Jesus was born in a manger, so I cannot be too sour that to register the birth of my child I have to stand up under a tent in the rain.
So, under that tent, ducking the wet seats, were a few parents. The instructions we received were to book an appointment at the agla.gov.tt site to register the fact that a new player had entered humanity.
Registering on the site to me was a breeze. No really, I felt the breeze blowing on my verandah in the comfort of my home when I filled in my details and promptly got a date to turn up. It felt easy. Maybe too easy.
Indeed, no tents or mud was mentioned.
When the day came, I wended my way around the Port of Spain General Hospital to arrive at the location in the appointment.
I know where the Blood Bank is located. When I saw “Blood Bank Compound”, I interpreted that to mean that the registrars were sharing the facility of the Blood Bank. Same building, maybe with their own office. The Bank is a small building, so I was curious as to the lay of the land in there.
Walking up to the guard, he seemed to sense that I was going in the wrong direction.
“Going to give blood?”
“Na, I -,”
“Oh, you’re Blood Bank staff.”
“No, I’m here to register a birth”
He spun me around with a nod of his head. He was confusing me while giving me direction. The area he pointed behind me was the carpark. But in that carpark was a nondescript shipping container. A big box. In that big box were the registrars for births.
A different breeze started to blow.
I stiffly walked over to the box, er container, and began the process. Very soon in to the interaction, I was made to understand that though I followed the guidelines on the registration site, I was still underprepared. I needed to go back home.
When I returned, the breeze became a Port of Spain storm. A Port of Spain storm is not a real storm. But the flash flooding, garbage flow and general concern for your car is as real as going through any actual storm.
And we waited in the tent for our names to be called.
While I was waiting, all documents in check, I was just about to check out, that is, while away the time on TikTok. What stopped me was a couple that walked into the tent, looking more confused than me. They asked to no one really about the process. A lady with a latin accent explained it to them. You have to register on “the website” to be able receive service.
The website. These days, there’s always a website. Few know about it, and as I was about to learn, even fewer can actually use it.
The couple were a bit put off. The wife of the pair said she had tried the website but it didn’t work. There was no crowd waiting to be dealt with so we all thought, they might have had a chance to get through.
The did not get through. The staff told them they needed to make an appointment on, you guessed it, the website. I knew what the site was, had a relatively straightforward process using it and was ready to scroll silently when it hit me, the couple might need help.
I offered to walk them through it and as is often the case, looking through the eyes of the end user saw things that you never see as a developer or denizen of these kinds of systems.
The carousel was a bad design choice here. The site rendered well on mobile, but was too dense. Sign up and Login are sometimes confusing steps for users. Forget your password should not work if you don’t have an account. A really important question for when you’re dealing with a broad class of users is “How can someone struggle to complete this step? How can they get unstuck?” Essentially, how do we get users back on the happy path?
Getting them to get an appointment took much longer than I anticipated. And yet, because they could probably sense my own confidence, and were motivated to finish, the process did not feel frustrating. It felt like we were on a hike, maybe through the dirt and some mud, but we were definitely going somewhere and our destination would be rewarding.
And rewarded they were with a fresh appointment for two days from today. They knew they had to come back, but they were sure that they would not be turned away again.
So, my own visit resulted in more registrations than I planned. It’s normal to go through a range of service delivery challenges, especially with government services, but my own frustrations fell away when I saw that a more fundamental access problem existed. That turned my negative experience into a positive one for a new family.