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Rubber-bands, post-it notes and a bit of glue - the ‘10 percent’ work

Because the ways of working within the Lab were innovative, iterative and rather unfamiliar to outsiders - some believed Lab staff were “doing their own random stuff”. There was criticism.

In fact, 10 percent of team members’ time was unallocated, which they could devote to uncommissioned work. This often saw them looking at what new digital concepts could be used to support existing government services, then experimenting to see if there was a fit.

The important thing was that these small tests and prototypes meant the Lab reduced the risk and sped up the process of learning, as only a small amount of time and money was being invested to see if an idea would work.

This was the innovator’s version of a Business Case; where the ‘business case’ is actually shown, rather than described.

“It’s a quick build to better explain the concept. It’s a rubber-bands, post-it notes and a bit of glue kind of thing. You stand it up fast, then iterate..iterate…iterate - this really is about building it as you fly it. You don’t go for a perfect finished product but instead stand something up fast and then refine, improve, iterate and keep on learning,” says Stakeholder Relationship Manager Grant Carpenter.

“It was a way to pitch to people so they can quickly say ‘Yes, we want to commission the work’ or ‘No – not interested’ or ‘Not interested just now…’

This led to several pilots, prototypes and further repurposing of reusable components. An MVP was built to demonstrate the value of the consent-based data sharing concept (‘Feijoa’) and shown to the Service Innovation Reference Group to trigger a conversation about what was possible. Feijoa started with a discussion on what it would take to hold shareable information, grew into an MVP and was picked up and is now being progressed as part of the SmartStart integrated service - the Early Years project.

Other initiatives that were the focus of ‘10 percent’ time included:

  • Better Rules - This was a little serendipitous as the lead for a French team working on the same concept for their government was in NZ at the time we began the work. Matti (French visitor) was able to help kick off some of the original code thinking and support the coding of specific rule sets for a calculator. Brenda Wallace and Rachel Prosser worked on this and the work was later picked up by Nadia Webster.

  • The Family Services Directory kicked off in a similar way when the team was looking at location data and services, this grew into an additional MSD service.

  • Korerorero and the COVID calculator

  • Croissant, to a degree, started from discussions around AI and natural language processing and its uses.

There was also some work undertaken on voice interaction with services as opposed to text. There were some ideas that did not fly.These included looking at bitcoin concepts to hold personal identity data, trying to expand Openfisca to other work, and some of the exploration of virtual reality.

However, we were testing ideas and therefore avoiding the trap of vendors trying to sell dreams that could not be made to work.