In 2011 two major Australian public sector organisations, the Department of Human Services (DHS) and CSIRO joined forces to establish the Human Services Delivery Research Alliance. With a focus on service delivery innovation and engaging science and services, the Alliance has led to a number of important projects over the past two years.
To celebrate the Alliance’s work, the DHS-CSIRO Service Innovation Forum was held last week. As well as presentations from projects within the Alliance, the organisers looked outside of the research projects to explore service innovation in a broader context. As part of that exploration, we were asked to present on Service Innovation in the Public Sector from a design perspective.
The presentation / conversation gave us a chance to publicly launch our collaborative think piece with Snook with a highly engaged audience of public sector service deliverers and cutting edge scientists. As always we met a group that understood the complexity of public sector design – matching the language of user-focus and co-design with the operating realities of large organisations. Of the four principles we have developed with Snook most questions and comments were around the models that help design to be sustainable in organisations – no simple answers there of course.
Once our presentation was out of the way we were able to sit back and take in one of the best collections of topics and presentations we’ve been to for a long time. Interestingly a range of project-specific presenters responded directly to our principles so it was good to see resonance across the topic areas.
Some highlights of a fascinating day included:
- Laura Moore (ATO) and Jordan Moore (DHS) talking about ‘onboarding’ the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) to the DHS-managed my.gov.au. As we were involved in early service design improvements to key components of australia.gov.au as it transitioned to myGov this was a subject we were very interested in. Their reflections on trying to create a consistent user experience across arms of Government is very much supported as a client expectation by some of our recent projects in the online services and digital space.
- Dr David Lovell from the CSIRO Transformational Biology group transfixed us all with his exploration of innovation and how that has translated to an organisational journey for CSIRO from Divisions to Flagships and beyond. David worked closely with DMA’s first ever client over a decade ago – the CSIRO CEO.
For us, the standout presentation in terms of its application to our service design approach was given my Dr Karen Stenner from the CSIRO Behavioural Economics team. Behavioural economics has popped up in many conversations around service design in the public sector recently. We were keen to understand the links between the two disciplines rather than why one is ‘better’ than the other.
Dr Stenner spoke about a number of projects her team had worked on with DHS, experimenting with language and other prompts to encourage the use of tools as specific as DHS phone apps. The results look pretty spectacular. With just a few prompts based on social norms and other triggers (all with a deep knowledge and research base behind them) clients were drawn to online relationships where appropriate.
The interesting thing from our perspective around behavioural economics will be how the public sector choose to take it up. The work of Dr Stenner is based on years of experience and a detailed discipline approach, when people hear that a poster can create change, will the public sector just make more posters or engage the behavioural economist to find out what they should use? We hope it’s the latter.
The links between the two disciplines jumped straight out at us. The act of service prototyping, and bringing together what the behavioural economist knows about basic and irrefutable traits of humans, combined with designing the service experience from both inside-out and outside-in would be an extremely powerful combination for learning about what really works. We’re looking forward to catching up with Karen in the future.
We felt honoured to bring a service design perspective to this science / policy service forum, the fact that we learnt so much be being participants was a bonus.