End of a journey

November 30, 2012

Hi all,

A year ago I posted my first post on this blog about winning the SOCITM Graham Williamson Award where I won an opportunity to study User-Centred Design and User Experience at the City of Vancouver – a local government Council in Vancouver. Fast forward to now and I’ve just returned from SOCITM2012 – the annual SOCITM conference in Birmingham after giving my final presentation to the conference on my trip. I’ve always seen the conference as being the final stop on my journey since winning the award and I’m extremely happy and proud what I’ve achieved this year.

The presentation – called User-Centred Design (UCD) and User Experience (UX) in Local Government – was received really well and I’m extremely pleased with the feedback and buzz on Twitter I had about it. My presentation focussed on how the City of Vancouver used these UCD and UX techniques to develop their Vancouver.ca website. I then detailed how leadership and senior management buy-in is critical to deliver these techniques to local government here in the UK to achieve cost savings. Quite a big ask!

The full presentation can be found here.

***Update December 12th with link to a video version of my presentation***

My presentation style is different to others in that I don’t have much information on the slides therefore they won’t give much context on their own. The presentation has a full transcript in the notes though which explain my presentation in detail.

So, what has this year been like for me? Well, this blog has plenty of information in detail but to summarise:

  • Went to Vancouver for a month in Feb 2012
  • Came back to the UK and introduced new UX techniques and ideas which I’d picked up from Vancouver
  • Began a project to improve the awareness and importance of UCD and UX across the UK in Local Government
  • Travelled the Country giving presentations to regional SOCITM conferences delivering the above
  • Raised the profile of UCD and UX in my own organisation
  • Was selected by SOCITM and IBM to be part of the Top Talent Programme where I visited IBM’s offices in London and Dublin to learn leadership and management skills
  • Had 6 months of personal 1:1 mentoring with IBM Executives to work on my strengths and weaknesses professionally and personally
  • Networked with many suppliers, peers and colleagues around the Country gaining valuable contacts
  • Graduated from the Top Talent Programme at the SOCITM2012 Annual Conference and finally,
  • Gave my final presentation at the SOCITM2012 Annual Conference.

What a year. And what a year Gemma Gibb has to come. Gemma won the award for 2012-2013 and she’ll be off to America to study how they use “digital” to deliver local government services! I wish her all the best and good luck!

Before I sign off, I’d like to Thank the following people who have been key this year:

  • Michele-Ide Smith (my previous line-manager) for giving me a nudge to apply for the award and for setting me up with contacts in Vancouver
  • Rahel Anne-Bailie from Vancouver for her time helping me arrange the trip and for her hospitality while I was visiting the team
  • The entire Web Redevelopment Team at Vancouver.ca teaching me everything I wanted to know with special mentions to Jerome Ryckborst and Laurie Best for their key support and guidance
  • Everyone at SOCITM who has supported me and given me some great opportunities
  • All the graduates from the Top Talent Programme, Liz Jackson who was my mentor over the last 6 months and to Steve Cliff for arranging the Programme
  • All my colleagues at Cambridgeshire County Council who have supported me with special mentions to John Platten and Joanna Leung for their key support and to Mark Lloyd for helping me raise the profile of my trip and UCD/UX through regular blogs and meetings and finally,
  • My wife Ems for all the times I’ve left her at home while I travelled (especially so soon after we were married!) and for helping me prepare for my presentations.

As with all great achievements, great opportunities soon follow so the next chapter for me is a move to develop my career. I’ll be taking up a position as a Digital Project Manager for a leading Digital Marketing Agency in Cambridge. They have some really exciting clients which I’m looking forward to working with. It’s going to be particularly exciting as I’ll be working across multiple digital platforms (web,  phone, tablet and other digital platforms) and I’ll be able to use my UCD and UX skills to help deliver some truly exciting products.

So, with that, I’ll sign off for the last time. Thanks to everyone for reading and following me. I can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter if you’d like to keep in touch or ask any questions on this trip.


Top Talent Programme, Dublin

October 1, 2012

Hi all,

I returned from an excellent two days in Dublin on Thursday last week working with IBM on the Top Talent Programme in conjunction with SOCITM. It’s a shame that the 6 month programme is coming to an end for me but really, it’s only just starting. The programme has been an invaluable experience for my current role, my career and myself. Speaking to people about the programme is difficult because it’s hard to describe what exactly it is. So, for those people, below is a simple explanation of what it’s about.

  • IBM and SOCITM joined together to offer a leadership and management programme to provide training to applicants involved with SOCITM who they see as future leaders
  • We had a 2 day intro session in London 5 months ago to define the programme and to meet our mentors
  • We began having 1:1 mentoring sessions over the phone with IBM Executive business coaches generously provided by IBM
  • The 1:1 sessions look at our barriers, weaknesses and how we work as an individual. We discuss personal and business issues that hold us back in our day job and how to change this
  • After 3 or 4 1:1 sessions we met at the IBM research centre in Dublin as a group and fed back on what we’ve learnt and achieved

In Dublin we all had to do a presentation/talk on what we’ve achieved throughout this programme so below are the key achievements for me.

