We recently attended the first ever One Team Government event. It was a chance for policymakers, service designers and digital experts to come together and talk about how to make government better by working together.
The day took the format of an unconference and speakers pitched a range of sessions to the crowd. We then voted on the subjects we wanted to discuss. They were as varied as 'How can service design help with election planning?' and 'Talk data to me: what's your dream for connected data?'.
So many of the topics seemed to apply to Parliament. As a service designer with a policy background and a content lead with a political communications background, we found it hard to choose between sessions.
Laurence's highlight: how to prototype policy
As someone who’s split most of my career between policy design and digital design, the session on prototyping policy caught my attention. This was a unique event for us because Parliament may vote on, debate and investigate policy but we don’t actually create any ‘policy’ for the public.
So you might be asking why go to something almost entirely about creating policy?
The answer is simple. The term policy has come to represent something more than ‘policy’. To create a policy is to have an intention to change and to recognise that not all change comes through digital channels. A policy could be tackling voter apathy, helping people feel included in democracy or creating trust in politics and politicians.
To think of policy as something only government does is a very narrow view. Although we don’t have policies like government, Parliament owns the institutions of democracy. Institutions that need updating and improvement to meet the standards and expectations of citizens in the 21st century. How can we explore prototyping changes to those institutions to meet those needs?
Testing a website or digital tool is much easier to grasp. We’ve been doing it at PDS through usability labs, interviews, ethnography and even guerrilla research. Policy is much harder to test and in Parliament the answers to big policy questions will have many different answers.
The session gave us heaps of concepts for prototyping policy ideas. From ethnographic interviews to co-design and even to data simulations. There’s no one rule here either. Testing the quality of interaction between MPs and citizens is difficult and a very different task to making a digital service.
The main take away from the session was just do something. Talk to people, listen to people and get people to think and create alongside you. This is the first step in tackling those big policy problems facing Parliament.
Rebecca's highlight: dealing with very busy people
Another stand-out session was the one by Hadley Beeman on 'Ministers, their staff and very, very busy people’. This got me thinking about ways to make sure even the busiest of senior colleagues are well informed about your work. The discussion was about Ministers understanding digital projects and their benefits.
We talked about the importance of understanding the priorities of busy people. We also discussed the needs of busy people when presenting information.
Hadley, who was tech advisor to a former Minister for the Cabinet Office, commented that Ministerial papers written by user researchers or content designers are more effective than those written by policy people alone. I think it's a great idea for content designers to coach policy people on the best way to share information with busy people.
In Parliament, we need to get the clerks, the Speakers and Members all testing our services for themselves at the earliest opportunity. So let’s get better at demonstrating what we’re building. We should be giving this important user group simple and clear information about our work, in a format that suits them.
We already do a lot of pair writing with experts here at PDS. It would be great to use this technique to improve our communications with some of the busiest people in Parliament. Working together we can create advocates for the digital services we’re building.
Working together is what PDS does
A lot of conversations at One Team Government were about removing silos and breaking down barriers. Whether that's between teams and departments or between public services and the people using them.
Parliament is certainly not an organisation free of silos but we’re improving. We can't transform Parliament's digital services without working closely with teams across both Houses. They're the experts in their users after all and this approach is at the heart of our digital strategy.