November 18th, 2022
In the spirit of transparency and candour, we publish weeknotes reflecting on the what and why for the ENV service transformation team.
This week I attended a handful of sessions at the Civic Design conference online by Rosenfeld Media. While calendar conflicts prevented my undivided attention over the three days, the keynotes I caught were top quality. A couple highlights:
Research is Only As Good as the Relationships You Build from Code For America. Leveraging a Great British Bake Off metaphor, this reflection on CFA’s qualitative research practice was such a reminder that I love research and miss the hands-on practice. One highlight was the team talking through design participant vignettes over personas, and how the artefact adds a richness to stakeholder understanding through the contextualization of daily life. Top stuff! Qual research, and the nuance and intuition required to facilitate meaningful and informative sessions with participants, really plays to my core talents. How can I get back to practice, or at least actively contribute to a stronger, more rigorous practice in the BCPS?
Next was how to Create a Cohesive Civic Design Practice Across a Federal Agency, Partners, & Vendors from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. How might design be led by gov but executed by vendors in an agile fashion? Very topical for STB this week.
Regarding the work, I finalized C&E product team scoring and we met as a group for consensus, moving passing vendors on to the product challenge. Reflection: scoring major RFP responses is a big task and requires deep focus to evaluate line-by-line. And while I was able to carve out one solid block for review there was a lot of fragmentation during other efforts. Point being: turn off Teams and decline meeting invites next time, it’ll be a more efficient and effective process that way.
- I had my monthly 1–1 w/ our exec lead Amy. This might honestly be my favourite hour of the month (Amy if you’re reading this I promise I’m not just shining your shoes!). I really appreciate the insight into senior exec and the connection to priority and progress across the sector. Amy’s candour and humour is right in my lane and I’m grateful for this free-form block for discussion and a few laughs.
- We also had our monthly STB branch meeting, in-person! Kelsey gave a rundown of the messaging she’s delivering to ENV exec regarding our team’s direction, present and future. Imho, we do a lot for a small unit and to see all our tendrils documented is always impressive (and slightly anxiety inducing).
- Parks sprint review, with my personal highlight being Nicole and Jane’s very impressive park signage design research. I rave to whoever will listen: the organizational transformation and design maturity of Parks HQ in under two years is astounding. It’s strong leadership, team-level ownership, embracing a culture of transparency, constructive critique, and believing things can be made better through persistent incremental progress. That I’ve played the smallest part in catalyzing this momentum is a point of pride.
Closing with some bigger thoughts. This week we experienced unexpected and destabilizing churn due to abrupt personnel changes from a vendor partner. There’s a couple pieces within this. First, that the vendor-gov relationship/working model is paradigmatically mired in legacy norms and structures of power. That is, the vendor is often the tail wagging the dog. Even with a contemporary org structure and ways of working like we advance with STB/ENV, old habits are apparently hard to break. That many vendors reflexively act independently of consultation — let alone deep collaboration — with their partners (read: paying clients) is frustrating but not unsurprising. I suspect this is born of a paternal legacy: we know best. How could the client have an informed opinion of resource value and team composition when the operational disposition is working for, not with.
Second, it follows that we must continue to build teams that situate key resources within gov. Completely flipping a staffing model that outsourced our digital brains for over 20 years isn’t an overnight process but we’re making progress. The three roles I believe most crucial to come from gov are:
- Product owner: define the vision, prioritize backlog, liaise with gov stakeholders, iterate on roadmap. Literally, own the product.
- UX lead: honour and advocate for the foundational research, conduct directional user research and usability testing. Be empowered to speak up when design isn’t leading and dev starts working into a vacuum.
- Technical architect/full stack dev: this is our biggest gap at current. We simply do not have the talent depth to embed a technical resource full time on a product team. But this is also where we assume the most risk; who, day in day out, is auditing the stack, the codebase, the leveraging of platforms and components? The vendor is not incentivized to be vigilant regarding corporate standards and cost saving opportunities through a fundamental understanding of and connection to our ecosystem.
There’s a much longer piece to be written on the third bullet but I’ll leave it there for now. I do want to give a shoutout to Jeff C. and his sector architecture team; a small but mighty crew who help where they can. But they do not have the bandwidth to be the omnipresent advocates for gov interest in the minutiae of the daily production push, and over time this lack of line of sight accumulates significant risk. We’ve seen it before and will continue to until we have experienced resources fully enmeshed in the work.
Bonus: Leadership from the Roof is on Fire. Thanks for the tip Vanessa!
Alignment and communication were top of mind for me this week — and the need to slow down a bit and take more time to do them right. I missed a few opportunities to loop people into meetings and set a common direction, which didn’t feel great (and wasn’t helpful).
We talk a lot about vision of transforming services— the big work of bringing together policy, technology and service. The glossy vision can overshadow the infinite number of essential small steps that help us get there. This week was a reminder for me to put more time into conversations, meetings and emails (read — relationships) to build the foundation for our work.
The opinions and views expressed in this post are solely the author’s and do not represent those of the Province of British Columbia or any other parties.