  • I learnt how to “notice” where I talk myself out of a situation. Ask yourself this – when you’ve been in a meeting, at home cooking dinner, doing exercise, driving in the car, have you ever had a conversation with yourself in your head? I confidently can say you would have. In fact, you’ve probably just done it reading this by asking yourself the same question. This is the “voice” that I’ve been taught to notice. Imagine now, you’re in a high pressured business meeting where you really want to say something but the voice is telling you it’s a bad idea. What I’ve learnt is being able to “notice” it and put it to the back of my mind. By doing this, I can then confidently take control of the situation, ask what I want and handle myself professionally. This is what leaders have to do and certainly what managers need to do. Without it, they can loose credibility with their team and with stakeholders.
  • I learnt about different personality types. Meyers-Briggs is an assessment where you study what your personality is like – are you a logical, rational, patient, calm, relaxed, organised person or the opposite? By identifying the type I am, I can share this with my team so they know how I tick. Vice versa, I know how they tick. Doing this is important as we all look and think differently and we can mis-interpret this and draw wrong conclusions. By knowing how people tick, y0u can approach situations differently. If I know a very impatient person with a messy and unorganised work ethic, I know that I have to treat them differently to someone who is relaxed with everything under control.
  • I discovered strengths I didn’t realise I had. My coach has been great in listening to me, picking out positive traits of myself and helping me use these to my advantage. I can now play on these strengths to achieve what I want.

This programme hasn’t just taught me management and leadership skills, it’s given me life skills for my professional career and for myself. All of this has happened because of me winning the SOCITM Graham Williamson Award in November last year. For anyone wanting to apply themselves, the GWC award for this year is now live.

Next steps – I’ve got my final presentation at the SOCITM Annual Conference in November so I need to start preparing for that. I’m also going to investigate the opportunity of holding my own Top Talent style programme within my organisation so we can share experiences, provide mentoring, knowledge, information and simply network.

London Regional SOCITM Conference presentation

September 13, 2012

Hi all,

I attended a great venue in London today (Vertigo 42) to give  a presentation at the London Regional SOCITM Conference on User-Centred Design and User Experience in Local Governments.

I really enjoyed myself and it was great representing Cambridgeshire County Council, SOCITM and the City of Vancouver following my recent trip to Vancouver.

It’s always  a pleasure talking about how user-centred design and user experience. The key message from my presentation is that leadership is needed to push user-centred design and user experience. By doing this, Council’s will be able to deliver cost savings through channel shift from face to face and phone transactions to the web. The presentation and transcript are below.

London Regional Presentation – 13th September

London Regional Presentation Transcript – 13th September

I briefly touched on some basic techniques which I picked up from Vancouver and from my experiences at Cambridgeshire County Council which can be seen in my presentation.

It’s also great to see that SOCITM have launched their hunt for the next Graham Williamson Challenge Award winner for this year. It’ll be a shame to hand over the baton, but I really hope the next person enjoys the experience as much as I have this year. For the application form, see SOCITM’s website for more details.

For any information or questions on my presentation, please let me know.

A UX Adventure

August 22, 2012


I’ve had some UX (User Experience) fun the last couple of weeks. It’s been a while since I’ve done any UX testing and it was great getting back into it again. For my web redevelopment project (to fully redevelop our corporate website) we’ve started undertaking “as-is” benchmark studies on how our public use it. We’ve hosted two sessions so far and the results are fascinating.

It’s amazing how people interact with websites differently and look for things in different ways. We carefully came up with a list of tasks which are commonly done by our public such as renew a library book or find a bus timetable. For each task we’d sit the member of public in front of a laptop, screen record (mouse cursor and voice) their actions and ask questions to understand what they’re thinking and what they’re expecting to see. Sometimes you really want to point at the screen and say “the link is right in front of you” but, of course, that defies the point of testing and goes to show how poor our site can be.

We’ve taken away a lot of results so far which we’ll use when creating new site designs and navigations. But here is the problem, one user will say the menu needs to be called “Parking tickets” whereas another user will say it needs to be called “Parking fines” for example. My headache had begun! I take that back actually as I thoroughly enjoy working with our public making our website as easy to use as possible.

We’ve also simultaneously ran a Treejack survey to ask members of the public to complete several tasks where we can track how they went to find information. For example, we’d ask something like “where would you find information on school closures” and then the system would track the clicks they made to get to the information. The tasks have been specifically chosen based again on the top tasks our customers “do” on-line. The results are quite scary actually – one task in particular had a failure rate of over 70% which shows that if people use our left hand menu, they can’t find what they’re looking for. This in turn means they’ll either become frustrated, give up, phone our contact centre or complain. And none of them are any good.

