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10 Tips to help you prepare for a GDS assessment
This post was co-authored by Lauren Rousseau & Jon Settle
27 February 2018 | Posted by Jon Settle

In conjunction with our customer, the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency, our team recently passed the beta assessment for the Get MOT reminders service. We wanted to share what we’d learned from the experience of preparing and presenting at a GDS assessment. Whilst every assessment will be different, based on your individual service, we have 10 suggestions that we think apply to assessments in general. Hopefully they’ll help you as you prepare for your assessment.

1. Gather as you go
This is especially important on long running projects. Team members come and go and the reason why things were done a certain way could go with them. Gathering evidence about how you are meeting the service standards, as you go will ensure this knowledge is not lost and will also make it easier and less time consuming when it comes to preparing for your assessment.

2. Involve GDS before the assessment
In the assessment you have a limited time to explain what your service does and how you have gone about meeting the service standards. It is a lot to cover in the time available at an assessment. Knowing what specific things the panel will want to know will ensure you spend the time on the things they care about. One of the purposes of GDS is to support government departments on their digital transformation journey – make use of them.

3. Qual trumps Quant

When doing exploratory work to uncover user needs, don’t forget that whilst both are important, qualitative research will always trump quantitative research in the eyes of GDS. Use qualitative research to learn about your subject area and use quant as a way of validating whether your findings scale to a bigger sample. As with all research, be very careful with leading questions. A poorly worded survey question can ruin your set of results so take the time to craft your survey appropriately.

4. Build for all users
The government has a responsibility to build services for all citizens. This includes those citizens with lower or no digital skills and citizens with access needs. It may seem like the cost of creating non-digital and support services outweighs the number of users that fall under these categories, but that does not negate the responsibility to build a service, that meets the needs of all your users. At the assessment you will need to demonstrate you have considered these users, and their needs when designing your service. Do not make these users an afterthought, include them in your early discovery research and include them in each round of testing.

5. Pick your team wisely
The service manager can bring 4 additional people to the assessment to present to the panel. This should definitely include a user researcher. Research is a science and before the panel will accept anything you discovered through research, they will query your research methods. Pick people who will be able to speak confidently about how you have met the service standards and how research and performance measures have impacted on the design of the service. Normally the technical assessor will have had a conversation with the technical architects before the assessment so this won’t play as big a part in the actual assessment, but you should still include someone who will be able to answer any questions about the technical aspects of your service.

6. Ensure dedicated preparation time

It’s important to pull together some presentation material to use at the assessment. It’ll help brief the panel on how you have met the 18 service criteria and to better inform their questions on the day. In addition to a PowerPoint presentation this could include design prototypes with login details, links to recordings of your user research sessions or collateral to put up on the wall for your assessment. You should consider sending your presentation material to the panel in advance of your assessment too. Whatever you decide to go with, don’t forget that these things take time to collate.

7. Decide on your narrative
You’re about to go and present a whole service, in a fairly short time period. It’s really important to get your narrative right so that you can tell the story of how you got to where you are. It’s unlikely that your panel has had much involvement in your service to date and any presentation should provide the panel with the necessary context. A random collection of research reports, prototypes and analytics findings are unlikely to mean much unless you weave them into a clear narrative that allows you to cover the great work that you’ve done. When providing insight or figures, it’s useful to quickly cover the method before you discuss the results. This reassures the panel that your research is sound and will help to allay any concerns they may have without spending a disproportionate amount of time going into specifics of your research methods.

8. Provide relevant examples
Intersperse your narrative with appropriate examples to showcase how you met the service criteria. These can be short and sweet; for example, a slide with a before and after screenshot demonstrating the impact of insight from usability testing works really well. The tendency here is to call out aspects you think you did really well on but don’t be afraid to acknowledge your failures using examples where you discovered that you were wrong either through user research or from spotting trends in data that you had not anticipated. These are powerful demonstrations of where you learned something and acted accordingly.

9. Rehearse
You’re giving an important presentation so it makes sense to rehearse what you are going to say, but don’t just rehearse your own parts. Do this with your team. Practise your handovers and your segues. Whilst the allotted time for an assessment seems like a long time, you might have a lot to cover if it’s a complicated service and you will be asked plenty of questions. Consider your timing and try and cut out any waffle. It’s worth doing a dry-run with a colleague who isn’t involved in the service but who can act as a panel member. If they have experience of service assessments, then all the better!  They’ll be able to tell you where you haven’t given them enough context and their questions might highlight anything you’ve missed in your presentation. They’ll also be able to tell you if you’re over explaining something.

10. Always be prepared!
There is nothing quite like an overly complicated WIFI and display system that doesn’t work, right before a big presentation to add to the stress levels. Save yourself the added stress and have your own backup plan. Tethering to a mobile and connecting the old-fashioned way (with a cable) to the TV can save time and stress.

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