Posts tagged ‘service design’

The public sector tends to organise in very similar ways and wrestle with very similar questions. Increasingly, as technology advances they are wrestling with questions like:

• What is our digital strategy?
• Where should our Chief Digital Officer sit?
• How do we manage digital in comparison with legacy IT?

After a number of years of deep engagement with ICT sections of small and large public and private sector organisations we’ve come to the realisation that these are increasingly the wrong questions to begin with.

Digital has matured. Digital is real. Digital is not an app. And it is not an add-on.

Digital is the underpinning of the service relationship organisations have with their customers and clients.

The question isn’t “where should our Chief Digital Officer sit?” The question is, “By understanding that digital is embedded and enabling our entire business, what is our service offer?”

In this, the first of three related posts, we explore how we have seen the notion of digital evolve – from front-facing ICT component to business and service strategy driver.


The Evolving Digital Definition

As recently as last week we were in a room listening to a senior ICT Executive presenting on the differences and separation between his and the digital world.

While his views seemed to sit well with much of the IT-leaning audience, we firmly believe that the idea that digital is the outward-facing part of technology, or a ‘blue-sky’ technology strategy, has shifted significantly.

The digital promise has become the business reality.

The introduction of digital as a concept historically was positioned as a way of refining an existing, under pressure ICT model. Where ICT had been seen as a reliable but large and hard to navigate enabling capability for the delivery of services, the digital promise embodied the speedy, competitively advantaged, ‘responsive to customer world’ capability that business was looking for. Business needed this kind of technology response and ICT also needed this view of digital to reinvigorate investment outside of large legacy funding.

Digital has now evolved even beyond the legacy ICT ‘cut through’ that it was first introduced as. With the evolution and refinement of what comprises digital it has now moved to process and strategy. Digital is increasingly less important as a separate technology option and more as a service strategy – a business strategy.

The importance of this evolution, within a context of existing (probably for some time to come) legacy ICT and large infrastructure, is as much about the ‘business’ understanding that it is the master of digital, and the ICT section just happens to be its technology home.

Business isn’t the ‘user’ of digital. Business IS digital.

This realisation that digital is now the business reality, due to maturity and embedded digital practices within the business, is also as critical as the emerging realisation that business is still about service (a staff and client experience).

In the evolved digital model, digital isn’t simply the automation of a historical process on a device; it is the reconsideration and reinvention of the relationship with the customer before that interface is even designed.

 

Services enable a customer to achieve their goal

For a public service, that goal is hardly ever the resolution of the immediate service itself. The service exists to allow the customer to:

  • Access something
  • Do something
  • Confirm something
  • Meet an obligation that’s an input to something bigger such as how they live their life or within their family’s life.

The decades-old introduction of service design and organisational co-design intent has meant we’re able to better describe the customer and user needs in the context of how the organisation is set-up to deliver on that articulation. Balancing what’s desirable (human factors), viable (business factors), and feasible (technical factors).

Our professional experiences at DMA have been working at a time where online, on-the-phone, at-the-counter channel strategies were critical for an organisation to make sense of services and service delivery.

But the mantra of “IT can do anything you want – just describe it” sat uncomfortably with the reality of “we can’t change the wording in that letter because it’s hardcoded in the system, so we’ll need to develop a workaround”. Until digital became a watchword for improvement, this view hadn’t changed that much.

As digital has matured, we see it less as an opportunity for ICT improvement and more as an evolution of the very definition of the service.

 

Digital changes the transactional nature of services to ‘interactional’

For a service delivered by an organisation to take advantage of digital being embedded the definition of service needs to move:

  • From a transactional service – “We offer the following services, which then means we have a service delivery commitment and our clients respond to the service”
  • To an interactional service – “Because digital automates and can prepopulate data, we enable our customers to manage the service to achieve their outcome from whichever direction they choose to approach it”.

In this definition, resolution of the customer need – via the service – is supported by data, history, automation, accuracy, feedback, access etc.

In ‘interactional services’, the evolution of digital is integrated across business and service strategy, (not as an ICT add-on):

  • Customer decision-making is supported (choose this, buy this, consider this, compare this, complete this, confirm this).
  • Steps and actions of the decision-making are automated in real time (we’ve done this, you do this, now this, now you’re here, you’re done).
  • Support is within the customer’s own context (their device, their patterns of interaction/transaction/enquiry).
  • The customer for their part, affords the service deliverer permission to change, evolve, improve, even get rid of the service.

