Service assessments: treasure, dragons and a place to dry your socks

An unsuspecting vanguard 

The Hackney Spacebank team are looking at ways we can improve access to low cost or no cost meeting space in the borough for voluntary and community groups, micro businesses and residents. 

We’ve been squirrelling away for the last six months – give or take a couple of fire breaks – and we’re now ready to build our MVP. It feels like we’re at the bottom of a mountain, blinking into the sun, trying to get a glimpse of a hazy summit. We’ve got some navigation, our wits and a great team ethos. Like the best kind of adventures, there will be mysteries to unravel, treasure to be found and dragons to be tackled along the way. 

We’ve completed two service assessments on our journey thus far. These are like a bit Scottish Bothies – stone dwellings for individuals or small groups hiking in the mountains. A place of shelter to pause, unpack our bags, refuel and regroup. At Hackney, service assessments are an assurance, not a gateway. They are an opportunity to ask: are we doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time? 

Our Spacebank team have been accidental pioneers of Hackney service assessments. We volunteered to do the first ever discovery phase service assessment back in March where we experimented with a self assessment approach and a couple of weeks ago we completed the first prototype (Alpha) assessment. 

A reluctant start

I didn’t feel popular when I broached the subject of prepping for a service assessment mid way through a series of five sprints. I understand why. The team were knee deep in the detail of prototyping a new service. I was asking them to step back and reflect. All the information we needed was in their heads and I had to find a way to extract it with minimal disruption. 

Over the next couple of sprints, I ran two 1-hour workshops. We took three or four service assessment standards and answered two questions: what’s the story we want to tell and how can we evidence this?* We looked at the good stuff and the not so good stuff, treating everything as valuable learning and identifying areas where the assessors could help us improve. 

For some of the team, completing a service assessment was new territory. I kicked the first workshop off with a short slide deck so that everyone knew enough** to join in. After we had bottomed out each service standard and assigned them to a team member, we agreed how to structure the assessment itself. We wanted the prototype to do the heavy lifting. We used a demo to walk through our proposed minimal viable product (MVP) and highlight some of our key messages. For example: our growing understanding of users’ needs, iterations as a result of testing, and tech choices.

On the day we were ready. There was a healthy dose of nerves, supplemented by caffeine and chocolate. After the demo, we broke into small groups each led by an assessor. This was the opportunity for an in-depth conversation on a smaller number of service standards. To wrap up we came back together and assessors fed back their thoughts and recommendations to the whole group. 

And at the end of it all, what did the team say: 

“The assessors were excellent and gave really useful, actionable feedback.” Emma, Developer

“I liked how we prepared by giving the assessors the information they needed for each service standard on Trello before the assessment. This allowed us to use the time with the assessors to get their feedback on things we could consider during the next phase of the project.” Sam, User Researcher

“I think the format in which we did an intro, a demo and breaking up into groups and playing back the highlights was a really good way of making the most of our time in our service assessment.” Joy, Service Designer

And our assessors said:

“Super interesting alpha assessment today at #HackIT. It’s always a privilege to meet talented committed teams doing the hard work to make things better for users.” Kate McCaul, Head of Digital at Acas

What are we learning?

Here’s what we are learning about participating in service assessments:

  • Preparation in bite sized chunks – little and often but involve the whole team
  • Take the lead (delivery managers/product owners) but share the responsibility
  • Give ownership of each standard to the relevant team member
  • Show “the thing” and practise showing “the thing”
  • Give assessors early sight of preparations
  • Structure the assessment to support conversations rather than questions and answers
  • Talk about the not so good – your best learning comes from this

Feel free to explore our Trello board and read our service assessment report. A big thank you to our assessors: Cate MacLaurin, Head of Delivery at Hackney, Kate McCaul, Head of Digital at Acas and Giulia Merlo, Service Design Lead at Cancer Research UK. Any tips on dragon handling are welcome. 

*The second question became redundant quite quickly as describing the story surfaced the evidence simultaneously

**What’s enough? A judgement call based on the personalities in the team and confidence levels. 

The hiking analogy of this blog post has been inspired by my long-time friend Shona MacPherson who lives in the Scottish Highlands. Today, she starts a solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, an epic 2650 mile walk from the U.S. border with Canada to the U.S. border with Mexico. She’s raising money for Mikeysline – a suicide prevention charity. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.