Finding support services near you: weeknote 14/02/20

This week’s weeknotes are brought to you by team member Winston Mullings. 

This has been a very exciting week in the wonderful world of ‘Finding support services near you’. We carried out user testing, upskilling research and also gained some valuable insights surrounding scraping information from websites into a database.

User Testing

We gained access to the ‘out the box’ MiDoS front end and started to configure the basic functionality. Unfortunately incorrect admin rights restricted our user testing with residents but, despite this, the session was fruitful. The residents said many things which are in line with the work we are carrying out:

“Listen to what people want, that’s the most important thing.”


The resident testing revealed a disconnect between what they call things and what professionals call things, so will we need to address this in the taxonomy and front-end.


“I Use Facebook but not Instagram or Twitter, I don’t know how that actually works.”

Voluntary organisation

The residents highlighted a wide range of digital platforms that they either already use or are familiar with. The team took this forward with desktop research to assess how easy it is to set up an online presence with WordPress, Wix, MeetUp and Eventbrite; and also whether these platforms offer sufficient fields to hold profile information of organisations. We found that by in large these platforms do have sufficient profile pages, and they are simple to set up; but that’s easy for us to say – we will need to carry out some user testing to validate.


OpenActive is an open source data schema developed by IMIN (as in ‘I’m in’) that scrapes information from websites via a search API. IMIN is now collaborating with MiDoS around how to scrape online content and push to its database. IMIN currently only covers physical activity, but this proof of concept could be widened to the sorts of organisations in scope for this project.

Next week

Annual leave means it may be a slow couple of weeks but we will continue with user testing. We will be including back end user testing with organisations; we will investigate and continue further testing of the taxonomy; and we will continue investigating the opportunity of IMIN populating MiDoS.

Thanks for reading and for your ongoing support!

Finding support services near you (formerly Directory of services) weeknotes 17/01/20

This week, we’ve been busy trialling our chosen database, MiDoS, and analysing the results from our interviews and surveys with local organisations. 

Before departing for the slopes, Chris from Intuiti – the company that owns MiDoS – kindly sorted us out with a login to the admin interface. It is through this route that organisations can enter their details into the MiDoS database, ready to be pulled into any front-end website we choose. 

Meg and Winston tested the out-the-box interface and we are pleased to report that, with zero training, it’s very easy to use. We’ll verify this with volunteers from the organisations themselves but we couldn’t help having a poke about ourselves in the meantime. 

There are a few fields we want to tweak before we open it up to organisations and we’ll be working with MiDoS to configure those to suit our needs. And we also want to apply our own taxonomy to organisations, based on the services they provide, so that end users can find the services they need.

Our user research lead, Wing, has finished interviewing voluntary organisations large and small about their digital presence; and our survey on the same subject has closed. We’ve found that 90% of organisations (18/20) use their own website to market themselves and their activities, and many supplement this with Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to promote individual events. One of the two organisations that doesn’t have a website expressed a desire to have one, which we hope to address through the ‘upskilling’ arm of this project.

Only 10% of organisations (2/20) have an up to date entry in the existing iCare directory. One of them, which did not have its own site, said they did get referrals from it. The rest cited “lack of time”, “it’s not used”, “I can’t remember the password” or “I don’t know how to do it” as reasons why it wasn’t updated. 35% (7/20) were not listed in iCare at all.

We can conclude that only one organisation saw the existing directory as a key part of its digital strategy. What does that mean for this project? Is the directory dead?

We don’t think so. With iCare, organisations are asked to update too many extraneous details that they’re already updating on their own websites (eg opening hours, minutiae of activities). Many don’t bother, and end users have stopped trusting the information. Equally, iCare doesn’t provide sufficient information on what the organisations actually do and consequently doesn’t encourage click-throughs to organisations’ own sites. Finally, its front-end design tucks the directory right at the bottom and also fails to encourage users to browse through to other organisations providing similar services.

We intend to address these issues with this project and, with the benefit of Agile and continual testing, we’ll be able to make sure we stay on track. It’s also worth highlighting that one interviewee wanted a user-friendly directory that not only signposts clients to them but that they can signpost clients to.

One clarification following our renaming exercise. Although we are now calling this project ‘Finding support services near you’, this isn’t reflective of any potential name for the directory. It’s simply the working title of the project so that those involved can understand readily what we are trying to achieve.

We rounded off the week with a planning session for our ‘How might we… verify an organisation’ workshop for next week. We’ll let you know the outcome of our collective creativity in next week’s update. If you can’t contain your excitement until then, you can always distract yourselves with Megxit. 

Directory of services weeknote 06/12/19

‘If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.’ Who’s going to argue with Einstein? Using the research from the discovery phase, we’ve workshopped our way to a problem statement for this project. It always pays to take the time to remember what on earth we’re all trying to do here. 

