Weeknote 20, for 28 Feb-11 March 2022

Using my voice to best effect, content strategy at Services Week, analysing our content design capability data and clear evolving standards

Jen Staves
6 min readMar 11, 2022

I didn’t publish my weeknote last week — things have been busy. Too busy? I’m not sure. I like being busy, and I feel I do my best work when I’m busy — making new connections, spotting join-ups.

But I know that after doing a half-day in the office in Manchester (up and back from London), my body and brain were saying: slow down a bit. So I’m not going to travel outside of London until after Easter, I don’t think.

Anyway, this one will cover the last two weeks, but I promise it won’t be twice as long!

Things I’ve learned / am learning

Understanding my voice and how I use it

As part of the Future Leaders Scheme, we were given an opportunity to have an analysis done on our voice. I thought it was going to be actually analysing my voice and giving me feedback, but it wasn’t. It was more of a self-reflective questionnaire evaluating how you react in different situations and reviewing groups of statements and identifying which ones were more like you and to which extent. You then answered the same questions but imagined you were under pressure.

I got my analysis back, and they identify 9 different ways of speaking/interacting, and how strong you were on each of those. Important to say that all 9 ways are fine to use, depending on the scenario, but overusing or underusing a voice (according to the questionnaire) is an opportunity to reflect on what you might be thinking or doing subconsciously. The ultimate goal of the activity isn’t to change you — but it was to increase self-awareness.

The voices are:

  • Inquire
  • Probe
  • Critique
  • Direct
  • Challenge
  • Advise
  • Articulate
  • Diagnose
  • Advocate

The ones I scored ‘highest’ on were:

  • Advocate (not surprising, I feel like I do this all day long!)

But there is a catch — if you are too strong on advocacy, it can turn to preaching (not good).

The ones I scored ‘lowest’ on, in that I may underuse these, were:

  • Critique (which surprised me)

Which isn’t bad, but if you underuse critique in certain circumstances, it can imply you don’t care enough to do engage (not good).

I know I’m not a quiet person — I tend to always speak my mind, and I am conscious at times that I could speak too much. I don’t like being on calls with too much silence. So I often consciously force myself not to contribute so that others will, which I think I’ve always thought to myself is virtuously making way for others to speak up.

I had a conversation last week with a colleague about this, and she said when I am really quiet in a conversation it confuses her — in that I normally speak up and others are clear where I stand, but when I’m not, she’s not sure why. So there’s something about consistency of voice, or not going completely one way or another (always speaking up/always staying quiet).

Things I’m happy about

Services Week

We kicked off a cracking Services Week on Monday with our ‘Content strategy for services’ session. It was a full-house, with a wait list. Some great questions, including whether you could make a strategy to cover a couple of services (our answer: start small and build up) and whether this overlaps with what a service designer should be doing (our answer: not really, but you should involve your service designer in the work.

We got some wonderful feedback:

  • ‘Excellent work, just outstanding’
  • ‘So unbelievably useful!’
  • ‘Brilliant work, thank you for sharing with the wider community’
  • ‘This has been the highlight of my day. Absolutely epic. Thanks for sharing and helping bring clarity to our work.’

It went so well that some colleagues at Defra got in touch to ask if we could run it again for them! So we are, on 22 March at 12–1. I agreed that we also could offer it to anyone else in public sector who couldn’t make it to the one this week. If that’s you, let me know!

Analysing our content design capability survey — and how it compares to last year

I really love data. I feel good when I use a variety of evidence to help us think about how far we’ve come and where we should be headed. So I’m feeling good, given we have analysed how we’re doing.

In February 2022, we ran our annual survey to review content design capability at the Department for Education. We looked at capabilities and needs at an individual, team, community and organisational level. It was anonymous, and open to anyone who does content design at DfE.

The questions were informed by the DDaT capability framework for content design and through a discovery exercise with the content design community.

We benchmarked our capability in February 2021, and the results informed the 2021 strategy and programme for content design. We’ll compare the 2022 results with the 2021 results to measure our progress.

There were 45 questions in total, and it took about 15 minutes to complete. 40 of the questions were repeated from the previous year, with 5 new questions added to flesh out our understanding of how we are doing on content strategy, taking part in crits and service assessments and to understand what kinds of opportunities our content designers are looking for.

We had 59 responses in total, up from 40 in 2021. (We have 70–80 content designers in DfE, up from approximately 50–60 content designers in 2021, so this is a decently representative sample.) Two-thirds of the responses were from civil servants, up from half in 2021.

There are some fab insights coming out of this, and I’ve drafted a blogpost for the DfE blog which hopefully we will share soon. But I’ll leave you with one interesting insight:

Bar chart for ‘How long have you been a content designer at DfE’? 28 people have been at DfE less than 1 year, 11 people between 1–2 years, 3 people 2–4 years, and 4 people for more than 5 years. So everything we did last year, up to 28 people will have no memory of. A reminder that communities must be ‘always on’ and that onboarding content designers well into our organisation so they are set up for success is critical.

Things I read that I’ve liked

I have to plug this great podcast on improving navigation on GOV.UK. Transparency alert: I was lucky enough to work with Jenn P-B at Wellcome Collection on the digital transformation of wellcomecollection.org. Every single thing she says is gold dust.

‘Good information architecture isn’t something you see or point to, it’s that scaffolding that supports the entire information space so people can find what they need,’ she says. She also points to Louis Rosenfeld, who talked about the 3 tracks of IA being the interplay of:

  • Top-down: global menu, homepage, which anticipates interest
  • Bottom-up: navigation, breadcrumbs, ‘you might also like’, links within body text, which is contextual
  • Search: specific information needs

Things I’m doing next week

Made a great start on a half-day in Manchester this week thinking about how I can lead our DfE service manual team through an experiment on clear evolving standards and advise our digital efficiencies team post-discovery. Next week, we’re going to talk more about this in person in London.

Developing a ‘Service Standard’ masterclass for DfE delivery teams

Holding myself to account

  • User research sessions observed: 0
  • New people met: 0
  • Retaining autonomy: This has been tricky
  • Being asked to solve BIG problems: Clear evolving standards
  • Expanding to a wider remit: ‘service owner’ of clear evolving standards
  • Moving out of my comfort zone: UR procurement (I usually focus on design)
  • Staying in touch with people: 0



Jen Staves

User-centred design and service delivery leadership.Head of UCD. @hmctsgovuk, formerly @dfe_digitaltech @explorewellcome @explorify @tradegovuk.