Maps: not just for Summer

We are proud to present our new map for… Autumn! Now the nights are getting spookier and the leaves are turning brown, the Love Summer map was starting to look a little optimistic. The new map covers Halloween, Bonfire Night, half-term activities and bracing walks around the borough. Blow those cobwebs off and take a peek.

This is the culmination of just two weeks’ work from Liz Harrison’s GIS team of Sandrine Balley and Marta Villalobos, with front-end development help from Emma Lewis. And not forgetting Wing’s determination to seek user feedback from unsuspecting visitors to London Fields playground.

We’re continuing to refine the design and functionality of these maps and now have a template that we can increasingly turn to any use. Watch out for more Love maps soon.

Screenshot of Love Autumn map
Screenshot of Love Autumn map

Team-building in our glorious parks

Last Thursday, you may have noticed a dearth of relationship managers and delivery managers on the 4th floor. It was probably quieter. There was probably more room in the fridge. It was because we were on staycation!

Our day’s volunteering in London Fields with Parks staff saw us renovating benches, attacking weeds, creating loggeries, planting trees… pressing the button on the tail lift. All whilst learning more about each other and bonding over a shared hatred of thistles.

The day was such a success that Parks is now thinking about starting an in-house programme of team-building. Who knows, instead of Let’s Network [in a coffee shop] Let’s Network Parks could be coming to a green space near you.

Breaking the tech language code

Here at HackIT we’ve had quite a lot of new starters recently as we’ve continued to expand our capability to undertake in-house delivery of digital services.

Some of those folks come with a strong background in the kinds of technology we use. For example, our developers are all up-to-date with all the latest techniques to do with APIs, AWS, Git and SaaS services.

However, some people come from a background where the above would just be a list of meaningless acronyms. For example, some of our excellent new Delivery Managers have been a little overwhelmed of the barrage of new tech-related phrases they have been barraged with as soon as they arrived.

In order to help new HackIT members prioritise which tech things to learn about first, we did the best thing to do in such circumstances – we asked everyone! We put this spreadsheet together to start collecting technical terms people either thought were important or that they were encountering for the first time. We then ask everyone to self-assign themselves as either technical or non-technical and then rate each of the terms as “critical” (things to understand in the first 1-2 weeks), “important” ( things to understand in the first 4 weeks), “useful” (things to understand in the first couple of months) or “not useful” (nice-to-have’s). When we then totalled up the votes this is when we found.

The top 15 terms prioritised by tech-folks.

  • Front end developer
  • Back end developer
  • UX designer
  • QA engineer
  • Front-end code
  • Back-end code
  • GDS
  • Git
  • Dev / test servers
  • Production
  • Cloud
  • UI designer
  • Github
  • Branch

The top 15 terms prioritised by non-tech-folks.

  • GDS
  • API
  • Local Gov Digital
  • Cloud
  • Server
  • AWS
  • Documentation
  • Front-end code
  • Back-end code
  • Digital Marketplace
  • SaaS
  • Github
  • MHCLG Local Digital
  • Time and materials
  • Dev / test servers

There are many more terms in the spreadsheet.

We’re not going to be providing definitions for these terms at this point. Partly because sometimes they differ between people and we don’t want to start any internal flame-wars! Really though, what we want to do is encourage lots of conversations where new starters discuss some of the topics they’re not sure about with their colleagues and hopefully pick up a lot of other concepts along the way.

We’re going to be updating this list on a regular basis and using it as part of our onboarding process for new starters so especially keen people can have a chance to start getting up to speed on things that may be brand new to them before they even start here at HackIT!

