Raising awareness of how well designed technology can help overcome barriers for people with impairments

As part of Hackney Council’s User Research Week, we set up a mini ‘empathy lab’ in the Hackney Service Centre. Our aim was to raise awareness of how certain visual and physical impairments can impact people’s lives. We also wanted to demonstrate how technology built with good accessibility standards can help break down barriers for people with impairments, whether permanent or temporary.

What we did

We had two computer stations, one focussed on simulating partially sighted and reduced manual dexterity. The other focussed on severe visual impairment. Staff members passing by were encouraged to give one or both a try. We also promoted the event to colleagues across the Council by email and with Google+ community posts.

We displayed three personas, adapted from GDS digital inclusion and accessibility user profiles, to help illustrate how the types of impairments we were simulating affect people using technology in real life situations.

Partially sighted and reduced dexterity

At the partially sighted and reduced manual dexterity station, people were able to experience what it might be like if someone finds it difficult to use a mouse and can only use a keyboard. The persona ‘Christopher’ prefers to use a keyboard as he has arthritis in his hands.

To simulate this impairment, buttons were taped tightly over the main knuckles on the back of fingers and latex gloves worn. This restricted the ability to be able to bend fingers and reduced sensation in finger tips.

At this station participants were asked to fill in a form online by using only the keyboard and also its paper equivalent. Once participants had become familiar with navigating using only the keyboard, apart from experiencing reduced dexterity in their hands, they were able to select radio buttons, check boxes, drop downs and enter text. As Google forms are coded by default to meet good accessibility standards, participants found the online form easier than writing on the paper version, where writing with a pen was difficult.

In addition, to demonstrate being partially sighted, safety glasses with a light smearing of vaseline could also be worn. Because of her glaucoma, the persona ‘Claudia’ needs to be able to increase text size to be able to read what’s on a screen. We used built-in functionality in the Chrome browser to do this.

When using the vaseline smeared safety glasses, the participants were able to experience how, for example, a website that allows for text to be resized, can assist people who are partially sighted to interact with an online service. This can benefit people with impairments, such as, cataracts or more generally a deterioration in vision associated with ageing, something likely to affect everyone.

After trying out the activities, a participant commented: “Was really interesting and gave me an appreciation of how difficult it can be for some people accessing digital services. Everyone should go and see what it’s like.”

Severe visual impairment

Our second station covered severe visual impairment. The persona ‘Ashleigh’ uses a screen reader and for this activity we used the Safari browser and VoiceOver, Apple Mac’s built-in screen reader. Participants were able to experience how people can have a web page read out to them. Again, depending on how well the web page meets accessibility standards, the better the screen reader is able to make sense of the page.

Some basic accessibility considerations can make a big difference on a simple web page. For example, having a ‘skip to content’ link enables the screen reader user to avoid having to navigate through repetitive navigation links in headers. Correctly nesting heading styles on a web page also helps screen reader users to understand the structure of a page.

What next?

We’re considering how we can take our empathy lab forward and find a location in the office where we can have a more permanent space for it. This will give the team a chance  to understand what it is like for people with accessibility needs when they use the new services they are building, helping us to become the most user centred team in the country.

Making digital more inclusive

Recently, the digital design team hosted a workshop at the service design fringe festival 18

Hackney is one of London’s most diverse and dynamic borough and the Council services roughly 275,900 people who are from diverse backgrounds.

Therefore, as Hackney Council staff we have to make sure that we consider the needs of the diverse users and that we deliver services that are inclusive.

Also, because the digital design teams aim is to develop digital services so good that people prefer to use it, we need to make sure that we are putting people at the heart of service delivery.

We are making some progress in becoming more diverse and inclusive by:

  • Promoting equality and diversity through apprenticeship programmes
  • Making efforts to increase underrepresented people into the technology profession
  • Having a range of flexible working options
  • Putting together accessibility lab to make sure that there is no barriers preventing someone from using something
  • Collecting equality data from people signing up to online accounts so that we can better plan and deliver services that our users needs

However, we acknowledge that there is a lot more work to be done. Our aspiration is to not only do better for our users, but to also help the digital profession become more inclusive.

Hosting an event at the service design fringe festival 2018

Recently, we had the opportunity to do this at the The Service Design Fringe Festival 18, which brought attention to issues around diversity and inclusivity in the service design industry.

Part of the event, we designed a workshop that enabled us to have an interdisciplinary discussion about the issue of inclusivity within the service design industry and to collaboratively work out how to make digital and our work more inclusive.

