Tag Archives: NAO

How feedback is helping improve our digital services

Neil Williams great post about how GDS keep improving gov.uk reminded me that I wanted to provide an update on what we have been doing with feedback recently. I mentioned feedback a while ago.

Since then we have tried to integrate it more regularly in our work. So we have a weekly retrospective and the first thing we do is cover the feedback that has been generated on the website feedback form.

This has covered a range of issues and usually things we can quickly change. So for example there is an area of content called Successful Commissioning which is quite popular. Over the last few weeks we had a number of comments left saying that some of the frequently used abbreviations were not explained. So we went in and changed these.

Another popular area of content are some FAQs about Taxpayer support for the banks.  This content was created as it was a topic the NAO was regularly asked about. So almost every week we get a comment asking ‘can a particular figure be made clearer or do you have more data on x’? We pass these all onto the authors who have taken the necessary action.

There have also been some useful comments about the difficulty of contacting particular people in the NAO. This is slightly more tricky but clearly worth reviewing especially as the on site search shows users are putting in the names of NAO staff.

So oddly we have found all the feedback quite motivating. Because people care, value the content and want it to work even better. It shows that the effort we put into maintaining these pages is worthwhile and we can fix things that do not work well. It’s a feedback win/win.




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How we ran our mobile apps workshop

Zeitgeist is a great word which according to Wikipedia means spirit of the age or spirit of the time. I think the spirit of the current digital age could be mobile apps.

Apps is very much a blanket term that can cover all manner of software but in this context I am referring to the kind of apps that you will have on your mobile device.

So very much surfing the Zeitgeist I felt that it was worth running a workshop about how to build mobile apps.

Why you may ask? Well for a number of reasons.

I could sense from a number of conversations with colleagues that more of them were making the mental cross-over of thinking about how tools that they use outside work (apps) might be relevant in the work environment. A couple of possible examples had already been suggested. There was also the possibility that there might be some great ideas for apps floating around that just needed to be captured and investigated. However it was also fairly obvious that there is more to apps than meets the eye and that actually getting one up and running might be deceptively hard.

However I was conscious that its a lot easier to talk about doing something than actually doing it. So what better way to find out than from learning by doing? Hence the idea of an apps workshop.

Of course I had no idea how to create one so I checked around with a few suppliers to see what might be realistic and cost-effective.

In the end it was one of the developers who helped with our data lab Giuseppe Sollazzo who was our partner in this venture into the unknown.

So we spent some time discussing what would be useful in the NAO context to illustrate the key issues and provide the most learning points.

The somewhat tricky bit was sorting out the technology as we wanted to learn about apps on Android, IOS and Windows; though we decided not to worry to much about Android for the moment since NAO users Windows internally and a potential key audience for it externally are MPs who use iPads.

As a result with the help of my colleagues in the IT department we had five new issue Windows 8.1 machines loaded with the relevant developer software and phone emulators. I also hired five iMacs which again needed the relevant software installed.

In the meantime I publicised the event internally trying to get a nice mix of what I would call pure auditors, geeky auditors and developers – so a real mix of experiences and knowledge.

On the day we spent the morning running through the history of mobile phone development and related apps. They are much older than you think. This was to help set the context and clarify what an app is. We also covered other perspectives such as Tom Loosemore’s argument that a well built website does not need apps.

This is when we hit on our first key learning. Explaining how IOS worked took about four times longer than Windows. This is because IOS has been around such a long time it has layer upon layer of interactions to cater for. By contrast Windows was much more straightforward as familiar coding languages can be used to build apps. No one expected that.

We soldiered on after lunch to start working on apps following the cheat sheets that Guiseppe had created for us. Again the split between Apple and Windows became apparent as the team working on the iMacs melted into a pit of despair at the difficulty of what they were doing whilst the Windows team had some reasonable successes.

I should say that overall everyone did really well as they were using devices they were not familiar with, new software and new concepts.