Next steps include some really exciting research work where we can overlay age ranges and post-codes of people who did our Treejack survey on a map (so we can target areas for more UX testing where people struggle the most), fully evaluate our UX testing results and videos and also analyse the rest of our Treejack survey results.

We’ve also received some positive feedback from members of the public who are admirable of our dedication to improve our website. Kudos to my team on their hard work.

This all relates to the work I did in Vancouver as I studied how they conducted user testing sessions on a large scale and created Treejack surveys. Also, I sat with the team on most days and studied their results and watched how menu structures were formed based on the research from their citizens. This, along with user testing videos, provides a very solid foundation to develop a large scale public website.

Exciting times ahead…!

Vancouver.ca website launch

August 8, 2012

Hi all,

A major milestone was reached at around midnight UK time last night in Vancouver – the City of Vancouver web team launched their new website.

A HUGE congratulations to the team for delivering a great, easy to use website.  It’s a massive improvement on the old site.

It was only 5 months ago that I was sitting with members of the web team understanding how they improve the user experience of the site and how the information architecture (how information is laid out) is decided. When I was there everyone was flat-out aiming for their launch deadline, and from following @rahelab on Twitter I can see that they were working very late last night to make the site live. I can only imagine how hard they pushed towards the launch.

I’ll be interested to hear how Vancouver citizens react to the new site. I’m confident the responses will be overwhelmingly positive.

My project to redevelop our website is in full swing at the moment, and in September 2013 I expect we’ll be working late to get the new site live just as City of Vancouver’s web team have.

I’ve used plenty of the skills I learnt in Vancouver in my project and I’ll be using plenty more of them over the coming months.

I can certainly look to Vancouver.ca as a great inspiration of how to deliver an excellent web project.

Well done.

Web standards – hypocrisy or school-boy errors?

August 1, 2012

I had an interesting chat with some colleagues this morning about Web Standards and Web Accessibility on websites. I passed around a website article to my team from an organisation which preaches User Experience and Accessibility and I was extremely surprised to find out their site didn’t meet W3C Markup Validation or WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool) standards.

This raised an interesting point – is it school-boy error that they’ve not made their site fully accessible or is it a case of hypocrisy?

If you’ve got a few minutes, go on-line to the sites above and test some sites which sell User Experience or are dedicated to web standards and accessibility. You’ll be surprised. From W3C’s point-of-view, they practice what they preach. If you validate their page against their own tool, surprise surprise, it passes fine.

I’m not going to name and shame organisations as there may be valid reasons why their pages don’t pass these standards. Perhaps they’re limited to what their CMS (Content Management System) can do. Maybe, they’ve tested using W3C and WAVE but have accepted a certain tolerance of accessibility errors. For the record, it’s not just W3C and WAVE that have been checked. Other links from W3C’s Complete List of Accessibility Tools have been checked against the sites I’ve previously tested and the same issues are found.

I asked my team – “Is W3C the be-all and end-all in accessibility and code validation”?

My colleagues provided a good response. As a local government organisation, when we want to procure a service, we have to be sure that the supplier we get is best fit and best value. We might decide to use these Accessibility tools as criteria to evaluate the tenders. In a market of extreme competition, you’d expect to see an eye for detail and that starts at making sure sites are as accessible as possible.

It’s important to have validated pages so you can be assured that your site works well on a wide number of browsers, shows that it’s machine readable (so it helps with Search Engine Optimisation), is a sign of professionalism and above all, helps people with accessibility problems.

Comments are welcome.

Top Talent Update And User Testing

July 23, 2012


It’s been an age since I’ve posted anything on my blog so I thought it’s time I give a quick update.

As previously mentioned, I’m enrolled on a Top Talent Programme provided by IBM and SOCITM where, over the course of 6 months, I’ll be given 1 to 1 mentoring and training on how to become a better leader. My first 1:1 session was fascinating. Without going into too much detail (personal boundaries were studied) I discovered a lot about myself. Our brains are really complex things and they hold the key to achieve anything – we just have to know how to unlock it.

I’m really looking forward to my next session where we’ll hopefully discuss practical examples to share. My intention with everything I learn from this programme is to increase the awareness and understanding of User Experience and User-Centred Design in my organisation. It’s a tough ask but it’s something I think is achievable.

Still sticking with User Experience and User-Centred Design, I’m in the process of organising some User Testing sessions to get an “as-is” benchmark of our website. We’re going to set up 4 sessions in 4 different locations across the County to understand how our customers use our website. This is all part of User-Centred Design; putting your customer (user) in the centre of the design. We’ll set a few tasks for them to do e.g. find information on a certain bus timetable and we’ll study how they do it. We’ll also ask questions to encourage the user to ‘speak as they think’ so we can understand how they complete the task.

