Testers needed: designing inclusive retros

The What

In January I ran a workshop at UKGovCamp. I think it was called “How to love your introverts” – I’m struggling to remember that far back. Attended mostly by introverts (and a couple of brave extroverts), we explored participants’ views on what introverts need to thrive in collaborative environments.* 

Borrowing from the fantastic workshop contributions, I’ve pulled together** a slide deck on designing and delivering introvert-friendly retrospectives. The focus is on ways to foster inclusivity as the norm, not the exception. Why retros? I needed a place to start. My hypothesis is that the principles translate to any type of facilitation. 

The Why

I am an evangelist for collaboration and I am a card carrying introvert. Sometimes it feels like the two things don’t sit well together. Open plan working (although clearly not a thing at the moment), lots of visual stimulation, conversation-led work could be a recipe for disaster for introverts who generally prefer space for thinking and reflection and low stimulus settings. On the flip side, working in “pizza sized” focused teams is fertile ground for introverts, who tend to blossom in smaller groups. 

Despite the connotations of the word, collaboration isn’t necessarily inclusive. Reflective of our extrovert-centric culture, facilitation techniques often reward the attributes and qualities of quick-thinking, talkative types. Figures vary, but up to 40 per cent of the population are introverts. Designing our agile practices to bring out the best in introverts is a necessity, rather than a nice to have. 

The Ask

I’m looking for feedback on the ideas in the slide deck. What works? What doesn’t? What have I missed? My contact details in the deck or use the comments section below.  Thank you for helping me to make this piece of work better.

*As an aside, introversion and extroversion are not binary concepts. Personality traits exist on a continuum. People who exhibit both introvert and extrovert tendencies are dubbed ambiverts.  
**What took me so long, right?

Lies, damn lies and YouTube analytics – Part 1

Or the boring but effective title: What YouTube analytics are telling us about virtual council meetings


  • Online quizzes with your family are no longer fun, more like a war zone
  • Statutory council meetings are taking place online and available in real time to citizens
  • YouTube analytics are revealing things about viewer engagement that suggest we need to rethink the regulations and experiment with how council meetings are led and managed
  • Meetings are viewed asynchronously, rather than in real time
  • Viewers are watching short sections, rather than an entire meeting
  • Engagement across different types of meeting vary significantly
  • Don’t be a rookie analyst – large viewing numbers don’t equate to a successful meeting, its effectiveness or value. 

Back in April – when doing a virtual quiz with our relatives still felt like a novelty not a chore – Parliament passed regulations making provision for statutory council meetings to take place remotely. Councillors – for the first time – could meet online and continue the virtual role of governance and scrutiny. To ensure access and accountability to local citizens, the regulations also stipulated that meetings should be available online and in real time. 

For many, the prospect of delivering council meetings virtually sparked ambition for increased participation. At Hackney, we’ve been live streaming our statutory meetings via YouTube. Early indications show that more people are watching the live stream than would have attended a meeting in the town hall prior to COVID-19. Whether this trend will continue is something we need to assess over the coming weeks. 

In June and July we’re collecting baseline data for all our statutory meetings at Hackney. We are using a combination of qualitative feedback and YouTube analytics. The analytics are revealing things about viewer engagement and behaviour that suggest assumptions in regulations are not reflected in online behaviour, and that the structure and delivery of meetings may need to change to increase participation levels.  

Here’s the health warning. The analytics tell us very little about the inherent value of a meeting or how effectively it was managed. These things need to be measured in other ways. To be clear, a low number of views doesn’t mean a meeting has little value or is ineffective, and popularity should not be taken as a proxy for quality. 

What do we know so far… 

Engagement varies hugely between different types of meeting

This makes it difficult to draw conclusions that are relevant for all meeting types, but over time we expect to see trends emerge for specific committees and commissions. In June scrutiny commissions attracted a higher number of views, both concurrent (in real time) and asynchronous (watching afterwards), as did our planning sub committee. 