So what did we learn?

It does look as though if any iPad apps are ever needed that they should be outsourced. A fair number of apps for Windows could probably be built in-house or at least a significant amount be started on them.

As part of the ‘show and tell’ we ran a brainstorm of potential apps and generated 15 or 16 ideas. There are probably a lot more out there in the organisation which we need to coral into the same place.

We would still need to work out some kind of consistent production process and quality control. Making sure that there is a genuine user need is also key.

It goes without saying that one should never underestimate the ingenuity and persistence of auditors.




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What I learnt from hosting National Hack the Government in London 8-9 March 2014 #NHTG14

In a moment of rashness I suggested to the Rewired State team that the NAO might be able to host the London part of National Hack the Government. I think that I had a rush of blood to my head.

Anyway they were struggling to find a venue and I knew we had a great one so it seemed a ‘perfect’ match.

I then realised what this really meant. That is having a foolproof wifi; persuading senior colleagues (and the press office) that ‘hacking’ was actually good; and having the building properly open at the weekend.

So my journey began.

After some travails I was able to get internal senior agreement to go ahead which was to their credit since as the auditor of government linking the NAO with an event called Hack the Government could be seen as provocative.

Also, despite an originally daunting list of requirements from the facilities area when it came down to it they were brilliant and extremely helpful. So for example the cleaners came in on the Sunday morning to give the place a once over.

That just left the IT side who again were outstanding with a network colleague even coming in on the Saturday morning to help with the wifi set up and troubleshooting. We managed to set up a few contingencies which were not needed even when it looked like some of the developers were pulling half the data on the internet into the building. The knowledge that we gained from doing this will help improve our ability to host tech events.

However the best bit was having to sleep overnight in the building it gives you a whole new perspective on how long developers work on a project and the variety of sleeping options including chairs, bean bags and desks. At least I got to go running round the Serpentine on a perfect Sunday morning.

So overall a great experience and I am glad we did it. I had a surprising number of people asking how it went and I think that it was a breakthrough for the NAO to host such an event.

This is a rather good video about the event with some great shots of the building.

These are the hacks that were built.

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Pinterest and the NAO food safety report graphic

Sometimes even I am sceptical about the value of some digital activity – did I really say that aloud?

Then sometimes I am vindicated – I did say that aloud. Well have a look at this –

When the Food Safety report came out recently my colleague Alex Mueller had a skim through it to see if there were any graphics that we might be able to extract as standalone items and post them to Pinterest – the online pin board for visual content.

One of those chosen was the map of the distribution of food safety officers which we put on the NAO Pinterest account a board called Environment.

Now you might think who would possibly be interested in that? I sort of did wonder myself.

I have just found out who was interested. He is called Matthew Parish.

He has a great board on Pinterest of diagrams and infographics (whatever they are) relating to food safety. Such as this chart:

Guess what is nestling in the middle of them – the NAO diagram which nicely complements the existing information that he has curated. Not sure what curation means look out for my previous post.

Made me feel happy for today.

Why – well it’s nice that the small amount of time that we invested in this (thanks to Rob in the Design Group) has been worthwhile. It also show that there are lots of interest goups online if we make a little effort to find them.

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Have your digital channel/s reached a critical mass?

When Felix Baumgartner jumped from space he reached a critical mass, in his case the speed of sound, and beyond. The same applies to digital channels.

I have seen this a number of times on our channels, most recently with our Twitter account @NAOorguk which over the last few weeks has jumped from 2,900 odd subscribers to 4,000. My dodgy maths makes that a 30% increase and it shows no sign of slowing down.

I did not expect this or know when it would happen. Well that’s slighly untrue. I did expect a gradual increase in take up, but not a speed of sound acceleration.

I can speculate why we reached a critical mass. I am going to claim some credit myself since I have actively promoted our account and tried to build a community of interest around it. As I explained a while ago. As the account name has got more widely circulated it has been referenced more widely. A nice virtuous circle.

