A decade of change in a year  

The last 18 months have seen organisations right across the voluntary sector make rapid changes to the way we connect with people and deliver our services. At times this has been really challenging, but this spirit of experimentation and flexibility has been positive, too. Many organisations have completed years’ worth of digital evolution in a matter of weeks and in some cases overnight!  

This is the time to take a breath, take stock and reflect on what we have achieved over the last 18 months. Some of it will have been terrible, some if it will have been amazing, ground-breaking and downright genius. Are we willing to let that good work go and revert back to ‘normal?’.  

As restrictions gradually ease and in-person activities become possible again, we are all facing more complex questions. Of those rapid changes we have made, what will we choose to keep and what will we stop doing? What gaps do we still need to close? Is there a risk that we will just go back to how we worked before the pandemic? 

There might not be any quick answers, but here are three simple and powerful tools to help you map your next steps.  

Retrospectives – a tool for looking at what has worked  

Carrying out a retrospective is a great way of reflecting on how far you have come.  It can help identify what went really well, what was mixed and what went badly. There are a lot of different tools out there that you can use to carry out a retrospective. A retrospective simply asks three key questions:  

  • What worked?  
  • What kind of worked?  
  • What didn’t work?  

Asking these three questions helps you begin to identify what you need to do next. You should persist with items in your ‘what worked’ column, pause any items in your ‘didn’t work column’ and review or change anything in your ‘kind of worked’ column. 

Using service design approaches to keep users front and centre 

Adopting a service design approach and focusing on what people who use your services need can help you work out what to do next and what to prioritise. See the 7 key principles of the Scottish Approach to Service Design and the Better Digital Services guide from CAST.  

Two key questions from service design are: 

  • Context: What are people really attempting to do when they encounter your service? 
  • Experience: What happens when people use your service? Do they have a smooth and positive experience? 

Thinking about these areas will help you spot any issues that you need to tackle to improve your service. Even if you have developed a prototype service without using a service design approach, you can use these principles to go back and improve your service. 

Knowledge boards – what do we need to find out next?  

When you’re thinking about what people using your service need, it’s important to be clear about any assumptions you might be making. A knowledge board allows you to separate facts from guesswork. 

You may think that our new digital services are no longer needed but do you vreally know this? What evidence do you have to back this up? Is this simply an assumption you are making, a perception that you have? Because our context has been changing so much in the last 18 months, it’s really important to avoid making assumptions about users and their needs. 

Thinking about the problem, issue or service, you can ask yourself:  

  • What do you know? (backed up by evidence) – this we know – we don’t need to test this…  
  • What you think you know? (gut feel, hunches)  – we can test people’s assumptions – is this true? Does this actually happen?  
  • What don’t you know? (but wish you did) – this identifies gaps and can uncover new things that can be researched or tested. 

The knowledge board is a great way to shift conversations with stakeholders from what they want, to what they know (or don’t yet know) about user needs and behaviours. It’s not designed to give you cast iron certainty – you can’t afford to wait for that. But it will help you understand what you can be sure about and what needs checking or testing. 

Agile working and continuous improvement 

During the crunch months of the pandemic, lots of us discovered agile working practices by accident. We needed to get things working quickly, so instead of planning for months, many organisations developed and launched basic versions of their services almost overnight. 

But agile working doesn’t just mean throwing something together very quickly. The idea behind agile working is that development on a product, service, or piece of technology happens continuously in a series of short sprints. This means that risks are reduced and your project can flex and change as user needs and priorities shift. 

The challenge with digital services is that there is no ‘done’ – there is always something you can improve or tweak. But this is a benefit, too. You don’t need to put yourself under pressure to make a perfect service from day one. You can start with something basic, then improve it little by little as you learn how people are using the service.

For more in depth help as you think about adapting your digital services, see our how to guides.

If you’re interested in equipping your team to make the most of digital in our changing context, check out our Senior Leader’s Programme. This intensive training programme takes insights from a range of different leaders and sectors, and equips you and your team to navigate disruption, overcome problems and continue to innovate and accelerate. Applications for our 2022 programme are now open online