People are viewing in their own time, rather than real time

Concurrent views measure the number of people watching in real time. This is small in comparison to the number of people who are watching asynchronously across all meetings. The regulations assume that people would want to watch the meeting as it was taking place, but the analytics we have don’t bear this out. 

People watch short sections, rather than the whole thing

People aren’t watching the entirety of a meeting. This chimes with online behaviour. We tend to skim and skip through online content. We have grown used to bite-sized pieces of information or entertainment. In 2020 it’s an anathema to give your undivided attention to something for three hours. 

Long meetings, agendas, copious reports

Long meetings traditionally have been a bit of a badge of honour – a reflection of their seriousness and gravitas. Lovingly prepared, lengthy reports by Council officers are also held in similar esteem. I’m not seeking to decry or undermine the Herculean efforts of councillors or officers (I’ve written and presented those reports myself). My point is that neither translate well into an online environment. The implications of the previous sentence are huge, more than a blog post can convey or one Council can solve trying to tackle it alone.

Conclusions, thus far

The new regulations are a game changer in some ways and in others not. No-one anticipates a wholesale rollback to face-to-face meetings – virtual is here to stay. The big question is how can it’s value be sustained and meaningful. 

Lifting and shifting a face-to-face process online isn’t the answer. The emergency regulations replicate a process that is over 40 years old – something that wasn’t designed for internet-era culture, unresponsive to short feedback loops, out of step with people’s expectation of service provision and a 24 hour news cycle.

How might we: 

  • Improve the experience for viewers watching asynchronously (watching after the live stream has taken place)?
  • Improve the experience for viewers who skim content and watch short sections?
  • Experiment with structure and delivery of meetings?

We’re continuing to measure our meeting analytics in July and I’ll blog again about the results. 

Virtual Council Meetings: weeknote, w/c 22.06.2020

It’s goodbye from the project team and hello to business as usual

30 second read:

  • It’s business as usual for virtual council meetings from next week, no longer a project
  • I hope that some of the new ways of working will stay with the teams
  • People have been brave, kind and generous in a difficult situation
  • There is a big unanswered question about participation which is beyond the scope of this work
  • Next up: a discovery on the needs for community-style meetings/consultations

3 minute read:

Virtual Council Meetings move into “business as usual” from next week. We will cease to work as a project team, but I am hopeful that some of the working practices we’ve introduced will continue to shape the work of the new cross-functional team* delivering a full timetable of council meetings. Together we:

  • Collectively agreed priorities and visualised work towards these in a Trello board (other tools are available)
  • Used Google Chat to work in the open and asynchronously
  • Regularly reviewed our progress and how we were working together
  • Started from user needs, not user preferences
  • Changed and iterated based on feedback from users
  • Delivered a minimal viable product (MVP) and introduced small improvements frequently

Our achievements

In a nutshell, we have delivered:

  • Over 30 meetings online since the middle of April
  • 29 of those have been live streams
  • GoogleMeet tech checks and orientations to almost 100 councillors, officers, invited speakers and residents 
  • A new team of live streamers
  • A new process for organising and delivering meetings based on shared documentation and combined expertise across three teams
  • Knowledge sharing with other councils: Adur and Worthing, and Kingston and Sutton in particular. 

A few thank yous

My colleagues from governance and scrutiny have adapted to an entirely new way of working, using new tools, implementing new regulations with new people. This was not for the faint-hearted; their courage and “have a go” attitude got us through many of those early meetings. They helped to install confidence in committee/commission chairs, supported external participants to join meetings, answered copious questions and drafted a heck of a lot of new protocol. There were days when it felt overwhelming but they didn’t give up and always got the job done. 

My peers in ICT have been consistently patient, enthusiastic and generous with their time. We now have a team of live streamers broadcasting approximately 4 meetings a week, This includes tech checks with officers, councillors and external speakers and troubleshooting during meetings. This is against the backdrop of supporting 4,000 council employees to work from home in a pandemic. They are so good at it now, we’re getting requests from other departments! 

