Design Meets…Public Policy, Really!

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking at Design Meets…Public Policy, an occassional meeting of the minds to discuss design in different contexts. This round was about design and public policy (or government more broadly as it turned out).

My presentation is below and on slideshare. My notes are below that – though, I didn’t take enough time to practice and ended up rambling through the 5 slides, which were supposed to only take 5 minutes (oops).

Slide 1: Thanks for inviting me

I’m the Web Usability Lead for the Government of Canada which means I write policy that apply to federal websites, then oversee the implementation of that policy from my very fancy cubicle at Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada.

That’s what I’m doing now. Twelve years in government means I’ve done lots of things. As a business analyst with a degree in psychology, some of the tools in my toolkit are design methods.

Like many people, I came to design via another vertical. I was a business analyst working in performance measurement and usability testing. Analytics were obvious data sources to figure out whether or not we were successful. From there I got more into user research and found tactics like affinity mapping and personas to be creative ways of drawing insights out of more traditional methods.

I like the visual, hands-on, creative parts of design. I like sketching and diagramming ideas in very rough forms and testing them on people before they become multi-million dollar decisions.

This is where you can find me online but don’t email me because I’m part of this “We quit mail” initiative so I won’t answer. But you can totally tweet at me or comment on my blog.

Slide 2: Join the User Experience Working Group

First, a little context about what’s going on so you know where to insert yourself into the goings on if you so choose.

Three years ago this little group of people and a few others created the User Experience Working Group when we found out the suite of web policies known as “Common Look and Feel” would be updated.

We provided recommendations on updating the brand and User Interface guidelines by basically recommending they reduce mandatory elements to 11 — only including elements like the Canada Wordmark for recognition and date last updated to help with credibility.

The Standard on Web Usability makes User-Centred Design mandatory for all websites and applications.  So user research, prototyping and testing for websites are starting to become more pervasive.

We held six days of training on web usability (user research and design, visual design, interaction design, UCD process overview, Usability 101) for between 1000 -1500 public servants attended (we were too tired to count).

Now I’m working on an evaluation methodology for the Standard on Web Usability. I’m totally open to feedback or input.

So designers – if you’re an “innie” you can join those efforts. Most of our work is done collaboratively & asynchronously either on GCPEDIA or GitHub.  For example, we have curated an index of usability test results on GCPEDIA, since all the websites look the same, and the target audience is often the same across sites, there are lessons to be learned and shared.

So for current state I’d say while there are some very dedicated, innovative, passionate people working in multi-disciplinary teams to create resources for others; we do not yet have a design culture within our organization.

There’s a growing awareness of the power of design to be intentional and human-centred and to treat ideas as a hypothesis. However, we’re not yet applying design outside of web. We barely have enough capacity to meet the demand; we need designers. We have lots of great developers but they outweigh designers about 100:1. There’s no HR designation for designer, Information Architect, or even typical web-related interaction design roles.

Slide 3: Contribute to the Web Experience Toolkit on GitHub

The creation of the User Experience Working Group was part of a transformative shift in the way we did web policy. Because we had little money or capacity we needed to do a lot of things differently.

So we created the Web Experience Toolkit (WxT) – open source software for building accessible, usable, mobile-friendly websites and apps. As far as we know it is the only front-end development framework that is compliant to WCAG2.0 AA. Open source is always a work in progress. We see everything as an iteration.

Specifically for WxT v4: we are asking for help with heuristic reviews on the components. Anyone can contribute in any of the ways listed below.

Slide 4: Should we create a Design and Government Resource?

The User Experience User Group has been curating design resources on GCPEDIA and we’ve pasted some of it into a Google document so everyone can see it. We also have case studies, examples of what other governments are doing around the world, links to articles, blog posts, explanations of various design methods and how they are being used in creative and innovative ways for the public good.

The screenshot in the presentation is an example of the GitHub and Government resource that anyone can edit. I love the format and the easy of updating, modifing and sharing – anyone can do it! The resource in the Google doc is in wiki formatting to facilitate loading it up on GitHub with installed just like it.

We’re happy to make it available to everyone, but we need help!

The resource is targeted at (in my mind): people wanting to use design methods within government(s), specifically public servants who want to integrate design methods into their service, program and policy development. I know lots of other people have done research and have their own favorites, and even authored articles, so let’s share!

In conclusion, whether you choose to do one or all three, that you can help bring design thinking to government and make it better for all of us!

User Stories : what would you like to see?

Before we create a Design and Government resource, we need to know if people would use it.

design user research

Feedback from designers about Design and Government

To this end, I brought some sticky notes and a big flip chart to get some feedback.

The ask to the people in the room was simple: use the sticky notes to share your story….

As potential users of this resource, could you use the post-it notes available to add your idea about what it would look like to you.

I think I tried to say too much in 5 (*ahem, 10) minutes, because the feedback I got wasn’t specifically about building the design resource.

However — what people did say was really interesting and awesome! I have the poster of all these stickies hanging in my office now and I’m slowly going through and actioning each one. I think it will take about 6 months; so be patient.

So, my offer still stands – if anyone is interested in making this resource available more widely, let me know. I have some ideas but certainly nothing fully formed that can’t be iterated!

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About Laura

As a Business Analyst working for the Canadian federal government in Web usability, I have the opportunity to be a part of a growing movement of professionals implementing user-centered design principles.
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3 Responses to Design Meets…Public Policy, Really!

  1. Pingback: Five links | I G G I

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