Finding support services: retrospective 08/04/20

We made a bold switch from a traditional ‘directory of services’ with its labour-intensive, top-down model to a delegated approach where organisations are responsible for their own listings. We want to know if our Find Support Services model has got legs, and COVID-19 has provided an unexpected opportunity to validate the proposition.

Yesterday afternoon, we ran a ‘retro’ to explore the good, the bad and the ugly of our model. We used a collaborative tool called IdeaFlip to run the workshop, which meant we could all participate online – and move Postits around without them hurling themselves off the wall, for a change.


Here are the results!

Principle 1

We will signpost health professionals and residents to relevant organisations and the onus is on them to keep their digital channels up to date with details of the services that they provide.

Has this been proved a good principle?

Yes. They pretty much all have a website or Twitter and keep it up to date, especially the latter. 

Principle 2

It’s not the concept of a directory that’s outmoded it’s the fact they are not kept up to date that renders them redundant.

Has this been proved true?

Yes, we know from both residents and professionals that they are finding this information useful because it is up to date. And we don’t really need to remind organisations to keep it up to date, they do it anyway. 

Principle 3

Organisations will sign up of their own volition.

Has this been proved true?

Yes, if we build it, they will come. But we have also learnt that the verification process we co-designed with our key stakeholders (including health and care professionals) is robust.

What else have we learnt?

The same front-end can function for both residents and professionals, however, there is a difference in the language they use. We should definitely progress our synonyms piece whereby we cross-reference search terms against a thesaurus.

As we suspected, some users need a search facility; and others also want a list of results and not solely a map.

What do we need to explore further?

  • There is often a disconnect between the person who submits the listing and the person who updates the social media. Is this a problem?
  • We’d like to know if or how organisations have adapted to make sure their digital presence is particularly up to date during Covid. Is this a reactive response or would they be doing this anyway?
  • A character limit on the About Us profile and some explanatory text for organisations on categories wouldn’t go amiss. 

We’re feeding our findings back into each iteration of the map and our Agile backlog but, all in all, our model is proving well able to stand on its own feet.

Printing from Comino – week notes : 2020-04-09

This is a new HackIT service in conjunction with our partners in MadeTech. In my 25 years of working in IT it’s been once of the most successful fast starts for a project I’ve ever seen!

The role of the service is to enable teams around the council to use the GOV.UK Notify product to post letters remotely rather than doing it by hand or using the Hackney Print Room (thereby freeing them up to do more important work). Comino is the system many council Officers use to generate letters to residents using standard templates.

We’re initially focusing on letters from Benefits and Housing Needs (B&HN) but are designing and building the service to flexible enough to add new letters and teams quickly after we deliver our minimum viable product.

The team was only stood up on Monday this week but has already achieved a great deal. This is in large part due to the enthusiastic cooperation of the B&HN team who have been supported us via multiple screen-sharing sessions to explain how they work currently and to give feedback on our proposals.

So far we’ve ensured that everyone on the team has all the tools the need to collaborate (Hackney logins, Slack, Trello) and that the developers have access to the HackIT technical infrastructure (AWS). We’ve created and reviewed process diagrams and our technical infrastructure plan. We’ve also had numerous technical spikes focusing on things like how the letters produced by Comino (in RTF) and be parsed and the extracted data used to build PDFs that are compatible with GOV.UK Notify.

The project is very short – only two weeks with a four day weekend in the middle. That said, we feel we’re in a good position to deliver on our proposed outcomes by the end next week. These include not only delivering a set of Comino letters via Notify, but also providing a web-based UI to handle any letters that fail to send, as well as writing the documentation needed to support the new technology and to expand the service for other teams in the council in future.

Hackney Re-Platforming Weeknotes Week ending: 2020-04-09


This week the team is working hard to ensure we’re in a good place as we reach the finish line for the project time-extension at the end of the week after next. A short week both this week and next means we need to keep a close idea on how much time we have left.

We’re getting close to completing Tenancy and Household Check on the new offline platform with new developments ready for testing almost every day.

Ana continues to come up speed with the data-driven front-end component and should be well placed to continue on to deliver Home Check and Introductory Tenancy Visit after DXW have left the project.

In addition Gill did a great presentation of Manage a Tenancy for the Applications Support team this week. They’ve agreed to review that and the documents Tuomo has created for the handover in the next week so we’re well on track to move support for Manage a Tenancy to that team before the current project ends.


  • Test Tenancy and Household Check with Housing Officers using Hangouts Meet and update the process following their feedback
  • Ensure we have a template for creating new processes
  • Make sure Ana and Wayne continue their upskilling in the new data-driven front-end
  • Get the go-ahead from Apps Support that they are ready to take over support for Manage a Tenancy and inform the Support Desk
  • Complete a “project pause” document linking to (1) our internal “Hub doc” that contains links to all our service development resources and (2) our document which outlines the project work we think should take place next.


Thanks to everyone who worked on the project this week – Ana, Bukky, David, F, Gill, George, Lorraine, Richard, Tuomo and Wayne.

Benefits & Housing Needs Service Redesign Project – Sprint Notes 5: Pivoting

Regular followers to our sprint notes will no doubt notice that we seem to have skipped a sprint! We can assure you the work has continued but the impact of Covid19, the subsequent move of the Benefits & Housing Needs service to remote delivery coupled with some changes to the project team have meant a slight interruption to our normal comms plan. We’ll endeavour to catch you up on what has been going on in the next few paragraphs. provides a sports example for pivoting that reads; Basketball. to keep one foot in place while holding the ball and moving the other foot one step in any direction.