The workshop was made up of 3 parts:

  1. Each table, attendees discussed how diverse they were, as a group
  2. Each table discussed their experiences of diversity and inclusion in their work, focusing on the teams they work in and projects they work on. In relation to the six areas of diversity aligned to those protected by UK equality legislation: age, disability, ethnicity or race, gender, religion or belief, sexual identity
  3. Each table worked out what changes they could make to become more inclusive in the next 5 minutes, 5 days and 5 months

In terms of how diverse the attendees were, we learnt that:

  • Out of the 17 people who attended, 12 identified themselves as female and 5 as male
  • They were from different background and industries, some from digital industries others were students
  • They were in the age range of  28-43 years
  • The had 0-20 years experience working in the digital field

As for the experience our attendees had with diversity and inclusivity when working in team and on projects, we learnt that:

  • Some of the attendees didn’t necessarily know how to discuss the topics. They had difficulties understanding the terminologies used in the discussions, for example sexual identity got mixed with gender equality
  • They generally feel that age isn’t as big a problem when it comes to work, sector dependent
  • They stated that it was difficult to talk about religion/belief unless it was brought up by the other person. They felt that festivities and events allowed for a more organic discussion to be had around religion/belief
  • They felt that there were lots of ethnicity and race diversity at student level but drops off when in a professional environment, particularly in senior leadership
  • They thought that there were mostly men in the senior management roles with pockets of heavily female-weighted leadership across the industry
  • That more technical roles tend to have a high male demographic
  • They thought that sexual identity is something that is not generally considered. This could be seen as a positive as people aren’t discriminating, but could also be seen as a negative as people aren’t able to talk about problems

Finally, the attendees were committed to promoting diversity and inclusivity by setting some actionable goals.  

The attendees said that they will do the following in the next:

5 minutes:

  • Sit at a table of people wouldn’t normally sit with
  • On a project, think about a level of stakeholder wider that they currently do
  • Reflect on the observations from this session
  • Use ‘shock’ facts to raise awareness of lack of diversity in their team, to their team
  • Start conversation with someone outside of their usual relationship demographic
  • Read up on inherent and perceived privileges around diversity

5 days:

  • Create educational campaigns for designers on how to consider sexual identity on projects
  • Set up face-to-face session with different people in the org
  • Within their own teams, run a session similar to ours
  • Open the conversation in a safe environment
  • Build a standard for age ranges in research on projects

5 Months:

  • Be a part of intergenerational mentorship
  • Widen team conversation to wider IT department
  • Raise profile of issue
  • Raise understanding and communicate negative impact of the issue
  • Challenge stereotypical thinking when encountered
  • Proactively approaching diversity of communities: raising awareness of the work that is done and spoken in shared language

What we are doing next?

We will continue to promote diversity and inclusion in Hackney.

We are committed to being a part of this conversation, so we are hosting a cross-government meetup about diversity and inclusion with Government Digital Services in early December.

If you are interested in replicating this workshop with your team, here is a link to the workshop and the script.

GIS, supporting the delivery of more digital projects in Hackney

Hackney’s corporate GIS team sits within our Data and Insight team within ICT. Our mission is to support projects, colleagues and residents to make the most of Hackney’s spatial information. However, we have a blocker: most of the work we do comes to us via colleagues who already use GIS, or know someone who uses GIS, or at least have an idea about how spatial information can help them in their jobs. This represents a fair amount of people, and their number has increased a lot since we launched our new Intranet GIS (Statmap Earthlight) 12 months ago. However we think we could do better and we want to find new ways of supporting our digital delivery teams with spatial analysis, particularly those who don’t yet know the power of it as a tool.

So last week we gathered our colleagues from across our Digital and Delivery teams, and explained to them how we are delivering our mission across Hackney service areas. A possibility for our colleagues to mentally match our offer with the various situations they encounter when they are out. A chance for us to discover use cases and ‘GIS gaps’ we wouldn’t have suspected otherwise.

We detailed the 3 work streams we are following to realise our mission, as follows (every local authority’s GIS team will probably recognise itself).

Infrastructure and data governance: we administer and develop the corporate spatial data warehouse, which has been providing a single view of Hackney’s spatial information since 2008 and integrates with other council systems through web services and APIs. Most importantly, we’re supporting our community of GIS users, and working with our data owners to introduce new ways of managing data quality. The first step of this journey was the creation of our metadata model and data catalogue.

Data Analysis and Insight: we are using spatial analysis to answer questions and support decision making. We use different supports to develop and share results, like Qlik Business Intelligence dashboards and Jupyter notebooks.

Data sharing and web mapping: we are providing technical support for service areas to share their data when they have to. We developed and maintain Hackney’s open mapping portal. We are, however, trying to move away from the monolithic portal approach and are practising our ‘Agile delivery’ of web maps focusing on a specific sharing need, using Leaflet.

