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Weeknote: Power, Self-assessment and the war on PDFs

tobiogunsina Product management, weeknotes Leave a Comment

Hello! I didn’t write a weeknote last week so this is a 2-week note. I think I’ve drifted into reporting what happened during the week instead of really reflecting, so I’ve decided to experiment with new formats. I’m going to be trying a mix and match from Sam Villis’s blog post about different styles of writing weeknotes till I find what works best.

For this weeknote, I’ll cover a few things that happened then talk about what I wish I could have changed, what I’m looking forward to next week and a few personal details about my week. 

5 things that happened 

One – Power and privilege in designing and building services

I attended a “Power and Privilege in designing and building services” course for 3 mornings and it was eye-opening. The course, run by Sonia Turcotte and Clara Greo is designed to help us understand how power and privilege play out in the way we work or the things we build and how we might do better. 

As part of the course, we did some exercises to help understand our own privilege. It was called “privilege for sale” and the idea is to imagine you’ve lost all your privileges and you have a limited amount of money – what privilege will you buy? It really makes you think about the imbalance in the world, how it applies to you and others. 

We also had several challenging exercises to think about how someone’s experience in life may be different if they don’t buy into several mainstream paradigms, for example, Christianity, Democracy, Capitalism etc

It was a challenging course, the type that pushes you to think about the power (ability to influence an outcome) you have as a product manager or service designer or someone in leadership and think about ways to shift that power balance and be as inclusive as possible. 

Two – DDAT Self-assessment

Civil servants in the Cabinet office whose roles are part of the Digital, Data and Technology Profession Capability Framework now need to do a self-assessment twice every year. I needed to assess myself to determine if I’m working towards, working at or working above the skill level required for a senior product manager. I also had to support my self-assessment with examples, ideally using the Situation, Task, Action and Result structure. 

It’s quite easy to take for granted how much time is needed to do that kind of self-assessment for 9 different skills. The assessment also has an impact on pay, so naturally, I wanted to do it right. 

I started writing it and it just took longer and longer, which made me a bit anxious about all the other work I needed to do. 

On the bright side, doing weeknotes and reflecting consistently made it a bit easier to remember examples and I even copied the example for one of them directly from my weeknote, word for word. 

There’s still some confusion about how it affects people who have been recently promoted within the same grade so I’m not sure I even need to do the assessment but writing down evidence of how I have demonstrated some skills is always useful. 

Three – The war on PDFs and signposting how to get help with accessibility 

We finally updated guidance for publishing accessible documents to make it clear that documents must be published in HTML or Open Document Formats, not PDFs alone.

This has always been GOV.UK’s stance but we’ve now said that even if a PDF has to be published, for example, because it has been designed for print, then an accessible version of the document must be published alongside it, either in HTML or Open document format. 

It’s hard to make PDFs accessible and even when that’s done, there’s still no guarantee that it will meet the accessibility needs of some users and their technology, for example, users that need to change colour and text size or view the information on mobile devices. 

The change in guidance was received better than we anticipated and I think it was because we announced it with a clear explanation of why we made the change, a show of understanding of difficulties departments face and request for feedback on scenarios we might not have considered. This has already led to some helpful conversations. 

We are hoping this change helps drive positive changes in publishing workflow where needed.


Our team gets contacted quite a bit on a range of accessibility issues, which can get overwhelming. A few weeks ago, we had a session with other teams in GDS that help with accessibility to understand their role, how to reach them and the programs/plans/processes they have available. 

We’ve now pulled that together into a document to signpost how departments can get help, basically helping them self-serve. It highlights the guidance available, exactly what each team does, how to reach that team and get help from them. We’ve shared this with managing editors and publishers and expect that it will reduce the number of direct queries we get. 

Four – An investigation into how we got here

We decided to do some investigation to understand why some parts of GOV.UK were not accessible enough. This will help check our assumptions, find out what the causes are, identify which strategies to focus on to help GOV.UK remain accessible. 

In the Christmas week or next year, we’ll run a series of interviews with people from different disciplines across the program, asking some general questions about their work and accessibility.

We don’t have a researcher in the team so Craig, our Delivery manager and I are going to do this investigation. So far, we’ve documented our assumptions, drafted a question guide for the interview and got a user researcher to sense-check it. We also decided on the criteria for participants and reached out to them. 

I enjoyed the entire process – usually, I commission it and a user researcher leads on all the planning and interviews while I participate more as an observer, so it’s actually nice to get into the details myself.

Five – Conversations about Content Strategy and Publishing

I’ve had lots of publishing-related conversations over the last 2 weeks. 

A group of us have been thinking about how the content strategy (and GOV.UK’s future plans) might affect the work we plan to do on publishing. The content strategy work is still at a very early stage which makes this very hard to do as there are still many unknowns and questions. We’ve started by thinking about all the questions we have and how to get answers to them. 

I met some people from the Government Statistical Service to talk about how some of the accessibility guidance affects publishing statistics and how we can maintain an open channel of communication so the needs of statistics publishers are considered as we make strategic improvements to publishing.

Still, on Publishing – Martin, Kevin and I had a useful conversation with a team at The Guardian, who are working on a tool called Typewriter, It helps publishers easily see how their content aligns with the style guide and improve the quality of their content. It was fascinating to see how it works behind the scene and how it is iterated. This is probably the first of another series of conversations with other publishing organisations about their work. Learning and sharing. 

What do you wish you could have changed?

Craig and I had a conversation about how the energy levels for the team felt a bit low recently. It’s probably a combination of reasons – Everybody on the team is quite passionate about accessibility but the nature of the work at this stage is a lot of fixing things, I guess doing that long term can feel a bit tiring. Also, one of our front end developers was moved to a different team quite suddenly and that didn’t feel good. 

Another contributing factor is the darkness, oh the darkness of these winter months! I’m not sure what we’ll do yet but we have plans to think about how we might raise our energy levels next week. 

I also feel like I had many agendaless meetings over the last 2 weeks. I like agendas – If there’s any chance I need to be an active participant, they help me think or prepare ahead of the meeting. when there isn’t one, I just feel a little less effective. Please add agendas to your meetings, it makes it more inclusive and I dare say more effective. 

I’ve decided I’m just going to ask for the agenda before I accept meetings going forward but I shouldn’t have to. 

What I’m looking forward to next week

We have 7 personas that highlight the common barriers that users with accessibility needs face. These personas can be created as chrome profiles and used to test changes (services, content, etc). 

I arranged with Anika, our senior accessibility specialist to run a “Learn how to use accessibility persona profiles to test GOV.UK” session on Tuesday. I’m really looking forward to that because it’s a really good step towards enabling people and teams within GOV.UK to think about accessibility in everything they do. 

I spent some more time reviewing and updating the blog post on how we made GOV.UK more accessible. Rumour has it that it’ll be published next week instead of February like we initially thought so yay!

On a personal note

I feel like I’m racing towards the end of the year and I need some time to regroup. I took 2 days off so I’ll only be working 3 days next week, which I hope helps me bring my head above water. 

I also finished reading “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a focused life in a noisy world” by Cal Newport. I definitely recommend it if you feel the need to gain some more control over how much attention you give to new technologies or social media. 

Join the attention resistance! and only use these tools to support things you deeply value without giving it any more of your attention.