Anyone familiar with the lingo associated with startups (and the associated success and failure of many modern companies) will be familiar with the term ‘pivot’ and the need to rapidly change direction to succeed. I like the basketball definition above – it also mentions keeping one foot in place while changing direction with the other. That’s a nice summary of how we’ve been focussing our energy as a team over the last few weeks. 

The team have been grappling with two key questions:

1. How do we keep firm and grounded in our vision for the future service? 2. How do we rapidly re-prioritise our efforts to provide maximum value to staff and residents in the current environment?

Updating our vision for the future service
We’ve updated our tube line inspired map of the future service to reflect conversations and learning so far. The key changes reflect;

  • The importance of  understanding vulnerabilities and assets
  • That tenancy sustainment plays a crucial role
  • A new branch has been added that ends with really good information and advice
  • We have added an (optional) stop for the crisis support that some of our more vulnerable residents will need before moving forward with a longer term plan

SMS Tool & Document Upload
Kicking off with a new section for our sprint notes (where our “pivoting” comes into play).

We had previously experimented with using SMS to check in and nudge residents on their Shared Plan, and had a working prototype to test if people engaged with this format. As the service moved to being delivered remotely, it became clear there were more places SMS could add value across the service. 

The team came together quickly to ensure the solution was secure and would cope with an increased load. One week later and we’re now scaling it across teams. We’ll still need to retrospectively check we’re meeting the right user needs, and undergo a service assessment, but overall we’re really excited with the potential impact delivered in a short space of time. 

Now that the Hackney Service Centre has shut, there’s no easy way for residents to share evidence (think ID, proof of address/income, and bills) to support any applications they’re making to the service, and for these to be attached to their record.

In less than a week the dev team produced a safe, secure and working prototype of a new “Doc Upload” tool. Residents are able to take a photo, add info and share with the service. There’s loads of potential for this to improve how documents are managed from the beginning (by linking with Single View) to make sure residents only need to tell us once. Lots of testing to come!

Information and Evidence & Single View
We’ve now tested and iterated both the waiting time tool and changes to the content on the Hackney website. Security and accessibility tests have been completed and there are only a few small tweaks to be made before these changes will be pushed live. Watch this space. 

The Single View crew have now nearly onboarded all of the staff across the service and the analytics data is clearly showing that users are actively adopting it. The team have also:

  • shown they can successfully retrieve documents from the Jigsaw system
  • completed accessibility testing of the app
  • made some user interface improvements
  • added some really useful snippets of data based on user feedback (for example bedroom requirements from housing register applications)

Shared Plan & Understanding Vulnerability
When “everything that everybody does is geared around preventing homelessness”, then it’s part of all officers’ jobs to build and contribute to a shared plan of action.

We’ve built a working prototype that enables:

  • Multiple officers to contribute actions
  • Residents to access via a link texted to them
  • Residents to mark actions as complete

There are now six officers across three different teams testing the Shared Plan. The initial feedback has been brilliant, particularly during this time of remote working.

“This is exactly what we need. Make your plan bitesized. It’s a way to make just a few steps at a time” – Officer, Housing Supply Team “I think this is going to be so useful now that everything is remote” – Officer, Housing Advice and Options Team

Next steps for Shared Plan include optimising the view for residents on mobile, and giving residents more ways to input into their plan. Then we can measure if this is actually engaging people more and changing their behaviour.

For the moment we’ve paused on understanding vulnerability and assets, and will pick it up again in the next phase. There’s also potential for this to be fed into wider Hackney work around their covid response (of which understanding a resident’s vulnerability plays a key part) – so watch this space.

Want to know more? Here are the links to our most recent  Show & Share Sessions 25/03/20 and 01/04/20. 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.

Implementing webchat in one week

The exact wording of Matthew Cain’s brief was likely more eloquent but I remember it as ‘Webchat. Website. ASAP’. Mission, accepted. Message, self-destruct.

Here follows the diary of how we did it. 

20/03/20: Asking for advice on LocalGovDigital Slack re webchat. Incoming: lead from Neil Lawrence of Oxford City Council re

21/03/20: Adding script to test version of Hackney website for trialing. Having conversations with myself as agent and caller. The first sign of madness…

22/03/20: Writing quick guide for agents and their managers so they can hit the ground running, Tom Cruise-style, on Monday. 

23/02/20: Matthew intro-ing Contact Centre managers to the prospect of webchat. Encouraging response: “It looks brilliant”.

24/02/20: Walking Joseph Asiamah of the main Hackney contact centre through He shares with colleagues Tim Jones and Jacqueline Baker. Joseph is rapidly building up knowledge of the tool and becoming something of a subject matter expert.

25/03/20: Kelly Page joins Customer Services as Ops Manager. Joseph configuring in collaboration with Tim and Jackie.

26/03/20: Joseph, Tim and Jackie training two field agents, Jan and Colin. 

27/03/20: Webchat launches at 10:00 for two hours of nail-biting chat, followed by a debrief from field agents.

Mission, accomplished. 

Within the following week, we take more than 1,000 webchats, with 10 agents and managers now trained on the tool. We continue to learn about and iterate how we use it. For example, we are being more selective in our automated links; and we now ask customers to describe their query so it can be picked up by specialist agents, as appropriate. 

This mission could not have been accomplished without the enthusiasm of a small team. Not only have Joseph, Jackie, Tim and their team embraced webchat virtually overnight, they have adopted Agile principles of standups, user stories, backlogs, sprints, MOSCOW prioritisation, weeknotes AND got to grips with Slack and Trello in just two weeks. 

Kelly puts it best herself: “I am super excited and just a little impressed by the speed and willingness of this team.”

Next stop: Repairs Contact Centre.

Note: No, I don’t know why webchat is called ‘chat’ either. It’s not chatting, it’s typing. I guess ‘webtype’ doesn’t sound so good.