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Guest blog: Keeping stakeholders happy while putting user needs first

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Insight, Services and products, Strategy

This is the second in a series of posts from Rebecca Kemp, Interim Deputy Director for Digital at Public Health England (PHE).

The first post talked about the easy bit – choosing which sites to go first. This post talks about the hard bit – getting the organisation working with us to make the change.

The things we are doing to make this happen are

  • Being clear about what we are doing and why
  • Communicating - a lot
  • Understanding our internal users’ needs
  • Holding our nerve

As with my previous post, I hope that writing about my experiences will help other people who are starting off a daunting digital project. I also hope that you will share things that have worked for you, that we can use to improve our work at PHE.

We are clear about what we are doing and why

Our basic story is simple.

We currently have 150 different websites. Our users tell us that it is hard to find our information and services because it is in so many different places. So we are understanding what our users need and re-building our content and services around that. We are putting content for professionals onto the PHE section of GOV.UK and putting content for citizens onto NHS Choices. We will move 15 sites by the end of July.

We communicate – a lot

We are telling this story to whoever will listen!

We are communicating with people in PHE using our intranet and by presenting to as many people as we can find, in person and on webcasts. We are creating assets that we can re-use and point people to. Once we have got to actually working with people on their sites, we are reinforcing these messages through the way we work with them.

The scale of the communications we need to do is huge and this is something we put energy into every week. It can be tiring but recently there has been a change in the feedback and questions we get about our work from people we’ve spoken to a number of times. We are hearing fewer concerns and challenges that what we are proposing is not possible. More people are welcoming of the work and more people are saying that they want to get involved. This is really rewarding.

However, in hindsight we should have put more effort into internal communications at every stage, and this is going to be an ongoing challenge for our team. We are stretched so it is hard to find the time to do communications as well as delivery. To help with this, I’m going to start thinking about communications as part of delivery rather than separate, and prioritising as such.

We remember our internal users’ needs

PHE has a structured hierarchy and so we approached getting support for the project in this way. I started by presenting to the National Executive (our board) and we are presenting at least once to the management team of each unit of PHE. This reassures people at a working level that they are doing the right thing by working with us.

We try to choose language that resonates with our users. For example, evidence is vital for public health work and PHE has whole teams dedicated to developing evidence about what works and what doesn’t. The language of ‘user needs’ doesn’t resonate with everyone. But in an organisation with a scientific focus, the idea of basing what we do on evidence does. People are reassured to hear that we are gathering evidence to inform what we do, including interviews, user testing and website analytics data.

After a few presentations and meetings we realised that there were a number of misconceptions about GOV.UK in PHE, and that these were understandably causing a concern. We started addressing these head on and developed content explaining the misconception and what was true. We have found that being upfront and honest about this has helped us focus discussion and energy on what we can do, no things we can’t.

We hold our nerve

At the Sprint Go event in February, Department of Health Digital Leader Rachel Neaman encouraged all the agencies moving to GOV.UK to ‘hold our nerve’ and reminded us that we are doing this work to make government better for users. I like to remember this when I’m having a tricky conversation and it encourages me dig my heels in and keep going! I’ve also found my relationships with people in the Government Digital Service and other departments and agencies to be an amazing resource for sharing war stories, reminding each other that you’re doing a good job on important work, and learning different ways of doing things.


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