A quick toast to GovJam

On Tuesday 16th May I took part in the kick off meeting for Leeds GovJam, part of a global event where people across the world volunteer their time to develop something to change government — all in under 48 hours!

I’ve spent the last few years working in digital roles across the public sector and am passionate about developing services that change people’s lives for the better. GovJam was a fantastic accelerated learning experience where I got a chance to put this into practice without slowed down by large organisation syndrome (a.k.a. bureaucracy).

If you’re not sure what you can deliver in just 2 days, check out this fantastic video of our service we managed to pull together!

So what are the key lessons I’ve taken away?

Assumptions are weak, data is strong

Assumptions are great for thinking about a service, they’re not so great for making one. This was something my team and I discovered in the first hour of the Jam. We assumed people had difficulty using public transport to get around the city and planned to build a service to make this easier. We went straight out and asked people about issues they have getting around the city and… we were wrong!

The great thing about finding out your assumptions are wrong is that you might also find out what users actually want. In our case we discovered that a big problem people have is navigating their way around a city they’re unfamiliar with. This is what led us to develop the interactive city map which was described by one user as “the future of maps”. If you think you’re right, you’re probably wrong — and that’s okay.

Be ruthless with your Minimum Viable Product

If we want to deliver value quickly and reduce our risk of failure, we need to validate our service — fast! We need to consider the smallest set of features we can deliver that will provide benefits to our users and show that the concept works. This is the MVP.

The issue with an MVP is that we find it difficult (read, really difficult) to strip our solutions down to its core and leave off all of the bells and whistles. Whilst creating our interactive city map we constantly found ourselves discussing what we could do to make it better. “Wouldn’t it be great if… ?” Eventually we became more disciplined with ourselves and only focussed on the functionality that had to be delivered or the service just wouldn’t work. This allowed us to develop a streamlined service that users could understand and ultimately want to use.

Focus on the service, forget the technology

If the public sector wants to build services that will transform people’s lives — and I believe it does — then we need to put the user at the heart of them. With the technology we have at our fingertips today we could fool ourselves into building a service that shoots for the stars. But what if nobody wants to use it?

On the first day we started designing a service that allowed people to talk to a map in the street in order to interact with it. People use voice recognition in their home and on their phones, so why wouldn’t they want to use it to interact with a map in the street? Short answer: “it’s weird”. If your users don’t use your service, it’s not a service.

Final Remarks

I have to thank Hippo Digital for letting me take part and also sponsoring the fantastic event.

If you believe in building a great service you should really consider getting involved in your local Jam next year or start your own!