Citizens Advice are at the frontline of helping people to face the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic. Our digital services are seeing record-breaking demand, with 2.2 million visits to our online advice in the first week of the crisis alone — a 50% increase from this time a few weeks ago. Our dedicated staff and volunteers have been moving our face to face services to phone and online channels.
Image of a horsebox being used to give advice during World War II
It’s been over a year since I joined Citizens Advice as Director of Customer Journey. Here are some things the team and I have been up to, of which I’m particularly proud.
How we’re making our services more effective, user centred and easier to use – my recap of what we’ve been working on recently
Running a responsible customer journey team – my blogpost about how we try to use technology in a way that’s true to our values
How could technology help people save money on their bills? – in which I step into policy territory, bringing together our understand of what our users need and what we know about the loyalty penalty
Connecting people with the best advice – Kylie Havelock (head of product) explains how we’re developing our product strategy
How we built a tool to check our style guide– Alec Johnson (senior content designer) on, erm, how we built a tool to check our style guide
How we designed content that puts our advisers first – Alec again, on our detailed Universal Credit content for advisers
Why we’d like to know where you are – Ian Ansell (data scientist) explains why we are asking our users where they are, and how we are collecting that data securely and responsibly
Matt’s weeknotes – I love the weeknotes Matt White (head of delivery) writes on an almost-weekly basis. As long-time readers of this blog know, I can’t keep up with the pace myself
The concept ‘don’t go to Chino’ may be my most significant intellectual contribution to GDS and digital transformation, though I cannot account for any practical impact. Or at least it might have been, had I published this when I wrote it in 2014. At the time I was leading work on how to get ‘digital by default’ services to digitally excluded users. It matters equally to me now as Director of Customer Journey at Citizens Advice.
If you are involved in making public services more digital, don’t represent users of public services in a less flattering light than you represent yourselves.
This concept is derived from The O.C., an American teen drama. It is a very good programme. Ryan Atwood, one of the main characters, is from the wrong side of the tracks, specifically a place called Chino. The scenes set in Chino or associated with Ryan’s working class roots are shot in a sad, grey light. The look very bleak in comparison to the shiny, bright, upper middle class new life the Cohen family offer to Ryan in posh Newport Beach. The first season in particular is anchored by the ever-present narrative risk that Ryan will return to Chino – don’t go to Chino! I feel that the line ‘don’t go to Chino’ is used in the dialogue but I’ll confirm that next time I do an OC re-watch.
The opening credits give a sense of this, when at the start Ryan is in a car going away from Chino, looking sad and grey.
This concept was coined by yours truly when I got cross at a difference I perceived between the representation of GDS employees and services users in GDS’s photographs. The pictures of users were a bit sad and grey, like they were in Chino. A bad place. The pictures of GDS staff were bright and cheerful, like they were in a nice office in central London, or Newport Beach, bathed in the warm glow of their (our) privilege.
My irritation at this became an imperative: don’t go to Chino [when representing your users]! Which makes no grammatical sense, but you get the point.
The concept is important to me as a reminder to consider how we represent the parties involved in public service provision and use. We should be as respectful to the people who use our services as we are to the people who make them, if not more, and this should show in our visual and other communications.
More broadly, the concept acts as a prompt for me to remember the power relations in digital transformation work, especially when working on services for the whole public, or more disadvantaged or vulnerable people. These power relations are, in my view, very present but mainly unacknowledged. When you work in the public sector and your work is making decisions about the provision of public services to citizens (be that policy decisions about whether services will be provided at all and to what level, or delivery decisions about how they are provided), you are in a position of power over the people who use you services. This is a privileged position. We should inhabit it respectfully and interrogate ourselves to make our actions and our work the best they can be.
After four and a half happy years of freelancing, I’m joining Citizens Advice as Director of Customer Journey. I’m thrilled.
You can read more about my role and why we’re not just talking about digital in this post by James Plunkett, Executive Director for Advice and Advocacy. In short:
Although digital technologies are a powerful way to change a service, what really matters is the method with which change is done: user research, UX design, agile working, co-design, and solving problems in experimental ways. We now want to apply those methods to a wider set of problems, not all involving digital tech. What this work has in common is a mindset: we’ll always approach questions from a client’s eye view — by starting with, and then working hard to improve, the customer journey.
Autumn 2017 themes for Rebecca Industries are training and doing good.
There is a lot of demand for training, as organisations look to upskill their digital leadership and delivery staff. I think this is a recognition that bringing in expert practitioners isn’t enough to make digital transformation happen in complex organisations. I’ve written and run a digital leadership development workshop for Sopra Steria, in collaboration with Mighty Waters (best company name I’ve heard since Rebecca Industries). Ade Adewunmi and I have started to do our leadership training for heads of service design (and content design and research) on the semi-regular for GDS. We did the session at UX Cambridge too. Behind the scenes, I’m developing a couple of new training propositions with consultancies.
