Why be open?
Following one of our design principles ‘Make things open. It makes things better’, we intend to work in the open so that:
people understand how we make decisions about what to include in the service manual and why
they can find out what we're working on or are planning soon by looking at our ‘backlogs’ of future work
teams across NHS Digital and the wider health and social care sector can join conversations and share their user research insights with us
By doing this, we will improve the service manual – and the digital services we build.
There’s a long tradition of collaborating on code in the open but we think there are other benefits to opening up our work more widely. By having all the different parts of the service manual (development, design and content style) open in this way, we can also:
- bring our contribution and development processes for different activities into line with each other
link between issues in our different backlogs – because design, development, and content need to work together (in care card components, for example)
We’ve already got a community of developers and designers
The coding and design community supporting the NHS website is already really active.
There are more than 70 public GitHub ‘projects’ building on the service manual code, be it for local trusts or national NHS organisations like NHSX. These numbers mean that across the country people are using our stuff, building things in different contexts and testing with different types of users. That insight helps the manual grow and improve, helping all of the digital teams using it.
People log issues in GitHub, have conversations and share their own experiences and insight. One recent example is a proposal for a new patient details header component that was raised in GitHub. One NHS Digital team detailed what their problem was, how they had worked on it and their user research evidence. Someone in another NHS Digital team talked about his team’s work and user testing patient details headers. Someone else from an NHS trust shared what she had learnt. This is a perfect example of teams across the country being open, asking for feedback and helping each other. One of them commented:
Now we’re opening up conversations about content
We’ve gone one step further than the GOV.UK Design System and have started to use GitHub to manage changes to our guidance on writing content for digital services, So what does this mean in practice? Here’s the content style guide backlog. It allows everybody to see words or phrases or other issues that people using the service manual content style guide have been proposing.
For example: Do users understand and look for information about “PMS” or is “premenstrual syndrome” clearer? (If you’ve got evidence from your users, please let us know.)
We’ve also got some more thorny issues in there, such as something we’ve been calling the “pain scale” for short, which is actually about helping people know whether or not their pain is severe enough to get urgent or emergency care.
Issues in the content style guide backlog are managed by our content ‘Style Council’ - which meets monthly to review submissions and conversations, consider the evidence and ultimately publish them on the manual.
Getting our content designers started in GitHub
By using GitHub to manage our content backhub, we know we are taking this tool beyond its core user base among coders and developers and we appreciate that there might be learning curve for people who aren’t familiar with this way of working. But we feel the benefits are worth the effort. We are keen to help people get involved, starting with our content design community. We’re offering content designers some initial handholding to get them started in GitHub. One of our senior designers is going to run a course to help them improve their HTML and CSS coding skills. And later this year we’re planning on training content designers to work directly in code in GitHub.