It’s been a year since the launch of the new National Operational Guidance (NOG) website. Jo Bowcock reflects on the benefits of the new technology and provides an update on the future of guidance.
It was a critical moment in the evolution of operational guidance for the fire and rescue service when we moved to our new digital platform, ukfrs.com. I was really excited to demonstrate it at the 2017 Emergency Services Show and given the number of visitors to our stand, there was a lot of interest in seeing what we’d done.
We had always said that operational guidance had to be digital. We couldn’t continue to publish documents in hard copy and see them getting dusty on shelves in fire stations across the country. We spent a lot of time working through thousands of documents, some going back decades, to see what remained current and what was simply out of date. We started our work in 2012 and that review process dominated our time.
Our original website was a fairly simple, flat website that allowed us to publish new guidance in a structure that reflected the framework we developed to make sense of it all. However, we realised quite early on that it just wouldn’t work for our long-term needs. We needed something more flexible and more sophisticated that could help us organise the guidance to better reflect the underlying ethos of incidents, controls and hazards.
To get to our watershed moment of September 2017, we needed to find an IT partner who could help us realise our vision and work with us to get something that would meet our needs for now but also be flexible in the future. Going through the usual public-sector procurement process, we chose to work with a UK digital engineering company called Panlogic, which has a specialism working with multi-stakeholder organisations across the public sector.
How the guidance works
We are all about operational guidance, but for that to be high quality it needs to go hand in hand with training and learning. We think of it as a virtuous circle, where operational guidance underpins fire and rescue service operations, which, in turn, inform their training so that they can be operationally competent and safe. Reflecting on operational response, fire and rescue services can learn from incidents, share that and, where appropriate, guidance evolves to encompass that learning.
You can see this on ukfrs.com where we divide up the content into Guidance, Training and Learning.
One of the many great things about our website is how it supports a personalised experience. First, we provide the opportunity for a user to create a personal login. That login means that the user can start to customise their use of the site, bookmarking pages and getting alerts to advise when content has changed without having to navigate the entire site.
We’re keen to avoid our users printing off pages from the website as we know that it will be out of date pretty quickly. We do provide the facility to download and print off but always with the caveat that it’s only valid at the time of download.
It’s easy to know when the guidance has been updated as there is a version history button on every page. It tells our users when we made any kind of change, providing reassurance about its timeliness and accuracy.
Another key feature is the self-assessment tool. With the emergence of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) it is critical that each fire service can self-audit their compliance with the guidance and identify which improvements are needed. To date, over 16,000 checks have been completed, providing services with an easy, first-point of engagement with us.
One feature we really like is the way in which pieces of guidance link to training specifications. Each guidance page includes a mortar-board icon which links the user to the relevant training specification. Making that explicit link, without the user having to navigate their way to the Training section of the site, is really valuable and reinforces the relationship between guidance and training.
Recognising that not all our users can view the site, we have included assistive technology from BrowseAloud to add text-to-speech functionality.
Maintaining operational guidance
The programme to complete the full suite of National Operational Guidance ended on 31 March this year. The National Fire Chiefs Central Programme Office now provides a home for the continued maintenance of ukfrs.com. It will be business-as-usual activity and include the continued development of national operational learning.
There will be a new process of regular reviews, meaning that every piece of guidance will be considered to see whether it needs to be updated. There will also be key influences such as the outcome of inspections and the ongoing work on professional standards. Taking both a proactive and reactive approach like this will ensure that the guidance and the associated training specifications keep pace with change over time.
The NOG Programme relied on groups of expert users drawn from across the fire and rescue service, that came together to form the National Implementation Forum. This approach will remain, although under new leadership and a new name, the Operational Guidance Forum.
Changes to the guidance may also come from incidents reported through the national operational learning process. There is a single point of contact in each fire and rescue service that will provide learning of a national interest to the CPO so that it can by analysed for its impact on the existing guidance and beyond.
The guidance will continue to be available from ukfrs.com and the Twitter account @UKfireandrescue will remain as active and informative as before.
For more information, email [email protected]