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EXCLUSIVE – Creating a consistent experience across all digital platforms at NSW Department of Education

EXCLUSIVE Creating a consistent experience across all digital platforms at NSW Department of Education

Could you tell us about your role at the NSW Department of Education? 

My role is the Director of Digital Services in the Department of Education that specifically looks after the public website and the Intranet, as well as any digital innovation online and anything around those areas. That will include things like what we do in the future around transactions as an example. In terms of the team, we have about 22 people and we essentially have developers, project managers, programme managers and we have a user experience area. So people actually doing the user experience design. We work quite closely with a team which then looks at the visual design and content component.

What projects or initiatives are you working on now? Are you working together with other government agencies?

In terms of projectives or initiatives, the big thing we are looking at is creating a single destination for NSW Education. Along with that, we’re also revamping all the schools’ websites – we currently manage 2048 websites for schools. The Department of Education has about 2200 plus schools and they all need their own localised identity because they’re all individual. Mixed with that, you have the actual department website and the idea is that we create a consistent experience across any of the digital properties so people actually know and understand how to use them.This actually ties in with the global experience language framework, we’re actually re-using the same experiences so they all behave in the same way – as an example, forms will behave the same way. Ideally, what we actually want to do is allow people to have their own identity but at the same time have the same experience.

In terms of government agencies and working together, this is actually started with work that’s been done out of the Department of Finance and Innovation, which starts with a digital strategy for government in NSW. The idea there is that essentially you have the same principles to the digital strategy.

Could you tell us about the Global Experience Framework (GEF), an integrated digital channel that you helped to develop and launch at the Dept of Education? What were its origins and expected outcomes?

We’re probably one of the first agencies to look at the GEF and as part of our work, we do a lot of presentations and I do talk to a lot of agencies so they can actually see what this concept is. In an ideal government environment, we’ll probably all be using the same patent library and same experience, that would allow people to share the cost but also share the benefits of a consistent experience. When we started looking at the GEF, we started looking at who’s doing it well and gov.uk is an example, BBC and even locally there’s a bank called Westpac and they all have this global experience library. The idea is pretty simple but rather than redeveloping codes and design everytime you do a website, why not just reuse it? So it sits in a patent library and so you can take that and deploy it very quickly. For us, we can literally launch a site in 24 hours if we know what the information architecture is, whereas in the old days, you could spend 6 months developing a site. 

There were four key things that we wanted to achieve: 

1) We really want to consolidate our sites to a single domain, which will we are moving towards. 

2) To provide a consistent experience that was also accessible so that we were meeting our Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliance. 

3) The domain itself, so rather than having hundreds of different URLs, actually just having a consolidated URL. 

4) Finally, it’s about the experience, we know that the code that was produced and the experience that was produced, is best practice. It will all be responsive as an example and be able to work across different devices.The difference is we’re not creating a one-off experience but actually building a platform that continually evolves. I think this is the shift in product development, these things have moved away from just a website, it’s no longer something you just build and get.

It’s something that is continually maintained and the patents and libraries continually evolve. In that way, they actually have a life in itself rather than becoming out-of-date.

For consolidating the different websites for all the schools, when did you start the process of consolidation and how long will it take? 

There are some clear dates that we need to hit around later this year but the consultation starts now and we are looking at how do we engage our schools using a very much user-centric design approach, some people call user-centred design. The whole aim of building these sites from a new ecosystem is to move from a department or business unit division way of grouping things to a task-based solution. What we really need to do here is to ask customers what they need from us, and then re-labelling. It’s not about digital services alone, it’s about how do I build a website. It’s about looking at what’s the problem is and tasks we’re trying to solve. In the end, when anyone comes to one of our sites or destination, they should automatically know how to use the website because they behave in the same way as all sites. The other thing is the way that things are grouped, they should be a lot easier to navigate as it is based on the problems that users are trying to solve at the site. 

With so many users and stakeholders at the Department of Education, how did you manage to meet their wide and varied needs while still trying to maintain an easy and seamless experience for the users and stakeholders?

The Department of Education has about 80,000 employees, we have 790,000 plus students and something like 1.5 million parents. It is big and education is something people feel very passionate about. There’s also a great sense of trust in the sense that 1.5 million parents entrust their children to us everyday. There are pretty wide varying views and really to talk to people, we’ve really relied on user-centred design and a big part of what we’ve done is use design thinking as a framework. And the key to that is entity and understanding what the problems you’re trying to solve are. When you are actually going back to talk to people to win buy-in, you’re really telling stories. A big part of what you’re doing is providing a narrative or story-telling so people understand what the problems are and they can be empathetic. 

What are your thoughts on the age of digital transformation and its impact on education?

In terms of digital transformation and education, the interesting thing with digital is that it enables or allows people to be connected and ‘always on’. I think the expectation for government is in the old days was Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. With digital as a new channel, it allows you to be on 24/7 so people can always interact with you all the time. When it comes to education itself, it just means transforming the idea the way things work, whether that be the classroom itself and the modes of learning, that’s pretty big.                

How do you actually teach in the class in the digital age can actually mean that people get more one-to-one or personalised education because once again you know who they are, you can also provide more contextual learning. So you can actually provide students support in the context of their environment. The support you can provide is directly in relation to the problem they’re having at the time.

In terms of what does it mean for a child’s career, this is a big question. You probably aware that it is estimated in 10-15 years’ time that  40% of the jobs that are currently produced will no longer exist. So there will be 40% new jobs but the question is how do you educate children living in the environment of today for jobs that won’t even exist for another 15 years? With digital transformation, that applies a lot of pressure on how quickly we’re evolving and the impact on education. We’re always gonna need to know maths and science but the thing is we also need, in addition to that is softer skills.

Work is moving towards collaboration, working in teams and solving problems together. I think what digital transformation does is actually force that.

Digital transformation, firstly, is about how to provide a channel that is 24/7, always on and it means we can actually meet the needs of our customers. Secondly, it actually provides different ways of working, it means we can collaborate in a better way. Thirdly, it ensures that we evolve as individuals so that we can work in these new environments.

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