Discovering how to design an event

Find out how we applied the Digital Service Standard and used the Service Design and Delivery Process to design our recent Digital Summit.

People walking into the Digital Summit.

When I joined the DTA to work on the Digital Summit, my first task was to understand what the DTA does. Secondly, I needed to know how we help government deliver better services for all Australians.

A big part of that was getting my head around the Digital Service Standard. I quickly saw it isn’t just for technology. The Standard provides great guidelines for developing any service that people interact with — such as a summit.

While there are criteria of the Standard not applicable to the summit — for example, the summit doesn’t have code that needs to be open — giving summit information through our website means that part of it is. There were elements we did need to consider.

These include:

  • Criteria 1 — Understand user needs
  • Criteria 2 — Have a multi-disciplinary team
  • Criteria 3 — Agile and user-centred process
  • Criteria 9 — Make it accessible
  • Criteria 10 — Test the service
  • Criteria 12 — Don’t forget the non-digital experience

To meet these criteria, I decided to use the Service Design and Delivery Process (SDDP) to design the summit.

Learning fast

I had never used the SDDP before. I had never done user research. Affinity mapping — what is that? I needed to train myself to make this happen.

Our own Guides were a fantastic resource. Combine those with chats with our in-house experts and I was ready to go.

The summit discovery process was a series of interviews with potential attendees. They were APS staff interested in various roles — delegate, speaker, and exhibitor. I also interviewed a subject matter expert to make sure I wasn’t coming at this with my own biases.

The first analysis I did with this information was an empathy map. It’s a way of taking information and breaking it into chunks summing up the thoughts and feelings of the interviewees. This was a valuable experience and helped me discover a core statement about what an attendee wants from the summit:

I want to find my tribe, connect with them and then work together with them to transform government services.

I did the affinity mapping with the Building Digital Capability (BDC) team. We developed 4 user stories, which were my priorities for the summit, and would have biggest impact for the attendees:

  • As an attendee at the summit, I want to be excited and intrigued by the space so that the summit will be a memorable and fun experience.
  • As an attendee at the summit, I want to be able to connect with people in a way that suits me so I can be comfortable, inspired, informed about opportunities and be part of a community.
  • As an attendee at the summit, I want to know where to go and when so I can make the most of my time at the summit.
  • As an attendee at the summit, I want to see professional presentations that tell a story, so I have tangible takeaway.

So many prototypes

With 4 user stories to develop test items for, the list of prototypes was long. For example, we tested:

  • 3 different name badge designs to see which worked best to help people connect
  • accessibility and information for 3 different pocket program designs
  • users moving through 3 different stations over 3 sessions, testing 21 prototypes at our first alpha test

2 of these prototypes worked so well we didn’t need to iterate. We then moved them into consideration for our Minimal Viable Product (MVP). Others we iterated, and some we dropped — for example, it was clear which name badge design was the most popular, so we developed different versions to refine it and dropped the others.

After the second alpha test, we had some clear insights on what people reacted well to:

  • The most popular presentation styles were workshops and panels with short presentations and discussions.
  • Professional slides were important.
  • Playing music as people came in helped build the mood.
  • People preferred to network using stickers on name badges to show interests —agile methodology, user research, and so on.

With that, we were able to develop the MVP. This included things like:

  • clear communication before the summit
  • telling a story with a bright and engaging exhibition
  • an app to communicate with attendees
  • a pocket program
  • consistent design
  • the variety and professionalism of presentations

Importance of pre-testing

Beta tests the MVP with users in conditions matching the real experience. We organised 2 mini events.

We held a private beta on 10 July for DTA staff only. We built a 2-hour event around the BDC’s career pathways work. There was a presentation, mini-workshop and networking opportunities. We used the proposed name badges and pocket programs. We set up the room, ambiance, and signage to match the summit.

We got a lot of valuable information out of this event — what to develop and what to change. One of the main things we learnt was the importance of language in the end-of-event survey to get the feedback we needed. It seemed our MVP was working but we had details to get right.

On 18 July, as part of Innovation Month, we ran our public beta — the Byte-sized Mini Summit. This was a 4-hour event open to anyone in the APS.

An important aspect of the public beta was getting first iteration of the summit app ready so we could see what to fix before the summit. We had an exhibition area with several of our areas available for people to talk to during afternoon tea, and a mix of presentation styles.

We finished this process and knew exactly what we wanted to do and how we wanted things to work. We made sure we were doing all we could so attendees could make the most of the Digital Summit

Digital Summit goes live

The final part of the SDDP is Live. Digital Summit went live on 3 October 2019.

The MVP put live at the Digital Summit was:

  • pre-conference communication and delegate information — where to go, what to expect, and where to park
  • app — design, content, and using it to ask questions
  • name badge — design and interest stickers
  • pocket program — design and content
  • signage — clear, planned to assist with getting around the venue, and consistent
  • presentations –- different types of presentations, quality assurance of slides. We made sure the plenary sessions had different presentation styles including speeches, panels and a fireside chat
  • topic tables during lunch
  • bright and engaging exhibition space
  • music playing as people enter the plenary
  • having the MC primed to build energy in the room
  • solutions board
  • networking event

Attendee feedback showed we did some of these things well. People found the summit to be a positive experience. 70% of attendees thought the summit was very good or excellent. There were lots of comments about the energy and connections with other attendees during the day. More than 75% of attendees used the app and all rated it highly.

Some things didn’t go as well, and we need to iterate on some things for next time. More time for planning and additional support would help presenters do their best work. A greater variety of presentations and presenters would give attendees more opportunities to learn and engage how they wanted to.

The SDDP was a valuable tool. It allowed for ongoing feedback and research with small groups. It gave us insights into what people want from an event like this.

Doing user research through 2 beta summits added extra work. For me, the pain was worth it for the knowledge we were on the right path as we walked onsite to hold the summit. It helped us fix issues that would have come up without testing first. It also made the user need very clear, and this was invaluable in steering design decisions around the summit.

I strongly recommend the Digital Service Standard and the Service Design and Delivery Process to anyone who is designing a product or service. It’s not just for tech, but for making sure we remain user-focused throughout any process.

Nicole Murphy is an event manager at the DTA.