Helping our colleagues to get set up for working from home, fast

As you can imagine, the HackIT support team has experienced a significant surge in calls as the country gets used to living in lockdown. Supporting thousands of our colleagues to move to remote working was bound to raise some issues, even though we were already well prepared via our investment in cloud services such as G Suite.

We are continuing to ask for regular feedback from our users (we do a monthly short survey of people we’ve helped) and we’ve been very pleased to see great feedback scores coming back.

(1 = most satisfied, 7 = least satisfied).

The hard work and skill of everyone involved in supporting people across Hackney Council, who are all doing vital work in these very trying circumstances, has made an amazing difference to the Council’s service delivery.

We’ll leave you with a few quotes from our users.

“Support was extremely helpful and had the situation resolved swiftly, under such circumstances of high demand on the ICT department I was more than pleased with just how quickly they were able to help me in my request. Many thanks, I can continue to work from home now!”

“ICT has been extremely helpful today and on all other calls prior to today.”

“I received an excellent service and the person I spoke to was very helpful and polite”

“The ICT Officer was friendly, had good customer service and was helpful and sorted the problem for me.”

“Very happy with the service. Response and solution were dealt with promptly.”

“Very prompt response. The support staff were extremely helpful and efficient. I was grateful with the help she offered”

“Helpful and friendly. Waited on the phone for approx 15 mins but aside from that the service was very efficient.”

“Colleagues in ICT are always helpful when I have an ICT problem. I appreciate that there is an unprecedented level of home working at present but it was helpful to receive details of the fix that ICT are intending to roll out

A thank you to HackIT

Less than two weeks ago I was handing out a much deserved award to Andrew at Hackney Stars, a world away from the challenges we all now face due to Covid-19 / Coronavirus.

The nature of this crisis is for all of us meaning late nights (it’s almost 1am as I finalise this), early mornings and unusual working environments often with new teams, crazy deadlines and the unexpected only just around the corner. For us at the Council, while we are all doing our jobs no one can fail to be moved by the backdrop against which we are working. It can include colleagues, family friends and neighbours self isolating, often fearful about what might happen next and the challenge of adjusting to new demands, working from home and now the ubiquitous team catch up on ‘hangouts’ with the associated magnolia walls, random cats and now children in the background. The hints and tips shared by the HackIT team have been especially useful as I hosted meetings of 30 plus councillors late into the evening on meet.

The latter remote or not so remote working for me, as I’m still hunkered down in the Town Hall, wouldn’t have been possible without Temple, Yulian and Ali helping set up my office so I had the latest hangouts meeting kit so that critical meetings can take place – all delivered to me when the Town Hall faced a fire alarm and I was on a conference call with the Secretary of State sat in the car park. Firmly the shape of things to come!

Meanwhile Cate, Colin, Anwar, Nigel, Indran, Manzeela, Yvonne and all the Service Support team and volunteers from across the HackIT team were getting people set up so that they could work from home, delivering over 400 laptops in next to no time for colleagues who said they didn’t have computers at home. Luckily anticipating the Prime Minister’s announcement that most of the country would now be working from home.

Both of these teams made us more resilient as an organisation, able to face the challenges of the past two weeks. That wasn’t always easy as the support team can attest, as they handled the hundreds of calls from colleagues who needed help to enable them to work from home.

In parallel, we had Liz and the Data & Insight team looking at a different type of resilience. Early on, several of us realised that the Council held a huge amount of often disparate information on our residents that could be useful if brought together. The mapping and thinking they have done, bringing together this data about the different types of vulnerability in Hackney is inspiring. That work is now proving invaluable as we develop our volunteer hubs, giving us crucial information ahead of the Government on who in Hackney is likely to need help and why, sometimes challenging common understandings of vulnerability.

This is sitting alongside and shaping the work led by Matthew and Samir on helping to scope out what ‘lockdown’, prolonged self isolation and isolation could mean for the borough, and what supporting those in Hackney facing this challenge is going to involve. Detailed thought on how we best reconfigure our services and structures to support them through this crisis. The work they, Rashmi, Selwyn and Emma (who worked over the weekend) to shape and create the volunteering hub will channel volunteering and mutual aid in Hackney and no doubt save lives in the weeks and months ahead.

This will also be much easier because of the work Meg, Susan, Emma, Lucy, Sandrine and the Spacebank team have put into the amazing (and much talked about) ‘Find Support Services Near You’ map (and let’s not forget the data behind it), which I have been regularly tweeting about and is now shared across the mutual aid groups in Hackney and beyond.

