Weeknote #2 (16 July 2021)


Here’s what we’ve got for you this week:

Every little automation helps councillor enquiries

Chris, Digital Innovations Lead
Trish, Business Partner

We’re working with the Customer Care teams across Sutton and Kingston to help refine and automate their existing councillor enquiry process.  We know there’s software on the market that would help but we wanted to deliver some improvements while we evaluate products, run procurement and implement a solution.

Currently, the process is very manual.  Enquiries from councillors and members of parliament (MPs) are received by email and manually entered into a spreadsheet tracker, assigned to an officer and sent onwards.  Confirmation emails are sent manually, as are chasers and updates.

Our work will introduce a Google Form to create a consistent structure for all enquiries. We expect this will help us collect the information we need and reduce email back and forths to clarify or get more information.  The form submission is automatically saved to a Google Sheet and extra fields are added depending on context.

Councillors need us to confirm receipt of their enquiry and set a deadline for our response.  Our work will automate this process to make the confirmation more timely for councillors, automatically calculate the deadline, and save the Customer Care team from sending this email manually.  The confirmation email will include an automatically assigned reference number to help everyone involved refer to the enquiry.

The Customer Care team can pick an officer to assign from within the sheet using custom menu and interface items we’ve created.  The sheet will email the officer to let them know they’ve been assigned an enquiry and include data from the relevant fields.  

An example of the custom assignment interface we’ve built.
An example of the custom assignment interface we’ve built.

Each day a script updates the status of enquiries, checks deadline dates and emails a reminder to officers, and updates councillors if the deadline is breached. Once a week, a round up email is sent to assistant directors detailing their directorate or team’s performance.

Our next step is to pilot the automated form and sheet with a small group of willing volunteers.  From the response we’ve had already we think even in this initial iteration it will start to add value and increase efficiency.

We want to find the right answer, not have the right answer

David, Service Designer

The waste delivery team is wrestling with ideas around improvements to our services and how we can make sure we make the right improvements. It can be tempting to think that we know what improvements to make but how do we know that we know?

We found Erika Hall’s 2018 talk “Design Research Done Right” very interesting. Erika talks about how much we (all) like to be “right” and how that bias can impact our design research negatively.

In design research we all want to find the right answer but we need to remember that we (should) want to find the right answer, not have the right answer. Most of our professional incentives reward having the right answer and this one reason why design research is tricky.  If we aren’t asking the right question, we may get an answer that gets as an immediate “reward” (praise, promotion, approval for a budget or project request, momentum on a stuck team) but at some larger future cost.

As Erika puts it, “answers have a very short shelf-life”. The world changes and if our answers don’t change with it, they become wrong.Too often those of us in design & technology treat “research” as a stage of our work. We did the research, we got the answer – and that answer turns into an assumption over time. The problem with that is that relying too much on our assumptions introduces risk to our work. Anyone who has worked on a few projects will be able to think of “facts” they got from research that didn’t quite stand up to the real world.  

Erika encourages us to live in the uncertainty of not knowing, to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable with this and to keep asking questions. 

There is so much bad design in the world because people were more interested in defending their answer throughout the process than really asking questions:

  • Is this something people need?
  • Do we have the resources to do it right?
  • Is designing something like this and solving this need going to help us achieve our goals?

Design and User Research leads to evidence based decisions and helps us overcome some of our many cognitive biases. 

There are many great insights and ideas in the talk and if any of these ideas appeal to you:  

  • the need to incentive teams who deliver, not individuals who have answers; 
  • exploring the difference between collaboration and consensus and the need to embrace conflict; 
  • how to influence decision makers when we know data does not change minds; 
  • why even great design teams produce bad design (see Apple & iTunes)!; 
  • the value of a good question to help you make a better bet about user behaviour

…then it’s a good use of 45 mins of your time.

One takeaway is that the adoption of a goal driven and skeptical mindset is a great starting point for design success. 

This rings true to us.

Things we’ve read lately

Pamela’s been reading about Using persona profiles to test accessibility. This is a really interesting concept that you build a profile on a google chromebook and you can then test designs through the lens of a user with accessibility needs. This will then give you insight in your prototype design phase, to ensure it can work for all users.

David has been reading about the challenges of building complexity on a low-code platform as part of his work to rebuild some of the councils’ waste service transactions.

John Paul has been reading how GOV.UK is approaching accounts and what that might mean for service delivery.  This is part of a piece of work we’re doing to consider how accounts are used on council websites.

Weeknote #1 (2 July 2021)


Hello world!

Here at Kingston and Sutton’s shared digital service we’ve set ourselves an ambition to talk more about the work we’re doing publically. You know: make things open, it makes things better. And in local government there are hundreds of organisations we can learn from and share with.

