How NSW Department of Education has used design thinking to transform digital services experiences

Director of digital experience design shares the four-year journey he's been on to transform the department's technology and approach to be more customer-led

It’s not often a digital experience leader tells you he wishes staff could be more like Io, the Jupiter moon transforming itself completely every 12 months. But it’s an apt analogy for the way all of us need to strive to be more adaptive and evolutionary in our approach to customer experience design.

Speaking to CMO during the recent Adobe Symposium in Sydney, NSW Department of Education director of digital experience design, Peter Buckmaster, shared his now four-year journey assisting the government agency embrace a customer-first approach to the way students, parents and teachers engage digitally. It’s a work-in-progress story stretching from embracing human-centred design thinking principles and mindset, to new technology platforms, cross-collaboration and unified data and digital capabilities.

On the technology front, Buckmaster has spearheaded a migration of 2200 school websites on legacy platforms to Adobe Experience Manager. This substantial task provides a unified foundation from which both the department and the schools it serves can start to better personalise and adapt digital experiences and content for teachers, students and parents.

“In our case it could be for a prospective parent, and we have content around open days, for example,” Buckmaster said. “For a current parent, it could a school be reminding them that contributions to school fees are up, or formal tickets were on sale. The significant step has been syndicating content and distributing it evenly.”

It took two years for Buckmaster to sell the dream in and go through procurement, with the project then completed in 13 months.

“We spun up three environments, built all the scaffolds and four themes to allow schools to be different and customise their school, and to migrate all the content, and we ensured the sites were mobile responsive,” he explained. “The impact was significant. We also integrated a school finder, which was a huge step. Up until two years ago, no one published their school boundaries, so a parent didn’t know if their child could get into a particular school.”

Off the back of that, Buckmaster and the team are piloting an online enrolment form across the Castle Hill Primary School in Sydney. This allows parents to firstly confirm their child is in the catchment area, then secondly, complete an online enrolment form.

“In the old world that process could take up to three weeks, whereas in the new world, it can take 10 minutes,” Buckmaster said.  

The public-facing and intranet site, Education NSW, will also be migrated to the Adobe platform by November. The site attracts 2.75 million unique visitors per month.

“This allows us to move to an experience concept of ‘destination you’, and to distribute content in such a way that a parent going to a school website, education NSW or use the mobile app, can find information whatever location they want to interact with us in,” Buckmaster said. “It’s about moving away from the traditional concept of engagement and marketing, to improving learning outcomes for a child. To do that, we’re talking about taking curriculum material and serve it to a student in the context of their environment.”

Transformation stations

To support this quest, the department is completing a digital strategy, with a focus on mass personalisation. A schools-oriented digital transformation program of work is also focused on improving learning outcomes largely in classrooms, while making the teaching experience better. The vision is to expose schools and staff to technology while ensuring children get access too.

And all of it requires data from disparate systems to be more accessible and actionable.

“For example, with students there’s reporting and performance sitting in one spot, but then there’s also the data about wellbeing. How can we connect the data and overlay it so we understand if a child is in emotional distress, it will have an impact on their education is key,” Buckmaster said.  

He cited the interesting problem of solving parent identifiers as a major hurdle. “There’s no such thing as a parent login. This raises the question on what data we have around a family – we only have student records, as an example,” he said.

Initially, NSW Department of Education is looking at facilitating a resource hub, designed for teachers. “But if we do that based on personas, we can quickly shift to a parent,” Buckmaster said.

“We know a parent engages in their child’s learning greatly increases the outcomes. The idea is we have the content that we can logically filter and resurface in a different experience. Then there’s the student lens as well – being on one platform allows us to change that very quickly.”

Up next: The cultural shift and adoption of design thinking, plus judging success

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