This is also changing how existing services are delivered with Zoe, Ian, Jasmeen (& others) supporting Matthew with the work to help our contact centres respond so amazingly well, and now staffed remotely.

So I hope you’ve seen that lots of our evolving work is being shared as best practice across the country, but that doesn’t mean we have turned our back on other ideas or what else is happening in London, with Joy, Richard and Winston, together with colleagues at Camden, helping to mobilise our residents’ efforts in support of the community response to Covid-19 – tapping into civic minded tech companies like Future Gov.

Bruno, Emma and Felix, who’ve paused their normal work to step in and help the Borough Emergency Control Centre team to response to an unprecedented crisis – are playing a crucial role in getting things in place so that the Council can respond effectively, creating a second Borough Emergency Control Centre and long term sustainability for the days, weeks and months ahead.

Finally, we’ve all been led, advised, challenged and yes, amused, by Rob as he influenced so much of what we have all delivered in the past two weeks. It’s all been marshalled from a room in south London to ever greater heights fuelled only by toast, Magnums and all manner of on screen snacks, now all too common to self isolation in this new world all of us are still adjusting to.

So from me thank you (sorry if I’ve overlooked or missed anyone). When this is all over not everyone will know the part you have played, but from the start I know you have been invaluable. So despite the hectic pace, let me remind you to rest, recuperate and think about your own energy and resilience as you help ensure all of us at the Council are equipped to face the challenges ahead.

How we responded to Covid-19 in 36 hours

We may all be starting to feel the impact of Coronovirus on our mental and physical wellbeing. So we’ve pulled together a map of local voluntary and support services that can help us keep body and soul together. Organisations may not be running their usual face-to-face activities but they are getting creative and trying to meet residents’ needs with innovative alternatives. 

A small team rallied together and has been able to turn this map around in 36 hours, because of three factors: 

  1. a decision in HackIT to turn the original summer map prototype into a template with reuse at its core
  2. the existing Finding Support Services Near You project (sponsored by the City and Hackney Integrated Care Partnership) and its contacts with the voluntary sector and local organisations
  3. Hackney Council’s genuine commitment to flexible working that enables us all to work productively from home

The map’s look and feel is based on the Leaflet js library and HackIT pattern library (evolving from the GDS designs), which is a continuing project between our in-house design and front-end development teams. The technology behind the map came out of a collaboration between our GIS and front-end development team. They worked together on a new template that means we can spin out maps rapidly without having to edit any of the code, reducing the need for developer time.

The map template is open source on GitHub for reuse. Sharing is caring, after all. Especially now. 

Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 4: Manic March

This sprint has seen the resurrection of the “power-hour” to help power along all the “things”. Here is an update on what has happened so far in manic March:

Understanding Vulnerability + Shared Plan:

Understanding Vulnerability is the key to determining what route a customer initially takes through the Benefits + Housing Needs service. So, we have started to develop the initial paper tool into a digital prototype that has taken centre stage this sprint.

Testing with the Benefits Teams has encompassed:

  1. Spotting red flags – Employment and Support Allowance ending, non-engagement
  2. Understanding the context – Building a bigger picture of the situation (phoning, looking at their notes in Single View)
  3. Document Vulnerabilities – Using the prototype, free text and checklist with prompt options
  4. Building a shared plan – Work with the resident to create a Shared Plan (actions for both Service staff and the residents)
  5. Share the plan – With the resident using the SMS tool to support them in taking action to prevent homelessness

Tune in next time to find out how the tool has developed to potentially incorporate multiple council officers feeding into a single shared plan; and a read-only view for residents. 

Single View of a customer:

Continues it’s take over of the service with 83 users now onboard. Over the last two weeks they have also been looking at the user interface; making sure it is accessible for all users. The team will start to test these new iterations over the next sprint.

Tech Development is ongoing and includes:

  • New designs for the users viewing pleasure
  • An improved timeline and search facility(!!!) to prevent a user having to scroll through everything

For more details check out Soraya’s week notes 

Information + Evidence:

The waiting time tool is now embedded in several everyday processes within the service including responses to complaints and members enquiries. The mayor’s office has also had a demo and the next step is to embed the tool in their processes. 

The tool will also be utilised to inform Hackney Community & Voluntary Services about the  message that we are sending to our customers.

