Finalist 2021

Automated Briefings and Correspondence - ABC

Sophie Turner / Jasmin Hamid / Ben Kirk / James Stuart and the DPC Operations Team / Engage Squared / Rapid Circle

Using Human Centred Design to build systems that transform how we work. Efficient, transparent, collaborative government decision making.

As the coronavirus crisis took hold and the VPS became a remote workforce, it was critical that our briefing process was digitised – efficiently, effectively and in a way that would be easily adopted.

Co-designed by the public servants who would use it, the Automated Briefing and Correspondence Solution is a digital product that better manages the flow of briefs. It delivers greater collaboration through a more transparent process, supporting government’s lifeblood work: public administration.

Human-centred design (HCD) was key to the success and strong uptake of the solution, which involved both organisational and technical change management and complex stakeholder engagement.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

By examining the previous attempts to solve this problem, we identified the need for an innovative approach. One that was unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable for our stakeholders. Complex problems with both technical and human dimensions are ideally suited to Human Centered Design.

“Success for me is making the lives of others easier.” Chris Eccles, Former DPC Secretary

We applied the following ideas to challenge existing ways of working through our design process:

This is primarily a change challenge, underpinned by technology, requiring a multi-disciplinary team. Focused team effort on listening and adapting to our staff, prioritising their needs over business and technology constraints when trade-offs need to be discussed.

- Engage ALL key roles and business stakeholders to co-design the solution together. Our engagement approach allowed us to dive deep with over 175 end users directly over the 18 months of design and development (20% of DPC staff) whilst also providing light touch demos and communications to reach all branches within our department to raise awareness of the change.

- Simplify business processes before defining the technical solution. Carefully observed the current business process to detect and remove redundant or wasteful actions considering this from a technology agnostic perspective

- Sensing for the sweet spot where desirability, feasibility and viability meet: Desirability tested using the interactive prototype. Feasibility tested by co-producing the prototype side by side with our developers. Viability tested using the service design blueprint and business case to DPC Board of Management.

- Develop the product using an agile development approach Users and stakeholders were involved at all stages. Using an agile development approach, we built and tested with users iterating throughout the development process. New insights were incorporated as users were able to fully interact with the product with live data in real life scenarios.

Design Excellence

Time saving on administrative overhead

We simplified the process from 51 steps to a maximum of 20 when the ABC solution is launched, significantly increasing speed and efficiency as well as automating time intensive manual tasks, such as collating the final briefing pack.

Usability, accessibility, and equitable remote working for staff.

Baseline measurement of a system usability scale score was 45.4. Our initial prototypes scored was 75.3 our developed product 75.4. Our design has improved the experience from sitting in the 15th percentile for system usability at the start, to being in the 80th percentile after build. Baselining using data and measuring as we went was critical to getting buy-in for the change from our stakeholders.

We embraced our role as leaders in accessibility by developing a solution that passed AA WCAG accessibility testing, leveraging Microsoft’s Fluent UI design system and accessible remotely from any device using Victorian Government single sign on and existing enterprise solutions for secure access on the move.

Improved reporting to support continuous improvement

Implemented an entirely new system to track briefs in their approval process, removing bottlenecks, delays, and bolster accountability through transparency.

Created user friendly, live dashboards for users to maintain oversight of the pipeline, allowing them to report on efficiencies or step in when blockages appeared.

Beyond ensuring briefing pipeline runs smoothly, reports have can be used to look at workload distribution and inefficiencies, allowing for reflexive adaptation to fluctuating demands.

Managing Change

Pulse surveys showed DPC ready and responsive to the change coming – proving to executives and resistant participants the value of the HCD in building an awareness and desire for change. Ongoing user testing sessions also provided time to dive deep into the solution for Power Users, so they felt confident to hit the ground running when ABC is deployed.