Senior leaders trusted the team. What does this mean – they listened when we needed to escalate, built on our recommendations and feedback, trusted our evidence and decision making. They protected us from small-p politics and let us get on with experimenting and delivering. 

Beyond our scope

For many, the prospect of delivering council meetings virtually sparked ambition for increased participation. Early indications show that more people are watching the live stream than would have attended a meeting in the town hall prior to COVID-19. Whether this trend will continue is something we need to assess over the coming weeks. 

The question of participation in local democracy is vast and fascinating. Lifting and shifting a face-to-face process online isn’t the answer**, albeit a catalyst for a lively conversation. We’ve replicated a process*** that is over 40 years old – something that wasn’t designed for internet-era culture, unresponsive to short feedback loops, out of step with people’s expectation of service provision and a 24 hour news cycle. How might we introduce changes? Would this require primary legislation? Questions well beyond the scope of our project, but the shift to online pulls it into sharp focus. 

In my dream world, this would make for a fantastic collaboration between service designers, user researchers and policy makers. 

What next?

We are planning a discovery to understand what the needs are for more community-style meetings and consultations. We will review our current tech stack against these needs to see if we need to make any changes. 
We are also looking into how we can support the continuation of councillor surgeries: 1-2-1 meetings between councillors and residents. You can help us by filling out this quick survey. You don’t need to be a Hackney resident or provide any personal information.

*That’s governance, scrutiny and ICT colleagues
**We’ve introduced time boxed meetings, shorter more focused agendas, and adjournments all at the discretion of the Chair
**Set out in primary and secondary legislation

Virtual Council Meetings: w/c 15.06.2020

Finish line is in sight

We had our June mid-point review on Monday. We looked at progress against our success measures and did a team retrospective. We are performing really well across our success measures, which is great.

Our biggest fear remains the live stream, specifically, if it goes down. To help mitigate the nerves we’re being more explicit about what to do. In a nutshell this is: let the technical support officer investigate and do what they recommend. Overall, the live stream is performing very well and is stable. People’s perception and reality are very different things but are equally valid experiences.*  Tackling perceptions by strengthening our advice is time well spent.

We’ve been hosting the live stream on the HackIT YouTube channel during this testing phase. In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be shifting it across to the Council’s official YouTube channel. We will be making some iterations at the same time (based on viewer feedback), including tags and more information in the meeting description:

  • Links to the agenda and papers
  • A message about what happens if the live stream is stopped 
  • An explanation about what to expect at the start of the meeting
  • A reminder that statutory meetings are held in public but are not public meetings.

What to expect next week:

  • I’ll be writing my last weeknote 
  • We are making final preparations to “go live” – by this I mean operating a business as usual service from w/c 29th June. It’s not going to look or feel like a project anymore
  • We are starting preparations for the full council meeting in mid July. 

*I leant this when in a former professional life as a mediator.

Virtual Council Meetings: Weeknote: w/c 08.06.2020

We are rapidly scaling up delivery

It feels like a real step change this week. We delivered seven meetings, two of which ran concurrently. We are rapidly scaling up the number of meetings we are supporting each week. We delivered seven meetings in May and now we are churning out seven meetings in a week! 

We tested a couple of different ways to run multiple live streams at the same time. We’ve got another week before the next set of concurrent meetings to bottom out our preferred solution. 

We started collecting YouTube analytics on our livestream views. This month we are creating a baseline to support a wider conversation about public participation in statutory meetings. It’s a fascinating area of discussion – but reaches way beyond the scope of our current work. The analytics vary considerably between meetings, which is expected. Unsurprisingly, planning generates a lot of interest and our public health scrutiny commission. 

We are having a mid-point review of our “beta -testing” phase next week. We’ll check in on our progress against our success criteria, celebrate what’s gone well and explore how we can keep improving. 

On my mind:

  • Starting the conversation about hybrid meetings – part physical, part virtual
  • Supporting committee and commission chairs to exchange experiences and learning

Short and sweet this week.