Development of the wording of the new website pages is continuing to help deliver a realistic and supportive message about their housing solutions. To ensure customers are receiving the right information testing with residents is underway.

Want to know more?

Well keep following our notes and posts, and feel free to get in touch with Claire or Scott if you’d like to chat through any of the work.


Last week we (Rahma and Joy from the Service Design Team) attended the yearly SDinGov Conference in Edinburgh. The three day event is made up of leaders and experts in the industry who deliver keynotes, talks and workshops that cover various topics across the Service Design discipline. This year’s topics focused on designing beyond user needs and with the environment in mind, the role of power and privilege in design, methods/tools for delivering better services to the importance of storytelling in design (delivered by Rahma with friends from MHCLG) 

Our overall impression was that this conference was an excellent opportunity to explore new developments in the industry, learn/share tried and tested techniques that will enable us to design better services for our residents and staff, as well as meet our mission around being curious and promote Hackney values by openly speaking about the work we do.  

Needless to say, there were many brilliant sessions that we wish we could have attended, but below are summaries of some of the ones we made it to. 

(This blog was co-written by Rahma Mohamed & Joy Suthigoseeya) 


Bringing unsexy back: fixing the plumbing of government

Carrie Bishop, City and County of San Francisco

Carrie is ex-Futuregov director who moved to San Francisco to work in local government there. She works in a federated environment and talked about the unsexiness of working with local gov and how there is a lot of boring but necessary work to do to implement change. Since there are 55+ departments in her organisation all doing their own thing with no strategy to align them, she believes that there is a need for a new playbook to work in that environment. It comes with many challenges and is incredibly hard. It is slow grindy and hacky and requires a lot of resilience. 

Key takeaways:

  • Take care of the basics – before you can get started with things that seem like big knotty problems you need to take care of the basics like fixing a website
  • No one cares about your double diamond – talking to stakeholders about the value of design and the process is often pointless. Let go of artifacts; nobody looks at them.    
  • Need to let go of the sprint mentality and adopt a marathon mentality – in a centralised environment where governance is top down, it’s easy to operate with a sprint mentality but in a federated environment you need to approach it like a marathon because change will be incremental 
  • Make friends with influential allies – not necessarily senior leaders but people who have a lot of influence over their own networks and relationships. They are your biggest assets. 
  • Don’t be precious about the software tools people use, adapt to how others work so you can stay collaborative
  • Conserve your energy for bigger battles. Take a zen approach to the ones you take on. You won’t be able to fix everything so let go of the anxiety. 
  • Believes that the approach she’s taken is sustainable even though it seems like nothing is moving
  • She compares the work she does to crochet, something very unsexy, but all the parts knit together to form the whole.  

What role are you taking in change 

Cassie Robinson, Head of Digital Grant Making, The National Lottery Community Fund and Co-founder of the Point People

Drawing from her varied career across multiple industries such as textile design, central government to charities and organisations for social change, Cassie’s talk explored the roles that people and organisations can play in large complex challenges. That transitioning to a better future needs an active social imagination, less user centred design and more collective design. 

Key takeaways on what that might involve: 

  • Doing stabilising work: The need for people who maintain things we need 
  • Transitioning into a different future: Challenge is not to just optimise current system, but to help people transition from dominant to emerging system 
  • Pioneers: People who hold the space for pioneers to do their work, such as starting something new, building new alternatives, values and methods
  • The hospice worker: Things have to die to allow new things to grow, having care and compassion for things that are in the process of becoming redundant 

Building better worlds

Cennydd Bowles, Designer and futurist

Cennydd spoke about designing for a better future and that our responsibilities as designers go beyond thinking of just user needs. We are experiencing some unprecedented trends with democracy on the decline and climate change happening now. 

UCD has two blind spots and that has to do with designing to promote consumerism. We have to design beyond the user with “radical inclusion”. Designing with other people and systems, and shifting our focus to be planet-centred. We should mitigate as much unintended consequences as we can. To design for the future, not just things for the future. We can do this through speculative design. Using design fiction to help facilitate conversations and help people experience the future before it happens is a way to work through unintended consequences. But we can’t just design for a dystopian future because that’s fear driven, nor can we design for a utopian future because in less stable environments it’s fertile ground for totalitarianism. We need to design for a realistic, flawed, compelling future-what he referred to as “Protopia”. These positive visions will get us past mourning to hope

The way we can affect systems change is by starting with individual change to influence collective change which will enable us to do systems change. We can adopt social principles to help collective change happen

Design has always been an ethical act. There is no place for neutrality. Design is central to our shared futures


How to prototype your operating model 

Emily Bazalgette, Organisation designer

In order to prototype your organisation’s operating model you need to understand the level of complexity for which you are prototyping. The session covered principles and approaches for designing operating models. 

