Weeknote 23, for 20–24 June 2022

Coming up for air after 7 weeks

Jen Staves
6 min readJun 24, 2022
The Ministry of Justice building in London — a grey building with lots of windows against a blue sky with lots of windows.
Photo by Benjamin Elliott on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/fZW094qwqSQ

This weeknote is my first in my new role as Head of UCD at HMCTS. It’s been more than 2 months, so I wasn’t even able to round up my last week at DfE.

I’d mentioned I’d been feeling slightly conflicted about my weeknotes at the moment. I’m learning so much that it’s nearly impossible to say everything I’ve learned — likewise, I want to be open with my reflections, but what about when your reflections are potentially completely off-base, or could really get people’s backs up?

Things I’ve learned

  • Justice is a STEEP learning curve but so incredibly rewarding. It wasn’t at all like education, where I’d had personal experience of being in an education system, have kids in school, have been a governor, had built learning products. Thankfully, I’ve not needed the justice system yet in my life. But it feels so incredibly important too. One thing that really struck me before I joined is that almost everyone is vulnerable, even if temporarily, when they need to access justice. Getting these services right is literally life or death.
  • The judicial angle. How interesting! HMCTS is overseen not just by the legislative branch (ministers) but also the judiciary, so there’s a balance of powers thing going on that other departments and agencies might not have. There are star judges for the key primary jurisdictions — Crime, Civil, Family, Tribunal — and they need to agree to anything we want to do, along with the Lord Chancellor. I’ve also been able to see things more from the agency-side (the ‘doing’ side).
  • Tribunals… of the four jurisdicitons, I’ve been given an additional coordination role for this one in the leadership team. This means I’m getting to grips with: Employment Tribunals, Special Tribunals (which is a name for dozens worth of tribunals that are smaller scale but just as important, such as Mental Health, SEND, Female Genital Mutilation, and more), Immigration and Asylum, and Social Security.

Things that have made me happy

Bringing community and profession time to HMCTS

The focus here has been delivery at all costs, and I do understand that — it’s a massive programme that’s coming to the end and needs to realise benefits. But those benefits can’t be at the cost of the wellbeing of our staff. And the hill I’ll die on is that community and profession time makes delivery better, faster, stronger, more repeatable. We’re at the start of the journey, but these things have happened so far:

  • We’ve had our Design and Research community meet-up — lightning demos, community of practice updates, and a session on what our needs are, what we can give to the community and how we want our different communities of practice to work together, and what success looks like.
  • We’re starting to align the times of our individual discipline communities so we can start to ringfence that time better
  • We’re sharing our needs with each other, and aligning them to see which ones we should start meeting first.

Signs are good. I’ve had a lot of happy emails from people about the sessions, and people are really engaging too. I’m think it’s the start of something really special.

Paper Forms

Everything’s digital, right? Wrong. While we want to reform our services, that can’t be at the expense of people who can’t use those options. Access to justice means we absolutely must continue to offer a paper version, and that the paper version of an application can’t have a longer time to decision than the digital one. It needs to be accessible in its own right.

I’ve got a team of designers and analysts working on this, and at first, it seemed insurmountable to the team. There were too many forms! (Over 400.) No one would collaborate with us! (We weren’t sure who needed to.) No one really cared! (Except us, and of course the people who needed the forms.)

Step 1. Know what you’re dealing with. It was a pain, but getting a list of all those forms in a spreadsheet and logging them by service area had to be done.

Step 2. Which ones were the worst offenders? We ranked them all from 1–5, with 4–5 being ok, 3 on the fence, and 1–2 absolutely awful.

Step 3. What were the download/application rates for them? We have some forms with 200, and others with 32k.

Step 4. Prioritise! With this insight, we know where to start, and where we can get to. We can ask for more resource if needed with the clear understanding of what it will mean for the business.

It’s been great to see how energised the team has been after all this hard prioritsation work. The impossible seems possible and doable!

Performance analysts

One of the loveliest bits about the new role and team is that I have performance analysts! I love all DDaT roles, but performance analysts have a special place in my heart. They can tell us whether what we think (informed by research) will work actually is working — and if it isn’t working, they can help us diagnose why! So to have 3 in the team feels especially lucky.

A big part of their work at the moment is Google tagging all our services as part of Reform, so we can have the right view of them all.

What I’m doing next week

  • Attending Scope Authority. This will be my first time attending this session, which is where all decisions relating to CFT Reform scope happen. It’s important that UCD influences decisions on scope change and ensure everyone understands what a cut to scope means in real terms to our users.
  • Thinking about what the Nationality and Borders Bill might mean for Tribunals. This is really sensitive and critical that we get it right.
  • Raising our game with Figma — it’s already in use, but has a lot more potential than we’re using it for. I want to build our capability here and think about how we can move away from using multiple tools that do the same thing.
  • Cross-gov assurance network catch-up — I’ll be joining a workshop to understand what changes to assurance process by CDDO mean for us.

Things I’ve read that I’ve liked

I have a basic understanding of the most common technologies that underpin digital services, including APIs, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

I am comfortable with the common vocabulary of the tech industry, and I feel confident asking questions to clarify information.

I understand the importance of addressing legacy within complex systems, particularly regarding cyber security.

  • Loved the first of hopefully many weeknotes from Katy about her time at Hackney Council

Holding myself to account

These were goals I set myself while at DfE. I’ll stick with them for now, but they might need a refresh come September.

User research sessions observed: 0 (BUT, excitingly, there are so many ways to observe user behaviour here at our fingertips). Call logs, service emails inboxes, court visits. And I have a court visit planned soon.

New people met: Over 100, easily. (Of course, this is for 2 months worth)

Retaining autonomy: I’ve had a lot of autonomy in this role, and it’s been great. (I’ve also had a lot of directives too!)

Being asked to solve BIG problems: Absolutely. I feel really fulfilled working on these problems.

Expanding to a wider remit: Moving from Content Design to UCD as a whole was really daunting at first, I’m not going to lie. I love detail, but I also love breadth! Reconsiling that for myself will be key. I think I’m doing a good job! But it remains to be seen…

Moving out of my comfort zone: So much justice.

Staying in touch with people: 3 catch-ups with DfE colleagues this week alone, and lots of staying in touch with Action Learning Set for FLS



Jen Staves

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