And importantly, staff have the technology, business processes and permission to support this service approach (through changed management models and performance measurement).

This is critical, because as important as the early digital promise has been, organisations aren’t in business to be digital.

They are in business, or exist, to deliver services, and in a complex service system that means digital can inform how customers interact, how the organisation interacts and is supported, and how a business-eye is always kept on “what’s next”.

Only once digital is acknowledged as ‘the’ business delivering interactional services, can the organisation evolve beyond the business/ICT construct and the transactional service delivery model with clients.

 

 

If digital moves beyond technology, what does it move to?
For us, from a public sector service design perspective, digital is the realisation and representation that public services (regardless of channel of delivery) ARE user-, data- and then technology-driven.

A mature digital business is one where there is no demarcation between the business and ICT, because digital has blurred the lines between business process and technology, and this is actually being driven by what people need from a service in order to comply, not what internal organisational units think is required or policy positions set out.

Good digital businesses already use technology to enable outcomes and enable people to appreciate their services (think SmartGate at airports) – future digital businesses are using a digital mindset to ensure the people seeking outcomes are, and can, inform and drive the service focus, design and outcomes. And in doing so, this mindset is no longer ‘digital’, it’s just ‘good business’.

When digital has been done right organisations have focused on responding to user needs. Digital is not a channel. It’s how organisations organise run and deliver their business. It’s how organisations interact with their customers. It’s how staff and stakeholders interact within and into their organisations.

 

Service-Led
The evolution of the new business reality in terms of the digital promise leads naturally to the question – so what does lead the organisation if digital is now just ‘how we work’?

We believe that it is not about an organisation being design-led, or becoming a digital organisation, or innovative for innovation’s sake.

It’s about public sector organisations being truly service-led.

As service designers we can see – and our experience in complex ICT helps us understand uniquely – that the intention for customer-led, co-designed, joined-up service experiences and the need for ICT to enable that utilising digital has a gap that digital strategy and Chief Digital Officers haven’t been able to fill to this point.

Whilst digital has been seen as an ‘add-on’ or a new thing, it has been exactly that – an add on. But the digital strategies of the future are actually business strategies – that assume the digital promise has been met and that the power of the digital promise is inherent in the services offered.

To explore this our next post will look at what interactional services and the new business reality means for the public sector organisation.

 

 

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Rare is the opportunity to come face to face with a reflection on theory-in-practice in a business setting.

A design, by its very nature is a strongly evidence-based and explicitly documented theory on “what you could and probably should do”. But no matter how strong the evidence base or compelling the insight and documentation, the client and environmental circumstance often makes the choice about what actually happens.

Over the past four years, we have worked with a large ICT Group who has been through much change, all of it intended to connect them as an internal enabling group to the customer and service-oriented world they operate in. Importantly, all of the change has been driven by a service design approach.

The hard work of moving from design (why and what do we need to do) through build (what we need to make) and implementation (making it operational) may be endorsed by top layers of management – which is absolutely critical – but the reality of the day-to-day is often led by those at Team Leader and EL2/Director* level. Those who have to do their jobs, lead their teams through the change, as well as cope with the change.

With service design, this is why we insist on those people being part of the design team itself. As we’ve said before, we believe, if you’re pragmatic designers the value of the design to the client is that it can be made, and that they, themselves, can make it. But as Yogi Berra said:

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice there is.

As part of a recent workshop to engage the final area of the Group with the design they had been involved in shaping and work through next steps, we invited leaders from the middle-management (EL2) level to share their experiences after nine months of living and operationalising the design in practice.

Importantly, we asked them not to talk about what was in the design (value propositions, work flows, roles and responsibilities, etc), we asked them to share their experiences of ‘the design’ with their peers in the room about to go through the same thing.

Some of the highlights of what they shared included:

  • Some things you design don’t happen, but as a “not yet”, not “not at all”.”
  • Try things out before you embed – you will find adjustments to work, to the plan, to the vision.”
  • “See it working to make it work, that way you can evolve and fine tune.”
  • People will want to see an org chart, but do things in bite-size chunks so people can also see how you’re moving towards being service-oriented.”
  • We needed to make it work, but the design allowed us to translate the Executive vision into reality.”
  • “A final reflection for where I know you guys are, be patient – this stuff really does evolve.”