Design Innovation

ABC changes the way we work

ABC will transform how we manage and collaborate on briefs, correspondence, and parliamentary questions at DPC. It will provide many benefits for staff, including:

  • more flexibility - accessible from anywhere, anytime and from any device
  • designed for employees, by employees - ensuring the best product for users
  • promotes collaboration – easier collaboration with other branches and senior executives
  • faster and easier - automation of manual tasks will save time and reduce errors
  • simpler - consistent and simplified processes
  • digital by default – more environmentally sustainable and less walking papers between offices.

The greatest innovation was our process; we did it together. Co-design approaches helped us explore challenges and leverage the diverse talents and skills within our teams.

We worked “differently” on purpose by:

  • involving staff in design research and decision-making
  • making design artefacts together: maps, personas, and blueprints
  • modelling the behaviours of experimentation and feedback
  • building awareness and desire for change.

Field research, usability testing and workshops created an environment for people to co-create a digital solution that met their needs. Design from within meant we could explore staff challenges and dynamics deeply and sensitively. The process engaged and empowered teams that were hesitant at the start.

We shifted decision-making power to the people most affected by changes to come. We broke new ground by creating new governance structures. Establishing a Design Panel of end users and support staff was a significant as it allowed us to:

  • recruit advocates and co-design participants across the department
  • keep people engaged through the design process
  • share the responsibility for endorsement of the solution design and technical feasibility
  • coach support staff with lower digital literacy, allowed them to contribute and gain new skills.

We see this project as a powerful example of sharing decision making in a traditionally hierarchical environment.

Design Impact

We see the impact of our design through many lenses:

  • Resolving issues with remote working amplified by coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Increased productivity and staff engagement by equitable access to flexible work.
  • Significantly improved usability and accessibility regardless of ability, role, or previous experience.
  • Smashing down the department silos as we worked remotely.
  • Providing evidence on the effectiveness of design to solve complex challenges,
  • Building staff confidence and ability to advocate for design-led business transformation.
  • Shifting our culture towards continuous improvement.

Equitable and accessible participation in briefings – regardless of ability, role, or previous experience

Our unique solution breaks a lengthy process into clear steps, easily meeting AA WCAG standards, improving usability for all. System usability scores (SUS) are 75.3 which is in the 80% percentile. A significant and impactful improvement from our starting base at 45.4 (below the 15% percentile).

Equal access to flexible and remote working will have a significant beneficial impact. As shown during the Covid lockdowns, productivity and engagement can be maintained with remote teams, however the right tools for the job are essential.

“DPC’s Disability Access Inclusion Plan clearly sets out the need for accessible corporate services. The ABC Project echoes this theme at every stage of the development life cycle – working with people who have accessibility requirements has ensured the ABC Platform is inclusive to everyone.” Matt Parker – VPS Enabler's Network

Looking ahead

This work is a pilot in co-creating efficient, open and collaborative government platforms. With 7,300 briefs and correspondence created in 2019 and over 15,000 requests processed since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, need for this solution will only grow. By automating repetitive and low-value tasks we give staff space and time to compile high-quality advice for decision-makers. Improving the briefing process creates conditions for effective and accountable decision-making at all levels of government.

Circular Design and Sustainability Features

Reducing paper usage through digitisation

Creating an effective end-to-end digital briefing and correspondence solution will assist with the overall reduction in printing across DPC, reducing costs and improving sustainability.

A team and culture embedded for continuous improvement of our corporate services

We developed a business case to secure funding for implementation and ongoing platform support and wider ABC service delivery. Our future state service blueprint was a key input into the business case, costing ongoing internal support and continuous improvement capability.

The business case was approved in full by the DPC Board of Management, proving the design process assisted in communicating the benefits of the solution and the significant investment in continuous improvement of the solution in-house. This is a significantly different approach for DPC that has historically relied on contracts with vendors to support our corporate services.

Engagement in the HCD design process in the delivery of this project uplifted skills and capabilities in engagement, synthesising feedback and incorporating insights into the next iteration of the product. The HCD process started to embed a design mindset within the new Digital Solutions Team.

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