Autumn 2019 HackIT update

I’m starting with a confession… It’s eleven months since I did my last ‘quarterly’ HackIT update. 🙁

But I’m committing to getting this back on track and my latest update on the work we’re delivering across our team is now available to read here:

There’s lots going on and it’s always hard to include everything that different people across the team are working on. Some headlines from recent months include:

  • A small squad of HackIT digital ninjas have successfully delivered the Council’s new website, running on WordPress. This will provide simpler, more user friendly access, at dramatically reduced cost, with design that builds on the work of the Government Digital Service. The new website platform also makes it easy to connect the Council’s online content to mobile apps, Alexa skills, voice-activation technology, chatbots or any other digital product that our residents and businesses prefer to use in future.
  • Our work with colleagues in Housing Needs to respond to the Homelessness Reduction Act has opened up exciting opportunities to go even further in designing services that provide excellent support for vulnerable residents.
  • Work to refresh the Council’s computing equipment is close to completion, providing all of our users with faster, easier to use and more resilient devices. This has included the introduction of a new ‘Grab n Go’ service, making it easy for any officer to access a portable device when they need one. This new service has already been used by c 1,000 users on over 4,400 occasions, with 94% positive satisfaction.
  • Hackney won the Information & Records Management Society Innovation of the Year award for the Council’s work on a digital service for Freedom of Information requests and Subject Access Requests.
  • Our Data & Insight team have been doing great work which includes using data to help develop the Council’s poverty reduction strategy, support our property and asset management work, and provide easier to access insight for managers across the organisation.
  • Hackney’s ‘cloud first’ model for access and security has been highlighted as an example of good practice by the Government Digital Service PSN team:
  • The HackIT digital apprenticeship programme has continued to develop well and further opportunities for apprenticeships (including part-time apprenticeships and work placements) are being explored.
  • And through our work as a founder member of the London Office of Technology & Innovation (LOTI) we are working with other innovative councils across London to dramatically extend digital apprenticeships, provide seamless wifi across our offices, explore the potential for assistive technologies to help people live independently – and much more!
The organising themes for our work in HackIT

As well as delivering new work, it’s also essential to make sure that we are supporting our users well so that they can focus on delivering services for our residents. I’m very pleased to see that our users are continuing to report high levels of satisfaction and this was my favourite piece of user feedback:

I have made several calls over the last few months and have found the entire team to embody the Hackney values and I don’t say that lightly. I wish other teams could respond with similar verve and the obvious directive to resolve even the simplest of issues without making the caller feel small.

There’s much more that we need to do, and the update includes details of some of the challenges that we need to address. I’ll try to make sure that I report back in a more timely fashion next quarter to share details of how we are progressing.

Rob Miller, Director ICT

Want to find out more about the work we’re doing in HackIT and ways to get involved?

  • Details of the projects that we’re delivering are published on Pipeline
  • Opportunities to sell services to support our projects are published on the Digital Marketplace
  • Career opportunities in our team are published on
  • And you can follow our project weeknotes on our blog and Twitter

Hackney Digital Support Services: Weeknote, W/C 23.09.2019


The Digital Support Services project is a big suite of work.

Not only that, despite the scale and breadth of what it sets out to achieve it is almost like an epic epic… It actually reminds me somewhat of the cruise ship called the “Norwegian Epic”. It’s a cruise ship, that delivers an incredible experience and gets huge customer satisfaction ratings, despite having an external appearance that is less glamorous than its prettier siblings.

Looking from in from the outside, Digital Support Services and the projects within it are less likely to create the external excitement than perhaps some of the more outward facing projects do, but on the inside, lots of activity is afoot to create a great user experience.

So this week was mostly about ‘unlocking’ the next steps in Digital Support Services – particularly managing people data.

Having adopted the suite of works (rather like a new crew coming on board a ship halfway through a cruise), it was time to get the two main streams of work back in to motion and in to a distinct phase – something that Henry, the project sponsor was very keen on.

The main challenge of this for me, was that having stepped in to and adopted this project from a predecessor with various areas of work at different stages, there was some work to be done to ‘de-spaghettify’ what had already happened.

Having discussed this in previous weeknotes, I’ll spare the detail, but we had now reached a stage of teasing out everything that either:

  • Wasn’t supposed to be there
  • Was in the wrong place
  • Was needed to get things moving in to output phases

What remained to be done was determine:

  • What needed to be done to get things moving
  • Who needed to do these things
  • When they would get done

Referring back to my cruise ship metaphor – there are a LOT of moving parts in large scale operations. There are departments within departments within departments that need to talk to each other. On a cruise ship, you can’t bring on an entertainment team before you’ve spoken to the hotel team to see if there are any spare cabins… but they can’t tell you if there are any spare cabins until they’ve established how many passengers are on the ship… who in turn can only give so much information before the cruise sets sail because people book right up until the last minute… and the booking agents need to know about the entertainment so that they can sell those last minute packages more effect… It’s a seemingly impossible loop, but you have to find a way to break in to the Matrix.

