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Cabinet Office: Remote Application

Pivoting our award-winning, inclusive Fast Stream Assessment Centre platform to a virtual experience

The Cabinet Office’s Fast Stream and Early Talent programme identifies leadership potential and diversity in Civil Service candidates through assessments; Cyber-Duck previously transformed their user experience for assessors and candidates. When the COVID-19 pandemic prevented assessments from happening in person, we turned the physical experience into a secure, inclusive remote one. With 100% client satisfaction, in just 12 weeks we built a platform that is now used by all candidates.

Key stats

12 weeks

to pivot to fully remote


improved outcomes for disabled candidates


improved outcomes for BAME candidates

FSAC 03 v3

Transitioning to remote assessment

Cyber-Duck originally researched, designed and developed a robust digital assessment platform for the Cabinet Office’s Fast Stream Assessment Centres in London and Newcastle, which drove positive outcomes for candidates and assessors with an inclusive, welcoming user experience. You can read about how we achieved it in this client story. 

This platform was intentionally tailored for the physical experience; for example, it was designed for (and locked to) the Cabinet Office’s iPad assessment devices. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, suddenly these in-person assessments could no longer happen. As part of our ongoing partnership, Cyber-Duck was ready to facilitate a swift UX and technology transition to remote assessment. 

If tackled in the right way, this was a valuable opportunity to create a virtual assessment centre that would remove the geographical divide between Newcastle and London and open up the assessment to a greater number of people, helping the Cabinet Office to connect with an even wider pool of promising, talented candidates of all backgrounds and geographies.


  1. Develop a remote assessment platform that was secure and easy-to-manage for the Operations team
  2. Provide a reassuring, accessible experience for the Fast Stream candidates, consistent with the original
  3. Deliver the project as quickly as possible, by applying our Agile methodology

Pivoting the UX and technical strategy

Cyber-Duck has a long-term, supportive working relationship with the Cabinet Office. By April 2020, it was becoming clear that the COVID-19 pandemic would prevent candidates, assessors and operations from coming together in person for that winter’s cohort of assessments.

We agreed that we needed to pivot the UX and technical strategy of our successful Fast Stream Assessment Centre platform.

In August 2020, Cyber-Duck began research. Although we had built the previous experience as a responsive website, the Cabinet Office had unique needs - this meant it wasn’t as simple as it seemed to switch to remote, online assessments.

For example, the app was tailored for the Cabinet Office’s iPads. The assessment was only accessible from their office and assessment centres.

If assessments were to be successfully completed remotely, we needed to tackle a number of challenges:

  1. Remote access – how could we ensure users could access a performant experience, with the device/Internet they had access to?
  2. Security and User authentication – how could we ensure the right person was taking the assessment?
  3. Document analysis – how could users switch between video and document-writing in a seamless experience?
  4. Accessibility – how could the platform continue to promote diverse applicants?

We had seen positive results for diversity and inclusion in the original iteration of our platform, including a 27% increase in success rates for disabled candidates. Together, we knew we had to keep this up.

Technical development and implementing security

First, we tackled the desktop and remote experience for our assessment platform. By creating a new theme for Drupal and continuing to patch it, we optimised our original work-around (previously tailored for iPad) to be responsive, ready for the variety of devices candidates would be using at home. 

Secondly, it was critical to implement suitable Authentication. We presented many options to the Cabinet Office. These included an encrypted VPN, but this was ruled out because of the amount of required IT management and permissions. We also considered 2 Factor Authentication, but this could exclude users who didn’t have access to a mobile.

Our solution was that only the candidates’ assessment was made public. The Drupal CMS was IP-restricted to VPN, which all the Ops team had on their machines.

When the assessments took place in-person, candidates were only asked to log in with their first name/candidate number; now, they require a password. Ops admins can manage this easily, and passwords are changed daily.

Lastly, Ops needed to be able to ‘see’ the candidates. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we decided to incorporate Google Hangouts. It was the Cabinet Office’s preferred video-conferencing software, and one candidates may already have experience with.

