In the Service Transformation team, we think Matt Jukes and Jane Reid are legends of the public sector digital world. They've worked with some big names on some inspiring projects. So we're really happy they've joined us.
They're at opposite ends of the UK but that's not going to stop them getting stuck in.
Jane Reid, Lead User Researcher
I’ve always considered myself a civil servant first and foremost, but now I’m enjoying the variety you get from being a contractor. This includes being able to come to Essex.
During my time in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), I held various front-line roles. It was from customer insight that I moved into user research, which was my dream job (even if it meant travelling to and from central London from my home in Scotland!).
Being a voice for the user
I was able to act as a conduit between citizens and those working in strategy and policy. It gave me so much professional, and personal, satisfaction to be able to sit in a room with the decision-makers and give a voice to those who are often silenced, whether that was women experiencing domestic abuse, people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, people going through homelessness or those living in poverty.
Many times, things didn’t change in the way I would have liked, but I could go home knowing I’d done my best for people. Accepting that, as a user researcher, you can’t always fix everything for everyone is a really valuable lesson I’d pass on to anyone working in this field.
Since leaving the Civil Service, I’ve held senior and lead user researcher roles across the public sector.
I consider myself really lucky to have worked alongside some great people and conducted research in some fascinating areas. I’ve worked at NHS Digital, Ministry of Justice and the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service, as well as going in to organisations to train staff and embed user research as a profession.
The most challenging piece of work I led on, was for Disclosure Scotland, asking about sex and gender on forms. This brought home to me that design is political – another valuable lesson for anyone starting out in user research.
Putting Essex on the map
When my last role came to an end because of the coronavirus, I was looking forward to a bit of a break. As well as my work as a contractor, I’d been working hard most weekends setting up a user research training company. But one night, on a whim, I put on Twitter - very good for networking - that I was available for work, and before I knew it I was on my way to Essex to be interim Lead User Researcher. Don’t tell anyone, but at that stage, I didn’t even know where Essex was!
Getting to know a team you might never meet
Luckily for me, the role is remote, so I can focus on growing and embedding user research in the organisation from north of the border. At the moment, it seems highly likely that I won’t ever meet my new colleagues in person, which does feel weird.
I’m a big people watcher, I love observing, picking up non-verbal cues, networking and socialising. The absence of all that is something I’m really struggling with.
Also, it’s tough to present findings to an audience crammed into the confines of a laptop screen. Luckily, I enjoy meeting new people whatever the setting, and though it takes some more effort, this even applies to video calls.
Making the most of it
I know that I’ll find new ways of getting to know my team, developing them as much as I can in the 6 months I’m here and recruiting a really good permanent lead user researcher to replace me. Hopefully they’ll be able to get the best out of my small, but mighty talented team, in a more hands-on way than I’m able to at the moment!
I’d never have chosen to work like this, but I’m determined to make the most of it and continue to be as productive as possible as well as keeping a balance between work stuff and home stuff.
Matt Jukes, Head of Product Management
I’m what you might call a veteran of ‘digital working’. My first job running a website was in 1997, and in the years since, I have moved from working in higher education, to research institutes, to an ed-tech start-up, then to central government, charities and now local government. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve always placed myself at the crossroads between technology, organisational priorities and the needs of users.
The highlight of my career so far was leading the team that rebuilt the website and data platform for the Office for National Statistics (ONS), but I think what I’m most proud of is leaving a legacy of empowered, agile teams wherever I’ve worked.
We're no fools
I’ve joined Essex at a strange time. For a start, it was 1 April – never an auspicious date to start anything new. More importantly, the lockdown had already started, so instead of visiting County Hall in Chelmsford to meet the team for the first time, I was sat in my bedroom trying to find the option to blur my background on Microsoft Teams before meeting everyone.
Getting up to speed with a new organisation, new people and priorities is always a steep learning curve, but doing so with the benefit of being in the midst of it all, picking up things by osmosis like I normally do, has been hard.
Who's who (no, seriously)
I’ve done my share of remote working, but the challenge with it is that it works by appointment. There’s no serendipitous meetings on the way to the kitchen or the way back from the loo. No friendly intros in the corridor or trips to get coffee. So mapping out the network of people you need to be effective takes longer.
Not to mention how difficult it is providing pastoral care to a team you’ve not met in person. Are they okay? Are they quieter than normal? Are you asking too much of them?
Putting Essex on the (road)map
All this being said, I’ve really enjoyed my time so far. The people are great and the way everyone has stepped up in these incredibly difficult times has been inspiring.
I have an emerging roadmap (us product people love a road map) of work I want the team to get stuck into in the coming months. So watch this space, we’ll be sure to share it with you all here!