We’ve been working with the Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) since 2015.
Over the course of this ongoing partnership, we have provided support across 15 investigations, helping IICSA to launch, maintain and continually develop its websites (iicsa.org.uk and truthproject.org.uk) in line with its evolving processes and organisational requirements.
On 20th October 2022, IICSA published its final statutory Report. The Report makes a number of powerful recommendations, based on separate investigations and a unique body of research. It also includes the voices of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.
Following this, they have also launched the Legacy Project. The project was designed in consultation with victims and survivors, many of whom said they would like there to be a physical tribute for people to visit. To ensure the tributes are as accessible as possible, memorial benches and plaques have been placed in a variety of locations across England and Wales. This represents the widespread engagement with the Inquiry by victims and survivors from all areas of both countries.
What we’ve achieved
Our industry speaks a great deal about the importance of collaboration, but our ongoing work with IICSA is truly a testament to what we can achieve when we work together. And we will continue to ensure IICSA’s digital estate:
- Supports the high-profile and sensitive public inquiry
- Complies with government (GDS) and WCAG 2.1 standards
- Is secure, easy-to-use and inclusive to all users
Due to the nature of its work and the sensitivity of its subject matter, supporting IICSA’s vulnerable users has always been our paramount concern. We wanted to make sure everything we delivered championed inclusivity, security and privacy, and helped victims to feel empowered to tell their own stories.
This meant taking a considered, diligent approach to all of our design and build efforts. And we tested regularly to make sure our decisions were always evidence-based and structured around supporting the brave individuals speaking out to IICSA.
But what was also so special about this project was not only the supreme importance of IICSA’s work, but how well our teams knew one another. This close relationship granted us an expansive understanding of the organisation on both a granular and strategic level.
It wasn’t a matter of dropping in and delivering X, Y and Z. Together, we spotted opportunities, adapted to challenges and anticipated potential problems. We worked efficiently and enthusiastically, and thanks to our longstanding partnership, we were able to learn from each other and share our respective expertise.
Evidence-based design, development and decision making
Our work aligned with baseline government standards such as the Government Digital Standards (GDS) and GDPR from the beginning, and we always designed to meet WCAG guidelines. These efforts were enhanced by user-centred design, tailored content and considered technical solutions.
We began our engagement with a thorough Discovery phase to understand user needs and IICSA’s organisational requirements. This included holding workshops, user research and infrastructure reviews. The workshops in particular revealed that we needed to work closely with stakeholders and have their insight on hand to create secure and consistent publishing workflows.
The scale of the Inquiry posed its own set of challenges, as did the legal ramifications of its reports and investigations. Managing multiple concurrent inquiries meant we had to initially approach the project from a meta level. This allowed us to group the inquiries and create a broader structure.
Redeveloping IICSA’s CMS to strengthen security and user controls
Additional complexity in terms of roles and access levels found in our technical Discovery demonstrated that IICSA required a system with specific capabilities for different individuals. We redeveloped IICSA’s content management system (CMS) using Drupal and applied new role-based access controls, superseding the previous ‘level-of-importance’ based roles. This enabled more internal users to edit content, supporting the organisation’s growing requirements and workload and eliminating the previous ‘developer only’ model.
We also created a set of core templates within Drupal that allowed their team to consistently publish urgent and regular content onto the site easily. This was partnered with newly established workflows and processes that ensured not only governance, but the application of the CMS’ new role-based access control and rights management. This helped IICSA to delegate tasks to internal users, while maintaining data protection and confidentiality for victims submitting their stories to the investigations.
Alongside ongoing development and optimisation of the website as BAU workstreams, we have delivered a number of projects in parallel. This includes projects like an ongoing research programme aimed at validating new features of the digital estate, and reviewing existing functionality at Public or Private Beta stage. Similarly, we both created and continue to update its personas to ensure that all our designs and development efforts always align with user needs.
Supporting high-profile public inquiries
We understood the nature of a high-profile and sensitive public inquiry and appreciated a collaborative approach was required from the outset to balance the legal accuracy of content with public engagement. We developed a strong culture of stakeholder and user involvement to ensure the website achieved an organisational consensus and positive user feedback.
Due to the highly personal nature of IICSA’s anonymously published content, we are subject to rigorous physical and logical security checks, as well as independent security testing, to protect victims supplying testimonies. These testimonies are often used as evidence in investigations and hearings, so it was especially pertinent that data is housed securely and was embargoed before publication.
We also built resilience into IICSA’s website to handle spike loads. For instance,IICSA’s Truth Project installs rigid procedures to ensure confidentiality. This is in addition to the implemented of an investigations section and after-hours support during a high-profile series of investigations in the media.
One team working to common goals
We may have been working remotely and across offices in Cardiff, Bristol and London, but there was never an agency-client divide. Instead, we operated as a single, blended, multi-disciplinary team that worked towards the same goals.
We had a flexible contract and a defined an internal team who could move across the organisation as different projects, priorities and investigations arose. Whether they needed us to assist within sprint activities on live assets, migrate content ahead of a report’s publication, or work on upcoming design solutions, we were able to show up and support them in whatever way they needed.
It also meant we had a comprehensive and ever-building understanding of their users. This accumulative insight spanned years and projects, and drove design decisions that would support victims and their families through an inherently difficult process.
For example, during the research and validation design phases for the Truth Project and IICSA.org.uk, there were strong indications that particular types of photography and imagery could trigger unwanted emotional responses. So, we worked with IICSA’s communications team, representatives of the victims and survivor consultation groups to refine and validate the imagery and illustrations.
As IICSA’s trusted partners, we feel proud to have played even a small role in helping victims find catharsis, peace and a sense of justice after decades of silence.
I just wanted to say thank you to all involved for reacting so positively when we have needed you to, it is appreciated and not simply taken for granted. It is good to know that we have such a supportive team behind our critical website and thank you for all your efforts.
Matt Bloxham, Head of IT at IICSA
Interested in working together?
Due to the size and complexity of our work with IICSA, we now have (by default) created an IA blueprint and technical solution that is capable of meeting the needs of any future inquiry regardless of scale or topic. We welcome any opportunity to re-use our technology and expertise to support future public initiatives of this kind.