June Monthnote

Rochelle Gold
6 min readJul 9, 2023
Large flock of flamingoes in the sky
A flock of flamingos that flew over us when I was on leave

I returned to work after 10 days off and was immediately into some urgent work that I needed to understand and deliver by the next day alongside dealing a separate but frustrating issue. Positive thing was that both of these pressures were caused by the fact that work in these areas had been moved on whilst I was on leave so I am thankful for things having progressed even if it did cause me to land back to work with a bump.

Whilst I was on leave the outcome of the reorg consultation was released so I have also been digesting that. Much of my feedback and recommendations were implemented which shows you should always take your opportunity to input to these processes. There are still bits that I need to feedback on — to paraphrase some of last month’s monthnote, models are not perfect but they are useful as starting points to guide or create discussion. The rest of that first week involved working on the next phase of the consultation process and the next stages of implementing the future operating model including what both of those look like for UCD. It also was taken up by a large piece of procurement work that is probably going to keep me busy over the next 12 months.

I have continued to work with my portfolio area colleagues to get into more detail about the work and what ‘product thinking’ looks like on the ground in BAU delivery. I had some more introductory chats with the senior leadership team and some joint working on work to support the primary care recovery plan. I also presented at the directorate show and tell and met with operational colleagues to start to bring together the ‘digital’ and ‘non digital parts of the service and in turn the end to end experiences of all users. There are many aspects to my work in the portfolio, but they are all inextricable linked. Thinking about where to start on the capability building aspects got me thinking about one of my first blog posts https://medium.com/@rochellelgold/it-started-with-6-how-we-built-a-user-research-community-of-practice-ab5900f832a8 and how the NHS Digital user research capability started just by getting people together. So this is where I started — getting UCD folk together and we have already created more collaborative work and removed a blocker for one of our teams.

Thinking about the basics

I have had a number of conversations about needs — to some extent these were about user needs but this time focussed on colleagues, people we work with. A conversation with Lisa got me thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and also how things that can seem very little to others are hugely significant and cumulative.

Our organisation restructure and merger is a huge complex thing filled with ambiguity. My May month note talked about dealing with uncertainty and controlling the things that you can control to try to make things more certain. This means we need to make sure the basic things that allow you to function daily are there. Maslow talked about food water and shelter. Lisa talked about having the basics to do your job. Having the tools for user research that you need whether that be incentives for participants, licences for research software or access to the expenses system to pay for your travel to sites. There are many other things that I could list. We are lucky to have a UCD ops function to facilitate a lot of this for our UCD folk but there are things beyond their control that can impact on whether the basic needs of our UCD colleagues are met. They seem like small things on their own, but in the current context of our work they can tip the balance of how able we feel to do our jobs. We need to make sure the basics are fixed.

Related to this, this month, I also observed a pilot workshop on user centred service design for corporate services that is being developed. I have never worked with or met with any of the attendees before and they were not UCD folk. They were people that work in finance, commercial, HR and IT services from some of the other organisations we have merge with. Every single one of them talked without prompt about the need to base the service they deliver on the needs of their users. This was their key priority. Most of their users are the people that work with all of us in our newly merged organisation. Most of the services they deliver underpin those basic needs that need to be met to enable colleagues to do their job. They need those basics too. Amongst all this change and uncertainty and a merger, where some of the basics get broken to be able to fix them for all 3 former orgs, our colleagues supporting the meeting of those needs are dealing with the same uncertainty and new and/or not yet formed processes as us all. They, like us, come to work to do a good job and we need to work together to fix the basics for everyone.

Having a culture that empowers people in their work is also a basic need in a work place. The work we are doing to embed a product mindset will help with that but that has to be supported by the processes that sit around it. How and what we do through our procurement process, contracting, finance, recruitment etc impacts that culture. Some of the work I am doing in these areas feels like a lot of bureaucratic process to go through but if we do this right and use these to embed the right culture then this will help with the basic needs of all our colleagues and in turn the wider NHS. Shout out to Sam who has been driving a path through a lot of this to support and meet some of the basic needs of our UCD community.

Also on the subject of ensuring the basics are in place, this month we also morphed our face to face user research guidance into user researcher standards at NHSE. Thanks to Tom for bringing everyone’s view together on this and enabling us to get this articulate and agreed.

Blockers

Lots and lots of paperwork and approvals to try to get things done and bring more people into the organisation. Fingers crossed we are nearly there with this.

Some cumulative minor frustrations that have created blockers but I am finding more and more that getting into the office helps unblock them. Seeing people in person, having ad hoc chats with colleagues and being able to ask quick questions is helping to make progress and reduce frustration.

There have been a few teams who have faced blockers relating to user research on NHS sites and being asked to go through health ethics approval processes. Sharing this for anyone else who has faced similar blockers https://www.hra-decisiontools.org.uk/research/redirect.html It enables you to get a decision on whether your user research is classified as research that needs health ethics approval. You can then download that decision document and use it as evidence to unblock approval to conduct the user research. Our experience is that it has been a significant help in unblocking access.

The fact this this is a monthnote rather than a weeknote is a sign that either I am not carving out enough time to reflect, I need to reprioritise how I spend my time, or the work that I am doing is becoming more difficult to talk about openly due to commercial and organisational sensitivities so it takes more time to edit my notes. Think it is probably all of the above.

Things I enjoyed

Job shadowing and recruitment pilot that Tosin and Matt have been leading. Such great work to test out how we can generate greater inclusivity in our workforce and remove barriers to access to working in this field.

Stephen talking about his work on screening and his analogy about frosties and porridge, how the maybe blander looking work is the stuff that has the longer lasting impact.

Reading Ellen and Sam’s draft blog post on the latest inclusive design work we have completed to develop our definition and a framework for inclusive design — coming soon to our design matters blog.

Catching up with an ex-colleague who moved elsewhere in the NHS and hatch a plan to support user centred work on the front line

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Rochelle Gold

Head of User Research and User Centred Design @NHS England (formerly NHS Digital). Views my own.