On top of this we’ve created a Treejack survey which I mentioned a long time ago in my blog. Treejack is a really brilliant tool which shows how good our website navigation is through anonymous public responses. We’ve created a survey which we’ll send out to our customers via email shortly. We’ll also take some tablet devices to the user testing sessions to try to capture results that way.

This is the stuff that really gets me excited. Listening to our real customers instead of businesses second guessing what their customers want. As I said in my presentation recently, organisations need to put their customer in the centre of any process, listen to their feedback and design around it. This is just one step along a long but fascinating journey.

On top of this I’ve also been meeting/discussing with other local government organisations sharing our processes and expertise on User Experience and User-Centred Design. This all feeds into my desire to improve the understanding and knowledge of these methodologies.

I’ll give another update after my next Top Talent session (Mid-August).

SOCITM Regional Presentation

June 21, 2012

Hi all,

I had a great day yesterday in Birmingham doing a presentation on User Centred Design and User Experience in Local Government at the SOCITM West Midlands Regional Conference.

The YouTube video is now online of my presentation – the audio is quite poor though so you may need to turn up the volume. 


I’ve also attached the PowerPoint presentation I used for context which contains a transcript of my material that can be followed.  Excuse punctuation etc.  You may need to “Save As” the presentation to see the notes accompanying it.

It was nice to hear praise from colleagues afterwards and also overhearing people at lunch discuss my findings.  Networking afterwards also proved to be a great source of feedback so I’ve got plenty of ammunition to tailor my future presentations.  

If my readers have any feedback and comments I’d be grateful to hear them.

I look forward to doing my next presentation in London in July.


SOCITM Presentation ready

June 19, 2012

Hi all,

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything so just a quick update.

Tomorrow marks the start of the delivery of my presentations to SOCITM on what I learnt in Vancouver and how I’ve used it in my role. Without giving too much away, User Centred Design and User Experience needs to be embraced more in Local Government and the emotions of users need to be considered when developing websites and products.

I’m off to SOCITM’s Birmingham Conference at silly o’clock on the train ready for a 9.30 start. My slot is just before lunch. ‘ll give another update after the presentation. 

The following presentations are in July and November (and hopefully more if these go well).

In other news, the IBM Top Talent Programme is coming along nicely.  I’ve had a chat with my mentor and arranged 1-1 sessions over the coming months so I’m looking forward to really getting involved in that. I’ve also been networking quite a lot with some interesting people from all over the UK – either face to face or over the phone. It’s great talking about what I did in Vancouver as it helps to keep things fresh and also delivers new ideas for me to consider – some of which have made it into my presentation.


Change needs to be led by people, not technology

May 25, 2012


Well, what a week. As per my last post, I’ve been in London working with IBM and SOCITM as part of their Top Talent Programme to inspire and train people in becoming leaders and to help them deliver change. 

It’s been a fascinating course. This isn’t technically related to my SOCITM award trip as this blog was really for describing my trip and what I’ve done because of it, but I now see my blog being used for my professional development and for all things related to SOCITM.

My trip to London started on Wednesday where I traveled to the IBM Forum on the Southbank in London. We started by having an intro to the course and what leadership really means. Emotional intelligence was then touched on which is essentially about being able to work with people and to get on an emotional level with people. I learnt that as a leader, people will follow your actions so if you’re not able to control your emotions people will pick up on it. Makes sense really – who would want to see David Cameron in a panic when giving a speech – it doesn’t give you much faith! As per my blog title – change needs to be led my people, not technology. Being a good leader will really help deliver that change – instead of hiding behind technology and pushing it through.

Other interesting things were about how your vision is interpreted differently by different people. We were shown several images with hidden words/pictures in them and had to guess how many people would see what I saw. Suffice to say, no one could predict what other people would see – in a real word example though, if I have a vision or a direction, other people may not see the same thing and therefore may not give me their support.

I could write for days on what I’ve learnt so I’ll wrap it up. I was assigned an IBM Executive Coach (Liz), who will give me direction and coaching to help me deliver my transformational change project which is to push User Experience and User Centred Design across the organisation – it’s a big ask but I’ll give it a go.

Back to reality, I’ve got 2 SOCITM presentations scheduled – one for 20th June and one for 20th July. I’ve made some good progress on my presentation and I’ll shortly be sending it off to Vancouver to get their input on it as it’s all about what I learnt from them. It’s been really good looking back on what I achieved/learnt in Vancouver and how I’ve used that in my current role to date.

I’ll update again when I’ve got some more information on my SOCITM presentation.

As a quick side note, thanks to IBM and SOCITM for providing their time and effort hosting a really great course.