When you sit in a room and no-one quite has the same idea of what a standard is, you know you have some work to do.

So, we did what every content team does – we ran a workshop (we just love those sticky notes!).

What we needed to address

After a quick poll on Slack to verify a hunch that we had, we realised that no-one actually knew what a standard was. People either thought that it was:

  1. just the title of the standard, that is, the title under the topic – for example, under servers and storage standards (the topic), one standard title is ‘Servers and related storage platforms must be secure and follow data protection legislation’
  2. the whole piece of content under the standard title – the title, the headings and the body text below this

To add to this issue, documentation existed from March 2022 that explained that a ‘standard’ needed to be:

  • measurable
  • actionable
  • specific
  • aspirational
  • concise
  • understandable

The problem is that when you do not know if the term ‘standard’ relates to just the title or the full content, how do you decide what the above measurements are referring to? So, it was time to pull it apart.

What we found out in the workshop

We needed to know:

  • the purpose of a standard
  • that the words we were using to describe certain parts of the standard were the same as what others were using – for example, a standard topic vs a standard title
  • what 'good’ looked like for the standards to set some clear measurable acceptance criteria for each section of the standards

What is the purpose of a standard?

We started with the open question of ‘what is a standard?’. From this activity we managed to piece together some key points that we discussed as a group. A standard, in its entirety, needs to:

  • explain what is essential for a school or college to function efficiently
  • detail why something is important and why they need to achieve it
  • give information on how to meet the standard
  • be something to measure against
  • drive change
  • be ‘a challenging but objective minimum’

Post-it notes placed on a digital board during a workshop when prompted by the question 'what is a standard?'

Using the right language

We then started breaking a standard down into its respective sections (such as the titles and headings) and placing names to them. We needed to make sure that the language we used when referring to parts of the standard could be... ‘standardised’ (the irony!). At least then, we could set acceptance criteria against each of these sections.

Here is a summary of what we have decided on, with examples for reference:

  • the topic of the standards – this is the top-level category that the standard will sit under, as an example, this could be ‘broadband’
  • the standard – includes the title, the headers and the body text
  • the standard title – this is the title of the standard under the topic, for example, ‘Schools and colleges should use a full fibre connection for their broadband service’
  • the standard headers – how content is broken down, for example, ‘how to meet this standard’
  • the standard body text – the text that sits under each heading

It’s also worth noting that when we discuss the ‘standards’ (plural), we are referring to them as a collective.

Decorative image - the information you need is written above this image

Setting acceptance criteria for the standards

And finally, we discussed the original points on what a standard needed to be (such as measurable or actionable) and which of these measurements would work best for each section (under each heading).

We had an open conversation about how to make sure we follow a structure which can be applied to all the standards, going forwards.

After discussing this as a team, we decided to set the following acceptance criteria:

  • the standard title needs to be actionable, concise, achievable and led by policy intent
  • the standard body (under the headings) needs to be actionable, achievable, measurable, call out the benefits and risks to the user, led by policy intent and let the users know when they have met the standard

We then broke the body content down even further. We felt each heading needed different acceptance criteria because they explain different things.

The acceptance criteria for each section are as follows:

  • why this standard is important – calls out the benefits and risks to the user
  • who needs to be involved – must be actionable
  • how to meet this standard – must be actionable, measurable, as well as achievable and will let the user know when they have met the standard
  • when to meet this standard – needs to meet the policy intent, be actionable and (hopefully) be achievable

What’s next?

Now that we understand what a standard is, what to call the different sections of a standard and the acceptance criteria of all sections, we need to share our work with others. We’ve started with this post, but there will be more to come with guidance on this and a design history post on the content within each section.

And, as with everything, this is all subject to change if our ongoing user research suggests that our users are looking for something different.