom menu and interface items we’ve created.  The sheet will email the officer to let them know they’ve been assigned an enquiry and include data from the relevant fields.  

An example of the custom assignment interface we’ve built.
An example of the custom assignment interface we’ve built.

Each day a script updates the status of enquiries, checks deadline dates and emails a reminder to officers, and updates councillors if the deadline is breached. Once a week, a round up email is sent to assistant directors detailing their directorate or team’s performance.

Our next step is to pilot the automated form and sheet with a small group of willing volunteers.  From the response we’ve had already we think even in this initial iteration it will start to add value and increase efficiency.

We want to find the right answer, not have the right answer

David, Service Designer

The waste delivery team is wrestling with ideas around improvements to our services and how we can make sure we make the right improvements. It can be tempting to think that we know what improvements to make but how do we know that we know?

We found Erika Hall’s 2018 talk “Design Research Done Right” very interesting. Erika talks about how much we (all) like to be “right” and how that bias can impact our design research negatively.

In design research we all want to find the right answer but we need to remember that we (should) want to find the right answer, not have the right answer. Most of our professional incentives reward having the right answer and this one reason why design research is tricky.  If we aren’t asking the right question, we may get an answer that gets as an immediate “reward” (praise, promotion, approval for a budget or project request, momentum on a stuck team) but at some larger future cost.

As Erika puts it, “answers have a very short shelf-life”. The world changes and if our answers don’t change with it, they become wrong.Too often those of us in design & technology treat “research” as a stage of our work. We did the research, we got the answer – and that answer turns into an assumption over time. The problem with that is that relying too much on our assumptions introduces risk to our work. Anyone who has worked on a few projects will be able to think of “facts” they got from research that didn’t quite stand up to the real world.  

Erika encourages us to live in the uncertainty of not knowing, to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with this and to keep asking questions. 

There is so much bad design in the world because people were more interested in defending their answer throughout the process than really asking questions:

  • Is this something people need?
  • Do we have the resources to do it right?
  • Is designing something like this and solving this need going to help us achieve our goals?

Design and User Research leads to evidence based decisions and helps us overcome some of our many cognitive biases. 

There are many great insights and ideas in the talk and if any of these ideas appeal to you:  

  • the need to incentive teams who deliver, not individuals who have answers; 
  • exploring the difference between collaboration and consensus and the need to embrace conflict; 
  • how to influence decision makers when we know data does not change minds; 
  • why even great design teams produce bad design (see Apple & iTunes)!; 
  • the value of a good question to help you make a better bet about user behaviour

…then it’s a good use of 45 mins of your time.

One takeaway is that the adoption of a goal driven and skeptical mindset is a great starting point for design success. 

This rings true to us.

Things we’ve read lately

Pamela’s been reading about Using persona profiles to test accessibility. This is a really interesting concept that you build a profile on a google chromebook and you can then test designs through the lens of a user with accessibility needs. This will then give you insight in your prototype design phase, to ensure it can work for all users.

David has been reading about the challenges of building complexity on a low-code platform as part of his work to rebuild some of the councils’ waste service transactions.

John Paul has been reading how GOV.UK is approaching accounts and what that might mean for service delivery.  This is part of a piece of work we’re doing to consider how accounts are used on council websites.

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