She used a pasta analogy to identify the approach you might take to prototyping. 

  • Neat uncooked package of spaghetti – mapping your organisational model from an observer point of view is not realistic. It assumes that everything is neat and orderly and is used as an artefact by organisations to soothe uncertainty. Rather than have an artefact it’s much more useful to have conversations. You can’t understand how an organisation works without interacting with it 
  • Strand of spaghetti – Not everything can be prototyped. Sometimes you have to start with a narrow focus and scale it from there 
  • Bowl of spaghetti – these are the complex knotty problems that interlink with everything else in an organisation. In this space, it’s recommended that you “hold the space” to understand it. There’s less structure. Forget about the double diamond it’s all about relationship building, exploring the space through conversation, and building trust 

From service design to systems change: Lessons from practice

Adam Groves and Nerys Anthony,The Children’s Society

In this talk, they discussed the things you need to consider when designing for systems change. If you take a look at complicated systems vs. complex systems; complicated systems are causal, linear, and even though it may have a lot of moving parts, you can find an expert to fix it. In a complex system, it’s more about the sum of its parts and the fact that it is ever-changing, ever-evolving. It changes over time and can surprise you. It is not easily fixable. 

Considering these differences, you have to adopt a unique approach to system change. Just doing discovery won’t solve the problem. You have to be immersed in the system to be able to understand it. If you adopt the mindset of being part of the system you can help enable the change from within the system. The level of complexity is exponential when you factor in people. So when it comes to change, much of the work involves changing the social infrastructure 

Pass on the spark: spreading the story of your project 

Sam Villis, Collaboration Lead, MHCLG,Rahma Mohamed, Service Designer, London Borough of Hackney, Hattie Kennedy, Digital Delivery Lead, MHCLG, Katy Armstrong, Head of Digital Delivery, MHCLG

This session explored the power of effective storytelling throughout the agile process, show and tells, assessments and recruitment. 

Sharing examples of their work, failures and successes, the speakers shared tips on how storytelling can help grow knowledge across organisations, bring people along and help people communicate the work they do effectively. 

Key takeaways from the session:  

  • When we use the narrative arc to tell our stories we make them compelling and memorable
  • Engage the your audience by giving your Show & Tell a narrative arc, but also explore with different ways stories can be told, visual, auditory, physical/kinesthetic
  • When telling stories, focus on the how, not just the what
  • By showing people something tangible (prototypes, concepts, future visions,step-by-step of your process) and gathering feedback, you enable your work and practice to become a shared experience
  • In interviews, storytelling helps you; talk about the interesting part, focus on yourself as the hero and accept the things went wrong 

Starting small to build big

Simon Walder, Scott Logic 

Having worked in IT and software for 20 years, Simon shared his experience of the complexities around delivering digital services. Including legacy technology, dependencies and unknowns unknowns that make delivering services hard. 

Looking at a case study of a project with DWP, this session explored the benefits of starting small to build big.  

Key takeaways from the session:  

  • Don’t think about the destination, but the journey 
  • Establish what the value is, – demonstrate that quickly and continuously   
  • Stop discussing and start delivering a working software
  • Done is better than perfect 
  • Encourage learning

Exploring the future of open justice: speculative design in service design 

Rachel Bruce and Nina Cutler, Policy Lab

Speculative design can be a useful tool in service design. When it comes to getting people to think about the future and how a service or policy might play out, it’s useful to come up with a fictional story to facilitate conversation. When thinking about possible futures we need to ensure that whatever we come up with reduces bias, helps us innovate, and makes policy decisions more effective. 

Designing policy can evoke strong emotions. Using speculative design can create a safe space for conversation. Sharing what they learned, they had five findings that came out of “The future of open justice” case study: 

  1. It’s useful at an early stage where you need to test and challenge your assumptions
  2. Through storytelling and worldbuilding, speculative design can be used to engage people who have no prior experience of, or particular interest in your policy. 
  3. It can be used to immerse people in possibilities and keep politics out. It’s a way to make the abstract more tangible
  4. It can be used to provoke ideas without leading
  5. To do speculative design, it requires capturing, analysing and translating insights from research into thematic analyses to come up with a clear set of principles and findings 

Participants gained insight into how Policy Lab experimented with these approaches from central government, and how they hope to use them to improve the policy profession more broadly. They also shared some of their tools and exercises they use to facilitate these conversations.  

