Weeknote: 6 to 10 July 2020

Swans on canal in front of railway line, in far distance, tall buildings

I got a haircut!

  • Only retrospectively did I realise how much that, along with the scratchy Sharpies, was affecting my mood at my home office.

How am I developing leaders and leadership?

  • We welcomed Emma Parnell as a lead designer to work alongside Dean across our citizen-facing services.
  • I also had a catch-up with Eva, the practice lead for content at NHS Digital. We talked about ways to make sure the roles she looks after are included in my work on user-centred design.
  • It still feels as if we’re thinly spread across the product portfolio, but bit by bit, we’re finding ways to get design, content and user research leadership roles into teams at the right level.
  • Looking outside my own organisation, I had an introductory chat with a digital leader from an NHS Trust, who I’ve offered to career coach. Unlike some other roles in health and care, there’s no single obvious path for career development in digital, data and technology leadership. The digital leaders of tomorrow will need a very different set of skills and experiences from previous generations of IT directors in trusts.

What did I do to understand the barriers to accessing our services?

  • I observed a remote user research session on the NHS App, ably facilitated by Brigit, one of our graduate trainees. The user was confident and lots went well, but there’s always that heart-sinking moment when something doesn’t work as they expect and participants blame themselves (“Maybe it’s because I’m not quick on the uptake”). The NHS of all organisations should be making people feel more capable, not less. We can’t accept any design that makes people feel stupid.
  • On race inequality, there was a powerful listening session in which a few of our black and minority ethnic colleagues shared their experiences for all of us to hear. If we don’t hear these voices inside our organisations, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to meet the needs of all our users on the outside. I expect members of my profession to play a leading role in translating what we hear into action, using their skills to facilitate a reckoning with deeply ingrained patterns from history and psychology.

How can I demonstrate that user-centred design is making a difference?

  • I had a call with members of our communications team about how to raise awareness of user-centred design and NHS Digital’s growing capability in this space.
  • I’ve scheduled “accountability groups” to meet monthly for three of my new objectives. In these I’m asking small groups of colleagues with specific expertise and roles to play to help make sure we stay on track, and that the objectives are still the right ones.

What do I need to take care of?

  • A couple of chats with colleagues reminded me that many of our people are facing a perfect storm of pressures: extended working from home; shifting priorities as a result of covid-19; the need to keep on delivering our strategic priorities from before the crisis; a shortage of some key skills in our teams. At our best, these lead to everyone pulling together to support each other and find a new sustainable pace. There’s an ever present risk of burning out our people – at all levels in the organisation – and that won’t be good for anyone.
  • Some of the work I’m involved in is bringing together change agents from both the public and private sectors. If we’re not careful though, both groups can be prone to lazy stereotypes. People who have committed big chunks of their careers to transforming public service can assume that the newcomers are in it for crass commercial ends. People who are new to this world may come in with the mistaken belief that they’re here to disrupt, or that they’re the first people to apply modern methods to complex public problems. The reality is that we have more in common than we think, but sometimes we need to listen harder and take the time to build mutual respect.

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