Also, for a number of topics of NAO reports such as the Language service at the MoJ there was a very active online community of interpreters who also mentioned @NAOorguk regularly. Of course the level of spam and bots also increases.

Now here is the point – when we are set up new channels, or more precisely subscribe to something new, such as Pinterest, do we make clear to ourself and others that it might take some time to reach a critical mass? If not we can be storing up problems internally as expectations can be raised that might take some time to be met.

So it could be a good idea to avoid raising false expectations with new channels. A plan of how to grow the audience is probably useful and a flexible approach if these plans do not pan out. If possible you might be able to sketch out a mental map of how long you expect it to take for your new account to get off the ground and start flying.

If your channel does not reach a critical mass you might just have to let it crash and burn.

But if your account soars into the stratosphere claim the plaudits.

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The power of the image and Big-on (NAO graduate recruitment campaign)

Have you heard of Big-on, the campaign name of the NAO graduate recruitment program?

For some time we have been using social media to help spread the word about Big-on.

One of the key parts of the process has been having a presence at a number of the graduate recruitment fairs. On the stand is a ‘Big-on box’ which is used to engage with students.

The box is meant to be a bit of fun so that students can have their photos taken in ‘amusing and entertaining’ poses while crouching in the deliberately small box. Students being students, they usually come up with some funny approaches. Quelle surprise.

The point of the process is for NAO recruitment colleagues to talk with students and in particular have them leave their contact details for follow up. At the same time students give their permission for their photos to be used by the NAO.

Sceptics that we are, we keep being surprised how popular these photos are. They are used mainly on our Flickr site which is extremely popular and has racked up 10,000s of views. We also use them on the related Facebook page.

In addition we have seen some students use the photo we took of them as their personal image on Facebook. Which is nice as the Big-on brand is usually in these images.

More surprising over the last two weeks one student posted a link to their photo on Twitter and circulated it around with a nice comment. Another even contacted us to say that they could not see their image on Flickr yet.

So what does this show? Well students like fun, of course. They like photos and they like sharing them.

Let’s not forget the power/popularity of images and the desire to share – being social.

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What is the value of our content – part 2

This is a variation of my previous musing about what would we do differently if we, or our authors, got a pound for everytime their report was downloaded.

I was telling a new colleague about this idea recently which then made me follow this line of thinking a bit further.

I once went on a site visit to Sainsbury’s HQ in London. They said that every senior manager was an advocate for a particular brand. This meant that they had to push it internally, encourage their friends to buy Jaffa cakes, or whatever their particular line was.

Just imagine if our authors did get a pound for every report downloaded. What if they were the author of the report about Neurological services?

They go to a party and introduce themselves.

‘Hi, I am Fred I work at the NAO I wrote the report on Neurological services. You might have heard about it on the news? Do any of your family have any neurological conditions?

‘Oh they do – it might be worth you having a look at our report and see what we found out?’

Occasionally Fred picks his boy up after school, he is a busy auditor after all. If he is not too late he has a chat with the other parents. As new people turn up all the time he starts introducing himself and talking about the report he worked on. Ker chink. That’s another pound.

Fred decides to have a look at his profile on Linkedin and realise that though he says he works at the NAO he does not really say what they does. That is soon fixed – ‘I work in the area that audit health issues’. ‘ I was part of the team that worked on the Neurological services report’ – of course he includes a link to the report because he will get a pound for each download.

Ahem, Fred suddenely remembers his Twitter account. What about adjusting his profile?  It’s quickly done and another link is created.

It takes a while but it suddenly clicks with Fred that if he used his Linkedin account to join some networks that deal with health issues he could push the Neurological services report. Ha, money in the bank he thinks.

Nearer home Fred remembers his overused Facebook account. Time for another link. Of course now that he is getting a pound for each download the next time a friend starts talking about health issues he’s pushing his report.

You get the idea.



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