Together, we divided the candidates into small groups. Ops would activate exercises for candidates in batches and could see their video / screen whenever required. It also meant candidates could still enjoy the ‘spirit’ of the in-person days, as they could chat in small virtual rooms between assessments. Before launch, we recruited and conducted a ‘dress rehearsal’ with candidates to ensure the experience was smooth and user-friendly.

In addition, we also created a brand-new feature that was not present in the original service: a final selection board. This is a board of the people who are shortlisted from the assessment process. This was built from scratch as a remote first experience, extending the function of the assessment centre.

Final thing 1 v3

Passing assessment and optimising performance

Cyber-Duck adapted for the pandemic at speed, turning a physical experience into a remote, digital experience, while maintaining the supportive, welcoming atmosphere that was a vital part of the original design.

We delivered this project in just 4 months, ready for the November 2020 cohort of candidates. We applied our Agile methodology, conducting ceremonies such as backlog-grooming and regular show and tells to ensure we were heading in the right direction.

We provided support for the CDIO assessment; this was the light-touch version of the Government Digital Service assessments, which ensure best practice (like WCAG 2.1 AA) are met.

When surveyed, our client gave us a 100% satisfaction rating. The first time we ran the assessment in real conditions, there were no bugs or notable issues.

Our performance optimisation was also exponential. We noticed, on our previous instance of the app, that the database server usage was up to 80% with more than 70 candidates.

After our efforts on performance optimisation/caching, it never goes above 5%. This is important when users are accessing the website from all kinds of devices, as it will maintain accessibility gains.

Driving positive outcomes for all types of users

Ultimately, the candidates found the system engaging and easy to use, and we were thrilled to receive positive feedback. One said: “this was a really engaging and enjoyable experience despite the online format. The way that it has been adapted to fit the online format was very easy to understand and navigate and clearly extremely well organised and thought-through, which I very much appreciated.” 

An assessor stated: “It was really impressive how arrangements were made so effectively to support online assessments.”

The virtual assessment was delivered to 3,449 candidates. User testing on candidates offered very encouraging results:

Leadership exercise:

“I found the app easy to use overall in the exercise” – 91% positive.

“I preferred doing the exercise on the app compared to the paper version” – 82% positive.

Group exercise:

“I found the app easy to use overall in the exercise” – 89% positive.

“I preferred doing the exercise on the app compared to the paper version” – 83% positive.

Written exercise:

“I found the app easy to use overall in the exercise” – 91% positive.

“I preferred doing the exercise on the app compared to the paper version” – 82% positive. 

Candidate satisfaction data during the live virtual process was also positive:

  • Leadership exercise: 91%
  • Group exercise: 87.6%
  • Written exercise: 90%

In addition, outcomes for under-represented candidates were even better than the previous year, including for the Final Selection Board (Commercial Fast Stream):

  • Female – 45% (4% increase from previous year)
  • Ethnic minority – 28.2% (120% increase)
  • Lower socio-economic background – 6.7% (34% increase)
  • Disability – 27.8% (63% increase)

Thanks to these impressive results, the assessment sessions have continued to be fully remote, even as the world begins to return to in-person processes. The remote platform enables a wider pool of candidates to be involved than ever before, as there are no requirements for travel, childcare or other potential exclusionary factors presented by in-person assessments. The Cabinet Office’s future assessment plans will build on this experience even further, with even more diversity focused content, and incorporating similar visual design. 

We’re thrilled that we were able to successfully transition the assessment centre process to a virtual delivery format, while maintaining (and improving) the supportive, encouraging user experience for the candidates and assessors.

Fast Stream won the Target Jobs National Graduate Recruitment Awards "Best Innovation in Student Recruitment" award in 2020, and Personnel Today’s Diversity & Inclusion Award in 2021. 

Key stats

12 weeks

to pivot to fully remote


improved outcomes for disabled candidates


improved outcomes for BAME candidates

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