In a nutshell – and take a deep breath – volunteers don’t update the directory so the information gets out of date so community navigators and residents find it useless and stop using it so volunteers don’t see the point in updating it. And so it goes on.

Our next step is to apply the design thinking technique of ‘how might we’ to break this cycle of negative feedback. Hold that thought for next week. In the meantime, please feel free to read and comment on the fuller problem statement.

We’ve been working with user researcher Wing to delve further into some of these thoughts. Next week, we’ll be surveying voluntary bodies around Well Street to gather insights into their use of digital marketing. And, later, interviewing some in depth. Hackney Community Volunteer Service has been running a pilot in Well St and we specifically want to see if engagement with HCVS has led to a deeper digital footprint. 

If we want the break the negative cycle, we need voluntary organisations to engage with digital. But we need to find an approach that scales. If we hand-held every organisation then no doubt they would have a digital approach to rival Instagram (okay, okay, let’s keep it real). That’s clearly not feasible. But what is the minimum engagement needed to tip them into good-enough digital marketing?

Now we understand the parameters of the project better, it’s time we thought up a better name. It’s a poor project that’s named after a product and not the outcome we’re trying to achieve. We’ll be taking feedback at our show and tell on this. And, on that note, hold your diaries for 2-3.30pm Monday 16 December for a pre-Christmas reveal and review. 

Up next:

  • How are voluntary organisations currently verified in directories? 
  • What digital upskilling of voluntary organisations as already taken place? And did it work?
  • How will we join up with a project further down the user journey that tracks whether residents actually go to the voluntary organisation (aka Elemental).

As with every self-respecting HackIT project, we have a side hustle. In this case, it’s to open up the NHS calendar so it doesn’t take three days of paths-crossing emails to organise a meeting. Watch this space. 

Directory of services weeknote 29/11/19

What we’ve done this week

  • Had a demo of the latest release of MiDoS (going ‘live’ nationwide in December) – the latest functionality seems to meet the needs of our initial end-users, organisations across the Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) and social prescribers (who will access the data held within the directory via the Elemental Digital Social Prescribing Platform). We’re starting to work out when we can test our hypothesis on this product.
  • Caught up with colleagues at Newham Council and North East London Commissioning Support Unit to see their thoughts on MiDoS, how they’re using it currently and how we can work better together.
  • Added five new voluntary bodies to the minimum viable directory. This brings us up to nearly 200 programmes and activities on the directory, many of which are within Well Street Common, our pilot Neighbourhood.

What’s on next week

  • Exploring investment in digital upskilling across the voluntary care sector – we’re holding a problem statement workshop to help remind us all of what we’re trying to solve with regards to this specific element of the project. This will help inform the solutions and research we devise.
  • Expanding the end-users of the minimum viable directory – we’re attending the Adult Social Care 3 Conversations team meeting to set up a small cohort of social workers onto it. This is staying true to our values: test, gather feedback, accept changes, learn and adapt accordingly.
  • Buckinghamshire County Council is leading a project around standardising how data is captured, held and stored (read more here) – we’re introducing their digital team to the MiDoS team so we can explore this standard over coming weeks. 

Today’s weeknotes are brought to you by Meg Dibb-Fuller, Product Owner on this project.

Directory of services weeknote 20/11/19

This project is looking at how a digital approach can encourage the voluntary health and social care sector to connect with people who need their services. We’re exploring a couple of options that answer this user need:

  1. a searchable database of voluntary organisations
  2. upskilling the organisations themselves so that their own digital presence informs end users

We are building on the good work achieved during the Discovery phase of the past few months; and the next phase will continue to run along Agile principles and user-centred design. This may be a new way of working for stakeholders but we hope they’ll come along for the duration. For the unfamiliar, our approach means that:

– We place the user at the heart of what we do. Not managers. Not budget holders. Not the most senior person in the room. But the people who are going to be using the service. 

– We do as much as we need to do to get to the next step. We don’t plan out a project from end to end and work through it. We accept change, we learn, we adapt.

This is the abridged version for the time-poor. Please read the HackIT Manifesto in full if you’re at a loose end and need an excuse for a Garibaldi.

We will meet with relevant stakeholders when specific issues within their area of expertise arise and need to be discussed. Our governance primarily comes from weeknotes, show and tells and service assessments.

All weeknotes (where we air our triumphs and challenges) will be published here; stakeholders will be invited to give feedback at face-to-face show and tells; and we will have a service assessment with assessors where we more formally demonstrate and defend how we’ve delivered. And, as an NHS collaboration, there are no doubt other boards and reviews which we will need to update.

We’ll keep this first weeknote short and sweet. Future versions will be published here and on LocalGov Digital’s Pipeline.