From our own reflections, we were able to conclude

  • The design met, and continues to meet a service intent.
  • The business and customer goals are being met – even as they evolve over time.
  • The elements of the design we knew to be most important – value proposition, design principles, conceptual framework – stayed true. While they were possibly the most visionary elements at the beginning and hard to connect with for some of the Team Leaders, the vision provided the common reference point for the leaders and practitioners to stay on track, adjust and evolve.
  • The process of engagement and true collaboration is critical so that the output isn’t the only thing remembered once build starts.
  • Never be afraid to invite the voices of past design work in.
  • When you do invite the voice in, let them talk as peers, not through you.

To be honest, when we asked our design collaborator in, we were a bit nervous. Our speaker had come from one of the most complex and impacted parts of the ‘new’ business. But we needn’t have been nervous – her words spoke of experience, and good or bad that’s at the heart of the design and the heart of the reflections we needed (and all designers should hear). Moreover, in light of some recent ongoing commentary about mediocrity in IT leadership in the public service, we needn’t have been worried because we are fortunate enough to work with these kinds of capable and brave public servants all the time.

*EL2 means and Executive Level employee in the Australian Public Service.

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As the end of 2016 rolls around we wanted to leave this globally tumultuous year, albeit a professionally landmark year for us, with four major learnings from us; as designers, collaborators, practitioners and passionate pragmatists. It’s not earth shattering, but they’re things we want to remember, and might be of use to our clients, our industry and maybe even contribute to world peace!

 

 

1. Being true to your design approach differentiates you

The service design (or actually more broadly design) market has become exceptionally broad from the one or two companies that existed when we were founded in 2003. In 2016 there was no shortage of new start ups, agencies getting acquired by big players and our usual list of collaborators and competitors. This vibrancy in the market is great, it ensures there’s competition and keeps us on our toes and fresh.

It has also taught us this year that it means we can be MORE true to ourselves, not less. When there are different players in the market you can really differentiate yourself and ensure what makes you different as a design agency comes to the fore. We have some little markers that we set prospective clients – will we actually get to their users? Are they willing to collaborate not just “buy our outputs”? and Are they happy with a small agency that doesn’t embed? (because we don’t think embedding works).

This year we’ve been able to respond to requests for quote and be quite strong on these markers – not just chase work that’s called ‘design’ but doesn’t actually fit our definition of design to fill our pipeline.

And the result when we are clear to prospective clients about our approach is that they get results. Their investment in us is rewarded with disciplined and focused design processes and our very approach means we are highly aligned with those clients who engage us – it’s a win-win!

 

 

2. Interdisciplinary works and is much more rewarding

This year yet again proved to us that there’s no room in our world for discipline snobbery. We often tell clients that being design-led is a great position to be in, but that design alone isn’t the only discipline they should be relying on.

Increasingly the mantra of the ‘interdisciplinary dance’ (thanks long-time mentor Jim Faris) becomes more and more real for us.

We’ve worked with teachers, architects (both landscape and IT), telcos, developers, project managers and program offices, specialist consultants, contract managers, social workers, children, parents, and many others this year; and each time we rely on these subject matter experts to bring the best out of us and help in the creation of meaningful design insights and solutions.

The more other disciplines are our collaborators and the less they are ‘participants in a design workshop’ the better our work becomes.

 

 

3. The Power of the well-made but not exact prototype
Sometimes the small things help big shifts. When a client was struggling to be on the same page about a conceptual shift to how they delivered services we decided it was time to mock-up a traditional A4 tri-fold brochure. We put stock photos with smiling faces articulating earnest but authentic customer needs. We plotted a service offering with different with icons and colours. We presented the brochure without preamble or comment to a team of strategic leaders.

It immediately got people talking about the right things, debating the real business problems, and enjoying the potential for solving their problems. It shifted people’s thinking from hypotheticals, to a shared understanding and a way forward.

Sketches are fantastic for most prototypes, but every now and then you need to call on the powers of being a designer and having access to graphic design, communication and copywriting skills and make a client see a possible future.

 

 

4. Designers need to get something made sometimes, to reality check good design
We were lucky enough to win an Australian Good Design Award this year in the Service Design Education Category and for Best Overall Service Design for our work with Macquarie Primary School. The project involved simultaneously working with a team of little designers and big educators on service design in practice in order to redesign the School car park.

The car park was designed and it was implemented. Every aspect of the Design Specification was put into practice. That doesn’t often happen in the design business (and with 13 years of DMA, and collectively, 34 years of design practice under our belts, we know). The win was truly fabulous for our team. But the car park getting made was equally so because you don’t always get to see how your design plays out when it hits the reality of a complex organisation – and a public school with its multi-user environment is an extremely complex environment.