Designing an Environmental Service Standard

Ness Wright and Zoë Prosser, Snook

This was about a need to create environmental service standards to add to the current service standards that GDS has championed. We should be designing with the environment as a stakeholder in mind. Climate change is a massive risk to all the services we deliver, because it can disrupt basic human needs such as access to food, water, fuel and shelter. To meet user needs in the future we need to address climate change. 

In their discovery they found that there is a lack of support across all levels of organisations to help people adopt environmental standards into their work. So the work they are doing now is to facilitate those conversations around developing environmental service standards. There are already frameworks in place such as guidance to making ICTs greener but there’s more to be done. Since service standards take time to approve they are starting with principles to prototype. Below are the principles: 

  1. Evidence to motivate action
    1. Use evidence to understand the situation and determine where you can make the most impact 
  2. Position climate as a priority
    1. You need to win the support of senior decision makers and embed climate in strategy, governance, KPIs and objectives
  3. Balance short and long term actions
    1. Balance long term objectives with immediate actions that raise awareness and create mindset change in the short-term
  4. Be pragmatic and opportunistic
    1. Do what you can with the resources available and keep an eye out for timely opportunities – don’t wait for the perfect baseline to start. 
  5. Your responsibility 
    1. Don’t hold back because you don’t think you are enough of an expert. Start with research or find someone who can help. 
  6. Benefits beyond emissions
    1. We need to tie the benefits to the financial and social benefits because it will increase their likelihood of making it happen 
  7. Being supported by a community
    1. Get a group of people who are passionate about climate and build a community for support, knowledge sharing, and reflective practice
  8. Work towards radical
    1. Work to increase the ambition of actions in order to reach radical, fundamental change to limit global warming to 1.5º C

The work is still in progress and at the moment they are looking for feedback on how these principles work out in the wild. 

The designer’s ego and how it will prevent us saving the world

Audree Fletcher, Strategist, Researcher and Designer  

This session reflected on the role of designers, how a designers skills and imagination can make change happen, but also the self-limiting behaviours that stand in them achieving higher impact. 

Here is a brief summary of what might stand in the way of designers and what’s needed to overcome it:

  • The artist: Here the designer focuses on getting things pixel perfect, when they should design for outcomes and learning 
  • The scientist: Designers should not test to validate, but they should also test to invalidate their assumptions
  • The saviour: These designers should recognize that service users are experts in their experience and not people we need saving. The focus should be on collaboration rather than doing something to people 
  • The self-centred designer: Designer who put themselves in the center of power, should consider the users/audience rather than themselves when inviting people to workshops and when choosing the types of workshops to run
  • The self-protecting designer:  Designers with selective attention should be open to see what they don’t want to see. For higher impact, it’s important that they share their learnings and ensure that their work is reviewed by others 


Power and privilege in design: a training course

Clara Greo, Government Digital Service, Sonia Turcotte, Citizens Advice Bureau

Explores the ideas behind power and privilege and how it can be systemic and baked into policy or services. How do we design to reshift the balance in power and how should we be aware of the biases that influence the decisions we make? This was a 1.5h workshop to explore those very notions.

We started by building a shared understanding of the glossary that is used in regards to power and privilege. They shared a few examples of where biases can create inadvertent consequences. We then did an exercise where we considered various privileges or lack there of and how different points of views can affect the users who experience our services. If we are aware of where power resides and the privileges we have, we can design services that are inclusive of the underprivileged 

Inwards and outwards research:choosing your research methods according to the Service lifecycle 

Caroline Jarrett, Effortmark Ltd, Clara Greo, Government Digital Service 

This working session explored ways to get the most value out of user research throughout a project’s lifecycle. 

Key takeaways from the session:  

By breaking down research questions into those that look inwards and those that look outwards, we can start mapping them into the right methods. 

  • Outward research: is about understanding and establishing who

your users are, their context, and the scope of work. Here you might want to chose research methods that enables you to generate information such as, contextual inquiry, diary studies and market research

  • Inwards research: is about having a thing that you’re evaluating or testing, such as concepts or prototypes. Here you might choose evaluative research methods such as, usability testing, card sorting and A/B testing