JRF, week 7

Ella Fitzsimmons
6 min readNov 29, 2020


My headphones are broken! While that wouldn’t have been a problem a year ago, it is now. (Working from home, sonic spaces, etc.) I’ve ordered new ones, but they’re lost in Black Friday postal disasters, somewhere. Or stolen. My current headphones only work if I sit very still and wrap them around my phone, tightly, to keep the cables connected, and don’t make any sudden movements. It means that I’m ending up listening to some slightly unexpected things. Like an interview with a priapic 85 year old Swedish Maoist who is fighting with his 57 year old wife about moving his library (quite) and a discussion of the political implications of the attacks on Tigray.

Was looking for something soothing, but not easy-listening-y. Thorny enough for relevance, but not so associated with other parts of my life that it’d ping my nostalgia glands. Switched on Emmylou Harris’s Red Dirt Girl and Wrecking Ball. They’re still wonderful.

Practical things

Dedicated two days of this week to training. Agnes Fletcher ran one about being a “disability confident” manager. And Daniel had brought in Chris and Molly from Sigma to do a day of training about inclusive design, ahead of us prototyping the next stages of the website.

Honestly, both days were great. I’m generally a bit suspicious about training: few things feel as resplendently meaningless as corporate training when it’s not good. (Often led by people who’ve not actually done it.) When that happens, I’m usually muttering “those who can’t, teach” in my head, in the hope that it will somehow make time go faster. It never does.

But! These sessions were the opposite of that. I found both Agnes and Sigma’s training very helpful and interesting *and* I could tell that colleagues from across the organisation did too. I wish I’d done this years ago.

The strat comms team (represented by Jess, Hannah, Ryan, Craig and Martyn) had a heroic effort getting social media out around the Chancellor’s announcement. It was a bit of an experiment for JRF, led by Julie, and it largely went really well.

Question: has anyone worked out good ways to show support for team that are working late, remotely? In an office, I’d order in food. (Honestly, my most bi-partisan opinion.) There’s a small treat coming in the post for the team…but that feels a bit post-hoc. All suggestions are extremely welcome!

PDFs — a war of attrition

The only snafu was — you guessed it! — PDF-related. It can be tricky to explain how and why it’s not the right format to publish mission-critical information. (Though this piece from Nielsen Group is just as righteously angry as you’d expect.)

Here’s one example.

The team (from policy, comms and external affairs) was up all night working, and published JRF’s response to Sunak’s announcement as a PDF at…around 6am. It’s a good response!

But a small detail (the date), needed changing.

This change ended up happening at around 9:30am, so that the mistake didn’t spread too far. So far, so good. That time also happens to be peak traffic. So a couple of important external contacts had clicked on the PDF-download link as it was being changed, and (as you’d expect) got a dead link. As their browsers had cached a dead link, they kept not being able to read the document.

The way we publish, on PDFs, makes it look to outsiders like something has gone wrong, when that’s not really the case (other than needing to fix a typo, which is always going to happen when people are working through the night).

Anyway, it’s another pretty compelling reason for why we need to move away from depending on PDFs if JRF wants to do things that need to be both accurate and time-sensitive. Obviously, webpages can crash, and caching can create version control issues for them too. And I get the emotional attachment to a format that you’re both familiar with and which prints out pretty well.

But you add experiences like this, and you start to see why we need to do something different.

Back to happier vibes

While Daniel was putting out fires like that one, the rest of the user centred design team was getting stuck into the next stages of improving the “apply for housing” form on the JRHT site, wrapping up Laure’s survey about ways of working, and Holly and Jude were preparing for a two week sprint about self-service “framing training” (currently hosted on the JRF website) we’re starting next week.

I’m really excited about how much the “apply for housing” form has improved (see? I can be constructive about PDFs), and seeing what’s a pretty new team gelling. Laure is going to do some user research with residents in the housing trust next week, and looking forward to finding out all the things we’ve missed. James and I have been having chats about what content design at JRF will look like. Especially with JRHT, it’s going to need to be a balance between explanation content, transactions and marketing content. Making those play nicely together, style-and-approach-wise, is always an interesting challenge.

Working out how long something is going to take

In terms of workloads and timelines, I’m also thinking about planning fallacies and how to do something about them in the new year, in my team and in JRF in general. With my own work, I’m usually about ⅓ off when I estimate how long a project is going to take me. A bit like how software engineers are famously bad at estimating how long their work is going to take. But I work better to deadline and write late in the process, so it’s usually fine. I’m very comfortable pushing deadlines or letting things drop off my radar as needed (my PhD submission was 2 years late), but not everybody is, and managing what people want from you can be hard, remotely. I thought this from Trello had some good first steps. Solid content marketing, too.

Other small things I’ve done

I did a bit of work for Sym at Democracy Club. Am trying to involve more people in how I test what words and terms are landing, so thinking of making the whole strategy doc open next week. Will see how that goes.

Read Linda’s blog post about knitting and data standards — feels like there’s a conference talk in this one.

It turns out it’s difficult to register trademarks for specific colours in Japan. In other inspirational content, a boss civil servant in Tokyo is getting rid of lots of hanko signature:

One of Mr Kono’s first actions on taking the job in September was to order a government-wide survey of procedures requiring a hanko. It found 14,992 instances. He has decided to maintain the hanko requirement for 83 procedures and scrap it for the rest. “So 14,900 procedures, whatever, you don’t need a hanko any more. That’s amazing, isn’t it?” he said.

That’s going to be me with JRF’s PDFs by the middle of next year. Watch this space.

And no, faces don’t tell the truth about feelings. As a person with zero poker face and a lot of micro expressions, I’m going to be screwed if this makes it in to general use. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Oh and I’ve been tired this week, so I’ve mainly been reading books about dragons. The Lady Trent books by Marie Brennan are a delight: about a woman who studies dragons in an alternative Victorian past.

I keep trying to finish the Anne Applebaum book about how all her former friends are now vaguely fascist and there was no way for her to see that coming. But it’s just too far-fetched.

Dragons it is.