Our presentation had two immediate benefits: firstly, our user research team requested access to the Intranet GIS with the view that it could help in discovery work that they do with services to understand user needs. Secondly, a colleague from Delivery asked how non GIS-users can realise the richness of our spatial data repository if the only way to browse this repository is… to be a GIS user. Do we need a channel for non-GIS users to discover GIS? What should it look like? This will guide our thinking for the preparation of the ‘Annual GIS day’ in November. Any suggestions welcome.

You can see a subset of the examples we showcased in this slide deck. We are keen to hear about how our approach compares to how other GIS teams are operating and think of ways we can learn from others to improve our offer in Hackney.

Working with Pipeline to share our digital efforts

Pipeline is a digital service that is designed to help us all work together to deliver digital services, so good that people prefer to use them:  https://pipeline.localgov.digital/.

Adopting Agile at Hackney

Over the last two years we have been working hard to change our approach here at Hackney, adopting Agile delivery and user-centred service design. This has meant lots of big changes in our team, how we work and the way that we manage our portfolio of projects.

With the move to Agile delivery comes a dramatic acceleration of pace and our shift from large projects to quicker, sprint based delivery has meant that our portfolio has become much more complex than before. As Lead Delivery Manager responsible for coordinating that I’ve been working with colleagues to look hard at how we can make that as easy as possible.

Hackney has devised its own Agile lifecycle, based on the Agile delivery principles set out in the GOV.UK service manual, and although we know that we need effective governance in place, it’s essential that this doesn’t slow down delivery. One of the key pieces of governance we need for delivering projects is an easy way to see what projects we are delivering and keep track of status and updates.

We are working as part of the wider local digital community

Hackney have committed our support to the Local Digital Declaration and want to help support collaboration in digital local public services. You can read more about why we think that’s important on our blog: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/in-support-of-the-local-digital-declaration. As well as managing our own portfolio of delivery, we also wanted to make sure that we could be open about the work we’re doing, share learning that others can use and identify opportunities to work collaboratively with other councils who are looking at similar challenges.

We started with user needs

We identified the following user needs:

  • As a delivery manager I need to report once on the status of my project so that it’s easy to update stakeholders
  • As a portfolio manager I need to see an overview of all my projects so that I can communicate our projects
  • As a manager I want to see other authorities’ pipelines so that I can identify opportunities for collaboration

We looked to see what tools might meet those needs

We did an initial pre-discovery exercise to see what tools might best meet our needs. Agile isn’t new and there are a wealth of tools that are being used by Agile teams across the globe. But we didn’t find anything that felt like it quite fitted the bill.

We felt that the best match of the tools we looked at was Pipeline, which had been built as an alpha in 2014 by LocalGov Digital. This was a good fit with our aim of working collaboratively, but would need some tweaking to give us the portfolio tracking capabilities that we needed.

We decided that rather than buying a thing or making a thing ourselves, it would be best to contribute to a community tool and see how we might ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’. We got in touch with the LocalGov Digital team and were delighted that they were up for that.

So, what did we do?

Acknowledging that we needed something quickly and with our internal developers all at capacity we devised a brief and posted it onto the Digital Marketplace. We got strong bids and chose Rainmaker Solutions to help us to build on and iterate the great work that had already been started in 2014.

We held a workshop with key users to tease out what else was required to make the Pipeline service a tool that would add real value to Hackney and other public organisations. The previous iteration of Pipeline had a promising start but its use had declined, so we needed to create a tool that would add enough value that people feel compelled to use it. A quick discovery exercise delivered lots of feedback which was captured as user stories and prioritised in a backlog for an intense 3 sprint project.

As the Product Owner for the project I ran a session at the recent LocalGovCamp event in Birmingham to demonstrate the updated service and get feedback from peers. I presented these slides and ran two quick workshops. The first was to gather ideas of the functionality that people would like to see in Pipeline and the second was to discuss why people hadn’t used the first iteration of Pipeline and consider why they might not use the updated version. The functionality discussion threw up a few ‘Robocop’ items but the main thing we found was that Pipeline would meet the needs of the users in the workshop (you can see the feedback we captured here). The barriers gave us more to consider. We asked ‘why won’t people use Pipeline’ and found a range of concerns in response (the feedback from the discussion is here):

  • Fear of working in the open
  • Scared of failing in the open
  • Duplication of effort
  • Didn’t see what value it would add to their organisation
  • A gimmick that won’t be used
  • One size fits all won’t necessarily work for their organisation

Fear of working and failing in the open’ was a really interesting barrier. We were incredibly lucky to have Mike Bracken (one of the founders of GDS) visit Hackney this week. He spoke passionately about working in the open and failing fast and learning. I believe his comment was ‘it’s easier to deal with failing if you’ve been open about what you’re doing’. Fear of failure is a cultural issue in many organisations, including local government – my view is that working in the open enables us to focus on being clear about what we’re trying to deliver.  

