Hi, I’ve been quite relaxed and excited in the last 2 weeks compared to the first 2 weeks of March – I think I was just so excited about taking a break from work. It’s also been about a year since we’ve been working from home and I’m finally learning to pace myself.
I am now on leave till after Easter and I have no grand plans apart from doing nothing.
Here are some things that happened over the last 7 working days before my leave started.
5 things that happened
One – End of year performance conversations.
It’s that time of the year again, March. I spent some time making sure I had adequately recorded all my progress against my objectives for the year, reflecting on the events of the year and talking to my line manager about them
So much has happened – in the last year alone, I’ve worked on Publishing workflow, Archiving, Accessibility, Replatforming, Publishing and Content Strategy, that’s excluding other corporate and community objective work. It’s definitely been a super busy remote working year and it’s no wonder I was feeling so exhausted.
It’s been challenging working on multiple often very different things in a year that was quite hard for the world. I find it frustrating that we often did not get the people we need to do important work and also that the work on publishing that was paused was not revisited the whole year but hopefully that changes soon.
The highlight for me is working to improve accessibility on GOV.UK and gaining a proper understanding of why accessibility is important which will follow me all my life. It’s also the year I got promoted.
I also had the end of year performance conversation with the product manager that I’m line managing. I don’t know how those managing lots of people cope at this time of the year because line management is a significant amount of work for even 1 person.
Two – Integrating accessibility practices in our processes
After our conversations about roadmap and recommendations to keep GOV.UK accessible, we’ve been thinking about “improving processes” and exactly how these things can be embedded properly at several points in our processes.
We’ve now outlined the different activities that should be done at different stages to consider accessibility. I’ve tried to keep the stages broad to fit the range of things we work on or the range of things we need to do to deliver. The big bucket categories I’ve used are:
- exploring problems: This covers all the things we do to explore a problem space and includes Research/Discovery or any other effort to understand and create a shared understanding of the problem want to solve.
- exploring solutions: This covers all the things we do to make sure we are building the right things including design, content, exploring and testing different solutions.
- building and shipping solutions: This covers all the things we do to make sure we are building the thing right including developing the thing or reviewing and testing them
- Maintaining solutions: This covers accessibility audits for existing things.
- Measuring success or getting feedback: This covers collecting and reviewing feedback, showing work done.
For each category, we’ve outlined key activities that should be done to consider accessibility and recommend that at least one of them should be done. We also included a key considerations checklist which may be made into an acceptance criteria library in the future.
We expect to talk to different communities about how to embed these activities in their team processes and talk about them at show and tells.
They are all ideas that were taken from a range of resources. If you are interested in integrating accessibility practices in your processes and what different roles should do, you’ll find a lot of information in the GOV.UK service manual, DWP’s accessibility manual, Accessibility for teams by the US government, accessibility handbook by the Canadian Digital Service, Basic accessibility check guidance on GOV.UK
Three – More publishing conversations
I met with our new head of technology as I heard he was doing some thinking about publishing. I met with him to provide some background and context into how we got where we are now with publishing, some of the long-standing problems we are trying to solve and some of the challenges we’ve faced in that process.
I left the meeting quite inspired because he’s also observed and been thinking about some of those challenges and how we might revise our structure as a program to tackle them. It’s early days but I’m excited about the possibility.
How an organisation is structured around its products is very important and I’m a firm believer in persistent teams because otherwise what you have at the other end is a tendency towards ‘Projects’, Products with no real ownership, MVPs that should but don’t go beyond that and an inability to continually iterate.
Our small group that has been exploring structured information also talked to different teams about the work we’ve been doing and the approaches we think might be valuable. We talked to the ‘accounts’ team, the ‘start a business’ team and the content product leads. So far, the challenges we’ve found and our thoughts on approaches all resonate.
We’ve gotten to the exciting point of looking at examples of experimenting at a small scale with each of those approaches, which will help us illustrate how they map on to the current publishing workflow plans or what needs to be true.
Four – What to do about accessible forms
We got to a conclusion point with our work to explore how to improve the guidance around creating accessible forms. The sad conclusion is that there is no ideal solution for producing accessible forms as documents, while this is no surprise, it means that the only updates we can make to the guidance are to
- clarify that the best option is an HTML form or a proper service
- show evidence that even editable pdf forms are not accessible enough
- provide examples of best practice or how to make forms simpler
- propose that where an HTML form or service is not possible, publishers should provide different format options
We’ve provided what we’ve learnt as additional evidence for the team in Government Digital Service doing a discovery into how the government collects information from users. We also spent some time with them to talk about this huge need for an easier way to create accessible forms.
Apart from that, our team is making good progress in making sure GOV.UK front end is more consistent
Five – Team listening hour
As one of the things we do to support each other, our team had a listening hour where anyone could talk about anything they wanted to share and others could just listen or contribute.
There was a lot of sharing and It was like a group therapy session. it’s very rare to get to know your team members in this way and I’m grateful for the bond we share.
Who I talked to outside my organisation
I had a chat with 4 people from New South Wales government about how we do accessibility on GOV.UK/GDS. They were very keen to understand our process, how we’ve fixed issues, how we are hoping to keep things accessible, tools we use, resources we have, what has worked etc.
It was a very interesting chat and another lesson that the problems we face are shared across the world. They contacted me after the blog we published on how we made GOV.UK more accessible, another benefit of working in the open.
Other things I’ve been thinking, talking and reading about
- I did the Introduction to content design course that Government Digital Service runs on future learn and it’s brilliant, It also has really good content about accessibility.
- I did the AbilityNet course on embedding accessibility at every stage of your project which reaffirmed a lot of the things we are already doing.
- We had another session talking about known problems in the publishing, platform and presentation product group. It’s exciting that people find them so valuable and we’ve now done quite a bit of collecting, so we need to start thinking about how we categorise them into problem statements and prioritise those for a future roadmap
What I’m looking forward to next week
I’m off next week so I’m looking forward to time off work.
After Easter, I’m looking forward to kicking off some of the interesting work we have lined up in our roadmap. I am also interested in seeing how some of the upcoming organisational change might impact our work on accessibility.
On a personal note
I’m in the process of applying for settlement. I’ll be grateful to be one step closer to not having to worry about visas in the same way that I have for most of my life.
It was also my 5th-anniversary last week and had a fabulous work and kid-free day to celebrate.