As humans, we mostly prefer things to be linear, but they rarely are – however, if we accept a non-linear world, we have to start somewhere and we have to take the best position we can and then move forward from that place and allow it to inform us!

So where do we start?

Well, I’m a big advocate of quietly merging the worlds of work and play.

Firstly, because I really like to play.

Secondly (and probably more usefully), because to introduce play to a serious subject, with a level of consequence does a lot of good work to de-charge and disarm the subject matter, so that people begin to think more objectively.

In turn, this creates a bolder, more experimental space and the emotion of fear is politely asked to leave the room. Counter-intuitive as it might seem, better decisions get made here. Even in games people want to put their best thinking forward.

So we had a game of ‘Play Your Cards Right’ (some people might know it better as the ‘higher or lower’ game.

In this game – our first job was to create order of the rounds.

We did this by collecting all of questions and discussion points that had been raised or explored over the previous couple week and grouping them in to common topics (whilst resisting the delicious temptation to talk about them there and then). We were left with four rounds and we then played the game…

THE PEOPLE ON THE TEAM was the first round/topic that was randomly picked from the pile.

Next to come out was WHICH PROTOTYPE to choose. The workshop attendees (contestants), then had to declare whether they thought that this new card was ‘higher’ (as in that it needed to be discussed sooner) or lower (discussed later) than the subject of people on the team.

We completed this for all of the ’round’ cards (aka subjects to talk about), and then proceeded to play each round – which was a more detailed version of the rounds game. Here we had individual questions and statements that needed to be explored, so again we would decide whether the likes of VALUE & SCALEABILITY was ‘higher or lower’ than MEASURING OUTCOMES within the round of which prototype.

As an exercise, it enabled us to collectively and quickly de-spaghettify the plethora of questions, nooks, crannies and nuances that we needed to explore. Whilst un-conference was a possible way to do it, because of the volume of topics, there was a danger of getting caught up in discussing what we needed to discuss – so introducing play and structure enabled us to get to having the real discussion much sooner.

I’ll spare you the results of every round, but there were Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference White Chocolate Cookies on offer as a reward to focus minds!

The outcome of all of this was that we got through a significant amount of topics, questions and brought together wider conversations in to one space, that allowed us to:

  • Identify our first Minimum Viable Product to Prototype in Alpha stage.
  • Identify who would be on the team to do that.
  • Understand which MVP’s would follow number 1 and why.
  • Gain clarity on when that would be and how that could happen.
  • See the potential gaps in expertise and decide how we would approach those.
  • Bracket what was part of our ICT experiment and what wasn’t.
  • Get a wider set of stakeholders on to the same page at the same time.

All of the above are now moving parts and my next steps are to work with the Product Owner to create the Kick-Off meeting so that we can start delivering value within the first sprint.

Talking of iterative value, it’s important to keep that at the forefront of our minds… As Matt Cain said to me after a show and tell last week, we’ve got to make sure that we are not just doing “Agile Theatre”. An important reminder, that we can dress up and make it look like agile with standups, sprints and show and tells, but if there isn’t value being delivered and there isn’t a feedback loop in operation, then we can be found lacking.

So what actual value was delivered through this?

  • We learned how to untangle multiple questions via a process that is repeatable.
  • We have a new Product Owner who hasn’t been a Product Owner before.

I could rattle on about how this has moved forward and that has progressed, but in truth, that’s all a bit more like reporting through waterfall, and as a champion for Agile, it’s all about the delivery (I’m a Delivery Manager afteral right?!)

So I’m proud of these two outputs and look forward to sharing more!

Over & Out…


P.S. I still haven’t cracked the wordpress picture conundrum yet, but I have progressed to an all new and exciting error message… this work continues.