But we had another win in this area when the work we’ve been doing with a major federal agency designing their operating model reached its conclusion with the final enabling area being designed – bringing an entire group, normally focused on ICT as a black box, into a more service-oriented mindset and practice. Designs that we, and other people have undertaken over the years have been tested, re-evaluated, diagnosed, re-diagnosed, adjusted, and as a design program, they all still fit together with core service principles and business intent remaining flexibly steadfast.

It’s brave of any large Agency to invest in a small company like ours – instead of a large Consultancy that ultimately might not deliver a bespoke, integrated solution, but instead offer a “proven” one. That’s the best thing about what our design partners demand of us, and what they allow us to challenge them to achieve. This connects us back to our first learning – being true to our design approach, but respecting and supporting the courage our clients/design partners make to invest in success.

It gives us faith in the system when we, and the people we’re fortunate enough to work with, truly want to make a difference to, and for people.

So, 2016, in many ways you were perplexing, but for us – you weren’t so bad ;)

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DangerousIdeas

We are currently supporting the ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) Biennial Conference – “ACT2020 Citizen Voice, Community Vision“.

And when we say currently, we mean it. Participants are ‘as we write’ involved in a world cafe session discussion dangerous ideas such as:

  • What changes can we make to restore / strengthen the democratising spirit of the community sector in the context of marketisation?
  • Put yourself in the shoes of public servants. What would you find hard if you had to do their job?
  • What if we took the idea of citizen voice seriously when we think about reproductive and sexual health and rights in our community?

And many others.

But we were so blown away by the keynote speeches at the start of the session, that we’ve taken time out from taking notes to think out loud about one concept in particular above – restoring the democratisation of the community sector in regards to the development of public policy.

DMA’s approach, because of our training, experience and the timing of our entry into service design at the turn of the century has always been one of ‘designing the best experience possible for people using and delivering government services’.

This approach has necessarily and deliberately separated administrative design (the experience of the services as determined by the policy and political processes) from policy design (the decision on which ‘levers’ are put in place to seek determined policy intent and outcomes).

But then we heard Prof Susan Goodwin speak, and that got us thinking about the alternative.

Prof Goodwin raised the historical context of where much public policy was developed as a result of the response of service deliverers to the needs of the people they dealt with. She asked why this democratisation and responsive approach to policy – that is, policy defined by the response of service deliverers to the lived experience of their ‘users’ rather than purely the current dominant practice of ‘evidence base’ and ‘detailed research’ as determinants of policy positions.

The call to arms for the re-democratisation of the public policy process asks fundamentally for a change in the current approach:

Research and Academic Expertise > Policy Development
> Political Approval and filtering > Legislation and Regulation Development
> Administrative Implementation > Review and Evaluate

to a much more democratic vision driven by up-front responsiveness, not to the elitism of empirical evidence and markets, but to the lived experience as understood by the very people receiving services and the organisations delivering them.

We have no doubt people would argue now that the lived experience IS a part of public policy development now.

The question for us as designers is how to enable a move from lived experience influencing part of public policy development to lived experience, and the citizen voice, being funded and supported to be the key driver of public policy development.

It’s a big question. It forces us to reflect on our view from designing the best possible administration of public systems, to using our skills to influence democratisation of the current public policy ‘industry’. We don’t know the answer, but we do know the dangerous idea has us thinking.

*In case you’re curious about the René Girard reference it’s for us to take a look at his writings The Scapegoat, and how his investigation of myth uncovers what he calls the scapegoat-mechanism, the tendency of society to collectively transfer guilt onto a sacrificial victim.

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POC

With an election campaign underway in Australia there has been a lot of talk that seeks to distinguish between the private and public sector.

On one hand, the incumbent Government has started a public dialogue about the delivery of Government services by the private sector; the other side of politics is focused on highlighting the outsourcing of key Government services to the private sector as a risk – even making part of its platform a focus on looking closely at “consultant and contractor fees” paid by the private sector.

Without taking sides in this political debate (we’ll leave politicians to the argy bargy and focus instead on how to design services better for users of government services), we have been reflecting on just what the ‘private sector’ means to some people. Because it isn’t one single, definable, generic thing.

When it comes to the intersection between government services and private service deliverers, there are many active groups:

  • The large commodity providers.
  • The small and medium commodity providers.
  • Generic business consultancies.
  • Specialist service agencies.
  • Outsourced service providers.

All quite different, each with a role, each offering something and at the same time requiring strong public sector management to deliver quality outcomes. But none especially ‘evil’, or ‘untrustworthy’ just because they are private.

