From Silo to Social


A Fresh Approach to Change Management and Digital Platform Design

Paul Fillingham - Research and Design Lead @paulfillingham 

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The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is a non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Responsible for the UK’s nuclear research and power-stations and the movement and disposal of radioactive material.

We led a six-month UX discovery consultation, in order to understand the needs of the organisation and help migrate the NDA estate to a collaborative intranet proposed by Palo Alto-based Jive Software and Capita plc.

The demographic cliff

Designing for the NDA and it’s partner organisations required a novel approach to address the divergent needs and behaviours of different cohort groups. For industries where large sections of the workforce are nearing retirement, there is a need to capture and share their expertise with younger workers. Thinkamigo has previous experience facilitating multi-generational workshops which aim to bridge the divide between industrial and post-industrial digital practice.

Leveraging cultural and social iconography creates empathy and a willingness to engage. This is especially true for digitally excluded groups.

The backstory

Our discovery sessions were focussed around a presentation which was designed to stimulate discussion about business change. The use of science fiction iconography and references to technological milestones of the 1950's and 60's engendered trust and engagement among older, more resistant participants. This chronological backstory helped support a series of hands-on research activities, including; stakeholder mapping, user journey mapping, persona creation and design collaboration.


‘What’s your day like?’ - Workshop candidates examine routine operational processes


50's fiction and folk memory

Britain’s post-war drive to build atomic weapons led to the creation of experimental civil nuclear power plants. Popular newsreels of the period, promised ‘unlimited cheap electricity’ that appealed to a nation emerging from the horrors of World War II and still experiencing food rationing and shortages. Our presentation featured images of post-war political figures, the Lancastrian science-fiction hero Dan Dare, and the 1951 Festival of Britain.

The age of reality

The beautiful, yet stark moonrise image taken from the Apollo 8 space capsule in 1968 contrasted sharply with the RAF-inspired Dan Dare. It's an image that I have used before to illustrate the concept of a paradigm shift. By the same token, the image of Windscale No1 Reactor, which caught fire in 1957, exposed the fallacy of newsreel film footage, and was the ‘wake-up call’ which led to the creation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Heroic innovation

Cumbia avoided a radioactive catastrophe by the remarkable foresight of Sir John Cockroft. Cockroft was a brilliant engineer who envisaged a filtration system for the reactors chimneys. At the time of the plant's construction his idea was ridiculed and became known as ‘Cockcroft’s Folly’. It was only later that his contribution was fully recognised. Continuing the heroic theme, we focussed on the exploits of Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, who in 1969, like Cockroft, trusted his intuition and defied the logic of his onboard instruments in order to land his spacecraft safely on the surface of the moon.


Ground control staff based in Houston, Texas saved the astronauts onboard the stricken Apollo 13 spacecraft, through creative thinking and collaboration.

The power of collaboration

Cockcroft and Armstrong proved to be bigger heroes than Dan Dare, but the next presentation segment was designed to illustrate that heroic individualism doesn't always work. When an explosion damaged the command module of Apollo 13 on its way to the moon, the astronauts were completely helpless. It was only through the collaborative efforts of the ground control staff that the astronauts survived their ordeal and were able to return safely to earth.


Personas representing a wide range of cohorts were created collaboratively in the discovery workshops


Research models and methodologies

  • Stakeholder mapping
  • Empathy mapping
  • Persona creation
  • Process Mapping
  • Process rationalisation
  • Content taxonomy
  • Business readiness and Communications design


There are huge ethical and existential questions concerning the use of nuclear material for power generation, defence and healthcare applications. Whether a new generation of nuclear power stations should be built as an alternative to coal and gas-fired power generation is a moot point. But the decommissioning of Britain's ageing atomic raectors and the safe storage of radioactive waste must continue. Reconciling the need for secrecy with a need to share information seems contradictory but is necessary within the NDA estate and it's supply chain which includes transport companies, building contractors, education establishments and start-up enterprises, operating at the very frontiers of advanced manufacturing.


The Discovery Workshop Report informed subsequent design decisions aimed at maximising adoption and facilitating Knowledge sharing via a secure enterprise social platform


A service timeline like no other

In ecommerce design, service timelines represent transactions taking place in minutes, hours, sometimes days. Whilst the design of pension services can sometimes involve user-journeys that extend across several decades. However, in the nuclear domain, things are different. Radioactivity persists for millennia, which presents a unique challenge for designers, engineers and archivists who need to build accurate records for future generations.

How do we transfer knowledge across such inconceivable timescales? What kind of technology exists that can reliably store and present vital information many decades into the future? And even if data can be migrated across successive technological systems, will future generations understand the language and instructions recorded for posterity by today's workforce?


Excerpt from Margaret Cavendish's Poems and Fancies - as featured in our Guardian award-winning, e-learning project, Dawn of the Unread


The use of male herofigures to illustrate our paradigm shifts was challenged in one of the early workshops. As a result we modified the narrative to include a female protagonist. Although Marie Curie, responsible for research into radioactivity in the late 19th Century would be an obvious choice. We introduced Margaret Cavendish, an outspoken aristocratic writer and scientist who proposed the existence of atomic structures in 1663.

To conclude the research sessions, there was a reading of a poem written by Cavendish, which describes the atomic structure of everyday objects. Although lampooned by diarist Samuel Pepys as 'Mad Madge' Cavendish was a member of The Royal Society and her book ‘The Blazing Worlds’ (1666) is recognised as the world’s first science fiction novel, pre-dating Dan Dare and the atomic age by almost three hundred years.

The NDA project owner heralded the research workshops a great success and commissioned further research and design sessions into the development of an effective communications strategy to support the launch of the proposed knowledge exchange platform.

Design thinking gets results

Who says corporate workshops need to be dull and predictable?

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