Involving our residents in the design of digital services

Hi. I’m Seranna Ramlochan and I wanted to share with you some activity we have been undertaking this week to involve residents in the design of a new digital service that will enable our tenants and leaseholders to view their rent and service charge account details online.

Brief background: what we have done so far

We had already engaged with the relevant service areas (in this case, Leasehold Services and Rent Income & Accounting Services) to draw up a list of features that the new service will bring to residents.

We had identified the following features of the online service to be important to our tenant and leasehold residents:

• View rent/service charge account balance
• View rent/service account transactions
• Receive important account notifications
• Download account transactions statements, invoices and breakdowns
• Make a payment

We had also created some prototypes so that we could visualise the online service and its features initially to the service areas involved.

The resident workshops

What we then wanted to do was get our residents involved to have a look at the prototypes and the features of the online service. So this week we invited a number of tenants and leaseholders to resident workshops with the aim of getting an insight into whether the service and its features actually meets their needs, and discover any alternative/additional design and functional aspects of the service that could help further meet those needs based on the feedback received.

We did this by first showcasing the prototypes. Residents were guided through these by being shown the various elements of the interface’s layout; its menu’s, button placement, expansion of information boxes along with scrolling through and switching between different screens within the service. We also explained the accompanying features provided; the ability to view their current balance, recent transactions, make a payment along with downloading statements and receiving account notifications.

We then interviewed the residents to gain some background on how they typically use Council services, what are the particular barriers to using certain services and getting an understanding of their awareness and perception of the Council’s One Account. The exercise not only provided a way of validating what we had done so far, but also provided some good insight into how the service could be designed more around user-centred needs. We also got some useful suggestions on how we can support residents in using digital services going forward.

What have the resident workshops told us?

Overall feedback was positive. We learned that the service would be very useful for residents who do not wish to contact the Council for something as simple as checking their balance or most recent transactions. Leaseholders also fed back that it would provide convenience in being able to download a breakdown of works carried out to their block and estate, rather than having to contact the council to request these to be sent to them. Account notifications were also positively received, as this was thought to be useful in helping residents manage their accounts more effectively.

Other aspects of feedback included:

Keep it plain and simple – avoid using themed backgrounds and distracting images, with a plain user interface being preferred
Accessibility features where important – develop an interface that included resizing or zoom in/out options to help people with partial sight
Ensure that it is secure – the One Account provides two level authentication

Residents were also keen to stress that there needs to be a commitment from the council to help residents use digital services. Suggestions included drop-in events where residents could bring their personal devices and be shown how to use the service on a 1-2-1 basis.

Residents also wanted assurance that digital channels would not be outright replacing existing customer service channels, citing restricted access to the internet for certain resident groups. So this is something we need to think about in terms of how we manage the channel shift of residents and how digital inclusion initiatives can help with this.

We will use the feedback to enhance the proposed service to meet resident needs – changes around accessibility and a plain, simple and intuitive interface will be a design principle that will be applied to the service based on the useful feedback we’ve gained from involving residents.

More broadly though, we want to build on the above activity to involve residents more closely to help shape the design of digital services going forward. This will include working with residents at earlier stages to discover the types of services they need, and involve them at a more granular level to help test prototype designs and generate ideas of how these can be designed to be accessible, simple and intuitive to use.

Why we’re thinking about design principles

One of the most exciting things about joining the team in Hackney has been hearing colleagues express their interest and enthusiasm for working in new ways. We’ve got lots of ideas of what can change and how we can improve things. But as we embark on this journey, it’s important to understand why we’re doing things.

Russell Davies, the former strategy director of the Government Digital Service came to Hackney this week to talk to us about the GDS design principles. These emerged as the team started to develop its ways of working. He described them as a formulation of a culture and attitude that was already emerging, but also how they served as ‘super rules’ which weren’t “owned” by any particular department but which still required compliance (the service standard and control of the domain were other key parts of the jigsaw).

Intriguingly, Russell also urged us to not necessarily adopt design principles, but to consider our manifesto, playbook, or new form of statement. He also regretted that they hadn’t iterated the principles after adoption.

We had a brief set of discussions at tables during the event. Whilst it would have been great to talk for longer, the time-limit perhaps created the sense that we were starting a conversation. As we are on multiple sites, we’re doing that virtually, in the first instance – for all I’d prefer to be able to visualise it in a common space, it does at least mean that you can follow our thinking.

The work will need to grow organically – but as Russell said, we also need to make sure the end product is high quality. ‘Use a designer and a copy editor’, he urged. Watch this space!


Becoming HackIT

I was super-excited when I arrived in Hackney. But I was also conscious that I knew relatively little about the ICT service. In the first few weeks I met lots of colleagues who were also excited to work in ICT for the council – but few people outside who knew much about what we were doing.

In my last job, in Buckinghamshire, I blogged about our work, and ran a weekly email newsletter to talk about what we did that week and what we would do the following week. But in a bigger service, and with high profile leaders like Rob Miller, I wanted to be part of a wider conversation. If we all talked about our work, we’d capture that excitement and potentially showcase the service better as a place to work.

If we called the blog ‘digital’, it may have seemed like it was just for some parts of the team. That would’ve been a mistake: the work of the infrastructure team, for example, is critical to changing our service – making it more flexible and responsive.

We canvassed ideas for a name from the team, and then put a shortlist to our Cabinet portfolio holder: Mayor Glanville. He chose HackIT – Digital change for everyone. It was great to choose a name that captured the mentality that we’re developing (Hacktivism as a force for good) but also made a clear commitment that this isn’t technological change for the sake of it, or the responsibility of a single team, but a collective effort to deliver change for everyone.

Here we are!