As private practitioners ourselves, we’re always looking for inspiration and sources – be it public sector design, industrial design, graphic design. From our perspective, if you wanted your government services designed and built, why shouldn’t you expect they be as beautiful and useful no matter where they came from. For example, imagine the outcome if one of our favourite sports designers, POC designs approached a complex public program with us and a Government collaborator.

Surely the best of both sectors should deliver for people – it’s what we do every day.

 

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LittleDesigners

There is an increasing focus in the design and innovation world on design education beyond the traditional university level to younger and younger students.

In Australia for example, as part of the Federal Government’s ‘Ideas Boom’, there has been a formal focus on STEM and innovation approaches as part of everyday learning in primary and secondary schools.

Whilst completely respecting these approaches (we think investment in STEM is critical for building the capability of all people in modern economies) the missing link for us has been the layer of design – thinking creatively to solve problems from a collaborative and human-centred position.

So we were somewhat excited in late 2015 when we were approached by one of Canberra’s most outstanding local government schools – Macquarie Primary School – to develop and implement a program with their little people we have called Design In Schools 2015 (#DiS15 on the socials).

A Design Partnership Born out of Mutual Respect

In early 2015 DMA was engaged by ACT Health to undertake research into the parental/carer preferences for encouraging active travel within their households. Macquarie Primary School was a pilot school for the project. During the short piece of research we realised we’d been introduced to a pretty special teaching and learning group at Macquarie and we set about building a strong  relationship with the Principal, Wendy Cave and her Executive Team including Deputy Principal Brendan Briggs.

In November 2015 an opportunity arose to explore, with students at Macquarie, design as a problem-solving discipline and how it can act as an extension of their education focus on research as a viable career path. This was to build on the school focus of inquiry-based learning and research, and to show that these are skills and approaches that have ‘real world’ application.

Having seen us in action on the Active Travel project, Wendy asked us to present to the kids about what we do, as service designers, ‘for a living’. But we wanted more. Talking to kids (‘little people’ in Macquarie vernacular) would be good, but we reasoned working with them to actually undertake some service design would be great.

So rather than presenting to the students about DMA as a company or service design as a discipline, it was decided that a collaborative design project be developed so that the ‘little people’ at Macquarie, could practice being designers.

  • For Macquarie, the students would learn how to apply their existing research skills into a new approach or methodology (Service Design) and school management would get a focused, professional piece of design work undertaken around a key school issue – the experience of their school car park.
  • For DMA, the project would be a chance to see how ‘little people’ think and work through a formal design process.

For the school community, a detailed design specification with recommendations on how to address car park safety and enhancing the experience of the car park for users would be delivered.

The desire to undertake the project was both to satisfy an interest we have as designers in how younger people think about and interact with design concepts before having any formal design training and to also engage with a teaching cohort who are outstanding educators and researchers in their own right.

The Design Project – A Better Car Park Experience

We’ll write more about the approach and methodology later, but we essentially introduced a group of 11 year olds to being part of a service design team over six project sessions moving from intent through to design research, analysis, prototyping, prototype testing and solution development. The topic was a real problem in the school – the perception that the school had a dangerous car park and the intent of the approach to problem solving was that we lead the process, but the students led the solutioning, not the adults (despite some voices of protest from a couple of adults).

The sessions were split between the end of 2015 when the little people were in Year 5, and the start of 2016 when they had come back to school to be in their final year as Year 6s. The same group of 18 + their amazing teacher Faith Bentley stayed with us for the life of the project.

As well as trying to solve a serious issue for the school, we were interested in exploring some key themes as we moved through the project:

  • Would ‘little people’ take to purposeful play, rather than just play?
  • Would theory through practice, rather than ‘teaching design skills’ be a successful model?
  • How would ‘little people’ think and cope with formal methodological processes?
  • How would ‘little people’ cope with being expected to act as collaborators – organising to work as much as being ‘led and taught’?

We were also interested in seeing first hand, whether the oft quoted reflection ‘if only we could be as creative and open thinking as children’ was actually a real concept. Would we see floods of openness creativity and innovation, just because this was a group of young people? For guidance and inspirations we found ourselves referring to Sir Ken Robsinon’s Changing Education Paradigms talk.

Initial Reflections

We are going to talk and write about this a lot more once we are done (we delivered the draft design specification to Wendy this week), but after interviewing some of the little people (our team) and their teacher Faith (our design partner) towards the end of the project, we wanted to share their responses to design.