Duplication of effort’ is a tough one and is something we’re mindful of. Currently our project updates are posted in a public Google+ community, HackIT Delivers. Our Delivery Managers will continue to post their updates in the G+ community and will link status updates in Pipeline to the G+ posts. It’s not ideal, but is minimum duplication to share our work with a much wider audience. Further iterations of Pipeline will hopefully include open APIs that we can connect other project status update tools to.

Adding value’ and ‘it’s a gimmick that won’t be used’ aren’t technical blockers that can be fixed. We’ll show through doing. It’s a case of hitting critical mass: when the product is used widely there will be value derived from the tool and a compelling reason to use it. We can make that happen if we all use Pipeline.

One size fits all’; this was a challenge for this next iteration of Pipeline. At Hackney we follow the GDS approach for many things, but our project life cycle (HAL) has project phases that use different naming, which fitted better with how our organisation manages projects. To stimulate collaboration it was decided that Pipeline would use the standards that have been developed by GDS as that’s a model that we all recognise. So, it is a one size fits all approach but that one size is award winning and widely recognised as a beacon of best practice. We think we can adapt to it without much difficulty.

What Happens Next?

We are starting to use Pipeline and we’re keen that you benefit from it, too.

We’re meeting LocalGovDigital colleagues and the MHCLG Local Digital Collaboration Unit shortly to discuss how Pipeline might be used to help publish all of the collaborative projects they’re looking to fund and deliver – including applications for the Local Digital Fund that has been launched to support the Local Digital Declaration.

This latest iteration of Pipeline was delivered in 3 sprints. There were lots of user stories and additional functionality delivered but there is still a big backlog of additional user stories that we identified through the discovery work (you can see these on this Trello board). We will be looking at how we might fund an additional development sprint in the next couple of months, maybe using Pipeline we might find another organisation that wants to work with us to deliver the next release!

Governance so good, people prefer to use it

Governance as a service

At HackIT we’ve been thinking about how we run ourselves, and our work. I’ve been looking at what we need to do next to iterate our approach to governance. Our HackIT manifesto already sets out our key principles — and there’s been lots of work done to remove some tortuous processes that weren’t working for us.

We’ve already opened up our work, use the local gov digital standards as a benchmark, have adopted the GDS tech code of practice to guide us, introduced pair programming and test driven development, and we’re using agile principles and rhythms to deliver value early, and increase pace of delivery.

But the team is changing and developing — new people are joining us from all sorts of different organisations (and we have 21 new apprentices starting). We need to be able to scale, develop and embed our approach effectively — recognising that we’ll learn along the way and we’ll want to adapt it as we go.

Why is governance important to us?

Governance helps us maximise the flow of valuable work. That’s basically its purpose — with three main functions:

  • Coordinate what we’re doing and stop doing stuff, so we can go faster
  • Focus our people and money, so we can deliver what matters
  • Answer the question “How’s it going?”

My hypothesis is that we don’t need more governance. But because we are scaling a new approach to working using agile we do need to be really clear about what we’re doing and why, communicate it well, and keep checking in with ourselves to make sure it’s effective.

Principles

We’ve got some governance principles to help us get this right:

  • Work in the open by default — because that enables us to reduce formal governance
  • Most decisions should be made at team level — that’s where the best information is
  • When a decision impacts more than one team — teams are responsible for discussing and agreeing what to do between them
  • Where a decision impacts us all — we need to discuss that more formally at a senior level
  • Clear protocols and guidance help us so we avoid overwriting each other’s decisions.

We’re still working on some of our protocols and guidance — for instance around our data strategy and our API strategy — and some, such as the GDS tech code of practice, and the local government service standard we’ve already adopted because we know they work.

What are we doing next?

We’re going to clearly delegate responsibility and decision making to team level wherever possible. To support our teams we’ll focus on growing key skills and behaviours around leadership, decision making, working in the open and use of evidence. As a senior team we’re committing to regularly and clearly communicating our approach including how we feel about risk.

These are big commitments and we know we can’t do everything at once. So over the next three months we’ve decided the focus will be on:

  • Using the updated Pipeline tool that went live this week to openly show the flow of our work
  • Running 5 service assessments, learning from doing these so that we know what our change process (production into live support) might look like in the future
  • Carrying out a discovery phase on a next iteration of our Hackney Agile Lifecycle to support our understanding of and narrative about our governance approach
  • Building a strategic procurement plan using data and insight from our contracts register

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Some really clever and thoughtful people have done great work on agile, governance and working at pace. Here’s my curation of some of the best blog posts/articles I’ve read, along with my thanks to all of them for sharing their work so openly: