Weeknotes s02e03

Posted by: Chris Witham - Posted on:

TL:DR; Virtual reality riding, team setup, a happy goodbye and a question of accessibility.

[week ending: 21/01/2022]

The good

My brother-in-law finally managed to visit for Christmas last weekend after failed earlier attempts due to you know what. Now I’ve been a bit of a Virtual Reality (VR) sceptic up until now. A little bit like my hesitency for Artificial Intelligence. But I was honestly amazed when I tried out Joe’s Oculus headset. It’s a little reminiscent of the Nintendo Wii in that the graphics are quite basic, but at the price point, it is quite understandable. I wasn’t so impressed with the safari game as the graphics needed to be a lot better. But I really enjoyed exploring the international space station and got a good sense of how it would be to move around in zero G. My favourite game was Beat Saber. A little bit like the dance pad reimagined where you have to use lightsabers to slice cubes that fly towards you while heavy dance music places. It was an immersive and energetic experience and the first time I’ve really felt VR wasn’t just a gimick. I’m somewhat torn however, as I’d really like a set, but I don’t really want to give my money to Meta.

I’ve also been enjoying the Tour de Zwift, riding around New York and the Alps from the comfort and warmth of my office. I did wonder whether a VR headset might make my indoor riding experience even better, but I think I’d probably have a serious injury with all that extra weight on my head! Thanks to Kev and Andy for their support in getting into Zwift. It’s been really great to be able to ride while I build up strength in my arm to be able to ride outside in the future.

I set out some specific goals for this week following the confirmation of my acting up last week. I wanted to get a good grip on budgets, personnell and develop the ways of working within my direct reports. After some excellent meetings with my team and Ops, Finance and HR colleagues, I might not hae a firm grasp on the rope, but I have made some significant progress on all fronts. There’s so much activity going on across our Digital Team that it feels a little strange stepping out of some of the work but having the automony to make things happen and get things sorted has been very rewarding. It’s been great to have some 1:1 conversations too and develop a more coaching style to some of the discussion.

Orange sunrise above the river severn valley with flowers shilloutted in the foreground.
14 miles walked and 43 miles biked this week. Beautiful sunrises continue!

The bad

Goodbye NHSx. No, not that NHSX! Last Sunday night, we said a final goodbye to our NHSx platform that we first started work on in 2014. I’m sure my team don’t see it as bad at all, they’ve been working hard preparing for our future for nearly 2 years. And the future is very exciting, but it did feel like the end of an era. It was the first project I worked on with Harry Roberts and Josh Nesbitt. Josh wrote a note about the end and raised a glass. The platform delivered leadership development at a grand scale, hosted quarter of a million user accounts, helped us win awards and improved patient care. The work Harry started on the CSS architecture for NHSx ultimately laid the foundations for the architecture of the NHS Frontend Library and our work with NHS Digital. NHSx’s DNA will live on in 1000s of websites for years to come.

I have a lot of fond memories of all the people who worked with us on the platform along the way. From Jason’s original vision to the success it became. It hosted our Edward Jenner Programme for many years which excitingly relaunched on Future Learn this week! If you’re interested in leadership development within healthcare, go and check it out, it truly is a great programme. It’s free to access for those in health and care and open to anyone.

So it’s not really bad, but this has been such a great week, I needed more space to write about good stuff! Our new Single Sign On system will be a huge improvement for our user experience and opens up a lot of possibilities with where we want to take our learning management systems in the next two years. Tony has really hit the ground running and we can hopefully share more of our plans in the near future.

The ugly

I’ve had accessibility on my mind a lot this week. We had some great presentations at our Divisional Engagement Forum this week and several comments were made about how great the PowerPoint slides were. They were good slides, well designed, sensible levels of content, not just a script for the presentor and no squished NHS logos! But it got me thinking about how accessible slides shared into an MS Teams call are for anyone who has sight impairments. I suspect not very accessible at all! I have a slight colour blindness and often struggle with some people’s colour choices (not this week thankfully). But you can’t select any of the text shared from a screen into a video call so voice over software isn’t going to help and you may not have a way to tell if a screen is still being shared. I also found some PowerPoints on our intranet that we view only, fine you might think, but this seemingly stops the text from being selected so you can’t increase the font size or change the colours. I want to explore how we could find a solution to this. I often don’t create slides when I am presenting as I often think they’re distracting. Then I’ll share notes as a follow up with any links or additional references people might need. But what if we need to have slides? How do we share them in a video call in an accessible way? I’ve seen in OpenLP you can make the presentation publicly available on a network or over the internet so people can view it on their own devices. HTML slides would allow a screen reader to read them. But then how do you cope with a screen reader and a presenter talking at the same time?

The really ugly bit came when I found this, embedded in a PowerPoint deck with no alt text:

A screenshot of a message saying "An alternative text only version suitable for screen readers is in development." with a screen and speaker icon next to it in blue.
An alternative text only version suitable for screen readers is in development.

We really have taken our reliance on corporate tools like MS Office too far. This is in a PowerPoint file that I accessed through a web based system. Imagine we had an accessibile way to present information on the internet in a way that anyone could engage with it no matter what equipment they used to access it? In a way, I think this is worse than not being aware of accessibility at all. What I think this says (the document is more than a year old) is that we recognise that we need to ‘do’ accessibility but we didn’t give it the time or thought to actually make the solution accessible. This PowerPoint is a collection of text and images. It was downloaded from a Sharepoint site. If it had just been published in HTML as a Sharepoint page or a webpage instead of a PowerPoint download, it would be more accessible. We’ve published something online, in a less accessibile format than the default online format of HTML. We need to do better and we need to get used to authoring and publishing online, in native online formats that people can actually access and search and engage with.

Noteable conversations

  • I had a lovely chat with Polly Smith early this week. It’s always a joy to meet with Polly. We had a great chat about NEDs that has helped me with some of my thinking around my Governor role. I’m very fortunate to have access to so many experienced and knowledable people from my day job that I can learn from and develop with to improve how I can engage with voluntary roles.
  • I had a great conversation with someone outside my team about a possible stretch project. It relates closely to improving some of the accessibility issues I mentioned above and would be a super exciting piece of work as well as a great development opportunity. I plan to write up the opportunity and training plan so that even if this individual doesn’t go ahead, we could offer it to someone else.

Things I’m reading and watching

  • I started watching the new series of The Apprentice. Oh how I wish I could not. It’s a guilty pleasure. Every year though, it seems like they try to find entertaining characters rather than the best business candidates. The first two episodes have been horrific from a product perspective. I was also shocked as to how often I noticed everyday sexism. Comments like “of we can do unisex, fine, otherwise, let’s just do boys”. There is still a lot of work to do.

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