The Department for Education (DfE) runs over 400 digital services that reach into every corner of education. I recently led a service mapping discovery to understand this complex and important landscape.
Our job was to look across the education sector and understand what services the DfE and its agencies operate. We needed to see what might be missing or need transforming, and how we could help schools, young people, parents and employers receive better services from us.
What we did
We interviewed about 60 young people, parents and school leaders to understand their needs. We ran a survey with 200 employers, and held workshops and had conversations with over 100 colleagues across the DfE family. In addition to the user research, we reviewed all the relevant policy documents, strategy and social research to get a balanced picture. It was a lot of work to do in 12 weeks!
In parallel with us, the schools discovery team were doing a forensic ‘deep dive’ with the schools workforce in Hastings. Our own team’s work had to be broader and shallower because we were looking across the whole sector. Despite that, the two teams were able to share a lot of insight. Ultimately, we presented our findings as a joint set of reports and recommendations.
Our first task was to identify all the digital services the department operates and find out what the primary user need was for each service. Once we understood this, we could then re-categorise them into ‘service lines’. Service lines are a way of grouping services around user needs. Service lines are a powerful transformation tool because they help users better grasp how government is working for them as individuals.
What we found
Based on our research, we found we needed to look deeper into several areas, particularly:
- careers and technical education – helping schools deliver the kind of advice and inspiration to young people that will help them make good career and vocational choices
- data – the DfE collects over 10,000 items of data from schools every year but the way we collect it and offer it back to schools could be approached differently
- technology – we looked at a range of areas, such as the schools’ management information system market, cyber security and internal business services. We did this in order to find ways to increase efficiencies and also to use technology modernisation to help provide a more consistent user experience
- simplification of internal services – as the department offers more direct services to schools we need to simplify things both externally and internally so as to streamline processes
Lots of good work is already being done in all these areas. Sometimes we were able to highlight opportunities that may be being missed, and other times our job was to shine a light on or connect up some of the great initiatives that the department is already working on.
How we did it
Our project team was comprised of civil servants and external consultants in the department’s Digital, Data and Technology function.
We were lucky to have help from colleagues at Ministry of Justice who are further along the digital transformation journey.
I also reached out to a group of ‘critical friends’ from across government – very experienced people like Louise Downe, Kate Tarling, Kit Collingwood Richardson, Dave Rogers and our own James Reeve. They all gave us some ’tough love’ in a safe and constructive way. They were able bring experience of what has – and hasn’t – worked in other parts of government.
Working with the department
To make sure people from across the department were involved, we did regular show and tells. Every couple of weeks we would stand up and share our work with anyone who might be interested. It’s a great way to get feedback from colleagues and find perspectives you might have missed.
Over the last 12 weeks, I’ve spoken to and worked with literally hundreds of people, all of whom care deeply about making an education system that really works for everyone in this country. Our ambition is to put the to ols in their hands to help them do that even better in future.