Inspired by the weeknotes from Digital Dorset, MHCLG’s Local Digital team, Lingjing Yin’s new weeknotes from Greenwich, and many others we’ve decided to give it a ago. To start we intend to publish a fortnight-note with contributions from different teams each time.

Here’s what we’ve got for you this week:

Trying to improve a service while migrating platform adds even more complexity

Paul, Head of Design

This week I’ve been reflecting on how important it is to ensure we understand the level of quality we want to achieve from a piece of work and what is primarily driving us to achieve it. 

One of the projects we’re working on has been getting into difficulty recently. The main issue has been managing the project’s multiple stakeholders and their expectations. Ultimately the project seems to have become a bit confused about what it is trying to deliver. There are a few key drivers underpinning the project:

  • Move functionality away from a legacy platform
  • Transform service delivery
  • Achieve savings

The key take away for me is that the above have very different levels of quality and effort. Lifting and shifting functionality from one platform to another requires careful planning and analysis to ensure a like for like transfer but should essentially be quite straightforward and easy to achieve.

Transforming service delivery on the other hand, often involves solving complex problems. To achieve transformation often requires changes to policy, working practices or sophisticated logic creation, which all takes time.

On reflection I think the problem the project is facing has been caused, in part, because it is trying to deliver on all these drivers at the same time. This makes it very difficult to manage the different expectations around pace and complexity.

So whilst this week has been challenging, it has proved incredibly valuable in thinking about how we might reframe our delivery into more logical chunks of work whose quality expectations can be more easily articulated. 

There’s still work to be done but I think we’ll be much better able to articulate the work of sequencing, why we’re opting for that sequence and what will be achieved at the end of it.

Getting the word out about digital jobs is difficult

Ellie, Senior Business Manager

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been running a recruitment campaign to expand our Digital and IT team.

We had a large number of roles to fill, so we were keen to use the opportunity to increase diversity in the team and be more inclusive in our recruitment campaign. We therefore reached out to a number of sites with specific audiences – those focussed on women in tech (Ada’s List), those with disabilities (Evenbreak) and also specialists in the BAME community (UKBlackTech). We were also eager to utilise previously proven channels such as LinkedIn and also our own social networks. 

This week we ran a retro and here are some of the reflections:

Went well:

  • having budget to promote the roles and enable us to work with a broader range of agencies
  • receiving a lot of applications overall
  • raising our visibility and reputation in the marketplace
  • increased traffic through our newly launched Twitter profile and Blog site.

Challenges we faced:

  • on-boarding niche recruitment sites, as they don’t always have documents in place to meet our business needs
  • high competition from other employers for a small number of skilled candidates, often with shorter application processes and offering higher salaries
  • difficulty calculating the return on investment for our spend on adverts and where to focus our efforts – as third party site conversions (eg user clicking ‘Apply’ button) did not correlate with number of actual submitted applications on our recruitment site
  • the need to include appropriate balance of keywords throughout ad title, tags and content – to ensure they would be discoverable, appear naturally in search results and target relevant job seekers.

Having uncovered some of the main issues in our current processes, we are now working hard to review the lessons learnt and see where we can evolve our practices to achieve optimum results in future campaigns. I will look to share these insights here in the coming weeks.

We need to give contractors a good induction

Pamela, Head of Research

At Kingston and Sutton we rely on contractors to supplement the skills and experience in our digital teams. So this week we’ve been thinking about how we induct them, to ensure they feel part of the team.

We’ve written some points to describe the experience we’d like our contractors have:

  • we should tell the team we’re hiring extra people, so your arrival isn’t a surprise
  • we should welcome you into the team in the same way as everyone else
  • we don’t need to tell everyone you’re a contractor
  • we should assure you that it’s ok not to hit the ground running, because you need to learn about the work first
  • we should be open and transparent about previous work and explain the strategy
  • we should be clear about our ways of working, expectations and standards, as all organisations differ.

One change we’re going to try is buddying contractors with a staff member in a similar role. The staff member can support and advise on our ways of working, preferred approaches and artefacts. This will ensure we’re getting what we need and our staff are able to learn from the contractor’s experience.

Things we’ve read lately

Tom started with us a few weeks ago and has been reading advice on new jobs from:

And about Local Gov Drupal’s Sprint #3 and their feature design process (access request needed).

Jon‘s been reading Managing for Happiness. The author, Jurgen Appelo, gave the Agile2016 keynote on Managing for Happiness. The book captures much of the presentation and is full of concrete games, tools, and practices for all workers.

Our website team have been reading up on GOV.UK Accounts to learn about their approach and what it might mean for service delivery.