In doing good, I’ve been helping Dr. Sue Black and #Techmums with some project management for a Nominet-funded programme for young mums and an online course. I’m starting to work with #upfront to help women and people from under-represented groups speak at more conferences. And the Esmée Fairburn Foundation has commissioned Sarah Jackson and I to run our digital project management training for charities they fund.
I spoke at Ada’s List conference about being feminist at work. My session covered practical things we can all do to speak up for ourselves and others, and how we can influence the canon of tech. It was a brilliant day and you can read the summary here.
I wrote a couple of articles in August. They’re part of my ongoing efforts to demystify digital and leadership work.
I wrote an introduction to agile for people who work in charities (or anyone really), for Charity Comms.
I wrote about leadership skills for digital practitioners in the public sector (or anywhere really), for Think Digital. I’m running a tutorial on this topic at UX Cambridge later this week, with Ade Adewunmi.
I was proud to be one of the original signatories to this article about how to hire more women into technology positions. It’s a crowdsourced blog post from over 50 women working in technology curated by Emer Coleman (Technology Engagement at Co-op Digital) and Charlotte Jee (Editor of Techworld).
The article places gender diversity in the context of other inequalities
Take a look at what your current senior leadership team looks like. Do you have a female CTO or CEO? Is your leadership team all white? What about your Board? Most senior women will want to look beyond just the leadership team. They see diversity in the round and look for organisations that are diverse in class, race, LGBT people, ability/disability as well as gender. So it’s not enough to add a token middle class, straight, white woman to your management team.
I like the recommendations because they are focussed on practical action, for example
… actually demonstrate there is no gender pay gap. There are products developing in the market where you can actually dashboard this for your employees. Consider using a product like https://www.sliips.com/ which takes actual (anonymized) payslips to provide absolute transparency around pay. Of course this is even more important in the UK now since it’s the law for companies with staff in excess of 250.
You can read the full article on Techworld.
Ade Adewunmi and I ran a training session for service designers and heads of service design across government. It’s an expanded version of our tutorial on this topic which you can read about here and here. The training was held at GDS on their last day before moving out of Aviation House, which was a nice symmetry for me.
The training covered how to lead people and teams, whether you’re in a formal leadership role or not, by
- Telling a good story
- Having evidence for putting users first
- Getting people involved, because it gets them invested
- Being nice
- Looking after yourself
It’s based on what Ade and I have learned in leadership roles, and we aim to make it as practical as possible.
It’s always fun to deliver this session and I learned some new leadership tips myself. My favourite was equipping your teams with ‘lines to take’ on questions or criticisms you regularly receive during your work e.g. “why should we bother doing research?”. Brilliant idea. I love this because it’s really useful and should empower people to stick up for themselves and their work in situations that can be stressful.
We got some lovely feedback from people who came to the training. Thanks folks!
If you’d like to come to this, we’re running it as a 90 minute tutorial at UX Cambridge in September, or you can hire us to do it for your organisation.
Sarah Jackson of Kestrel Copy and I have developed a training day to help charities and non-profits do excellent digital project management. We ran a pilot of the course in June and we’re planning to run it again in Autumn.
The course covers how to
- carry out internal research and review your existing site
- set website objectives and choose the best performance metrics
- get to know your users, engage your staff, and keep your stakeholders happy
- choose the right agency, and know what red flags to look out for
- make the most of your budget and stay on schedule
- use Agile, user stories, wireframes, and develop your minimum viable product
- carry out a content audit and make a realistic content migration plan
- steer clear of launch day panic.
It was really rewarding to do something in a new sector, and fun to work in collaboration with Sarah. People said they found it useful and gave universally positive feedback. My favourite piece of feedback was
“Really enjoyed it and found it very useful. Met my goal of feeling confident about having to take on quite a bit of large digital projects in future.”
It’s nice to think that the day helped people feel more confident about their jobs, and as a result some charities will have better digital delivery in future.
Ade Adewunmi and I have developed a tutorial about leadership for people working in digital transformation. We’ve done it at General Assembly and Service Design in Government 2017. On Medium, Ade explains the tutorial and about leading teams, and I write about leading organisations.
This work is important to me because leadership skills aren’t something that are often taught, or at least, they weren’t taught to me and the people I know. Leadership skills can seem to “naturally” occur in people in leadership positions, and leaders can hold and extend their power by not explaining how leadership is done. In the area I work in, these positions are held in great number by straight, white, middle class men. Explaining how leadership is done might chip away at the idea that leadership skills are found mostly or even “naturally” (shudder) in those people, and encourage more people to have a go.