The sound is ordinary but the reflections are extraordinary ;)

  • Listen to some of the little people talk about design (2.39)

  • Listen to our design partner Faith Bentley talk about design (4.05)


Enjoy! There’s lots more reflection to come on this project that we were delighted and in the end honoured to be part of.

You can see our reflections from the field on this project by checking out #DiS15 on Instagram or Twitter

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5lessons

We’ve been busy at DMA with some amazing projects over the past couple of months. This period has seen us covering topics as wide ranging as domestic violence, homelessness, biosecurity and ICT as service.

The one thing the projects have had in common is the label and intent of ‘co-design’.

We usually don’t use the term ‘co-design’. We do service design, we collaborate, iterate, navigate, all the -ates! We help work out how things are, how things could and should change, and then we define and describe that change. But ‘co-design’ as a term is hot (or, at least, back). For the most part, when we’re approached for some co-design it’s totally appropriate, but we’ve definitely been learning some new lessons and firming up some truths.

 

Lesson 1: A workshop alone is not co-design

For us the process of design involves deep research (desk and in the field), observation, collaboration, analysis and synthesis. A technique within collaboration is developing and delivering a workshop, but the workshop itself, on its own, is not co-design.

We’ve been faced with requests for co-design processes where we, as the design leads, have had no opportunity to do background research, no influence over attendees, and been required to prepare ‘co-design templates’ for use but no further involvement – that is not ‘co-design’. It disrespects the discipline, but worse, it disrespects the people you want to co-design with; from recipient to deliverer.

In fact, when offered a project like this recently, we said no.

Luckily with our clients, and our appreciation of the constraints of community organisations and some Departments, when faced with only limited opportunity to do background research and a requirement of a workshop-only approach we’ve been able to set the activity to work optimally by:

  1. Talking directly with subject matter experts in order to design the workshop with respect to known and shared knowledge.
  2. Describe to the client the types of people who NEED to be invited to make a working session buzz.

The resulting and hard-earned “we trust you” in the development of material means we’ve pulled off some amazing (but tight) co-design processes. It can be done lean, but the workshop isn’t enough.

That brings us to our next lesson…

 

Lesson 2: Co-design must be a led process

We define co-design as:

The process of deliberately engaging users of the system, deliverers of services and other experts, being led by experts such as designers, to actively understand, explore and ultimately change a system together.

In practice what this means is that just because you have an activity to elicit collaborative development of services as a designer, you do more than facilitate. You lead. You challenge. You push. You set up design activities that take the pressure off participants to begin with a blank page, and instead start with a framework for people to collaboratively fill in as a prompt for conversation.

People are there because they know their stuff or have lived experience, that means designers must provide the freedom to explore with focus, within intent.

The wonderful result we’ve experienced is skeptics of the process turning around, quiet voices turning vocal, and insight and content developing that has moved change agents from discussion to action.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and sunshine…

 

Lesson 3: Sometimes empathy means you just have to shut up

We recently ran a series of workshops to explore the service needs and expectations of a number of different cultural groups and demographic cohorts in identified geographic areas of need. These have had to be repeatable and scalable and result in content that turned into practical information. Two workshops stand out where with all the background research, preparation of the event for participants, and all the ‘design professionalism’ in the world meant almost nothing when faced with very justifiably angry people – not with us personally, but with the agent we represented, and the system they are, by their reckoning, ‘forced’ to operate under.

As much as we wanted the participants to “just work with us to get what we needed for our design-led process”, we realised we had to just shut up. Just listen and make sure to listen to understand, not to get ready to respond.

What we were doing made sense, and worked for 90% of the audiences we’d engaged, but design is about people, and experiences, and empathy. And sometimes letting people just ‘be’ is important in terms of creating community (not just design outcomes).

Related to understanding before responding is…

 

Lesson 4: Analysing and creating are different processes

So don’t try and do them at the same time. This especially matters when you’re dealing with multiple projects, not to mention multiple topics.

Analysis gives you focus. You must develop understanding of what you have before moving too quickly to what it means. It helps the people you’re co-designing with. It helps to be more effective when multiple artefacts for multiple audiences are required. That means sometimes you have to demand this time and focus of the client, of participants in a workshop.

When you do this, then you can really create something together.

Which brings us to our final lesson…

 

Lesson 5: There is no co-design without people

No matter how ideal or not a co-design process is, they don’t happen at all without agencies willing to think differently, and uncover possibility. In all five projects, the agencies we worked with were willing to open up their traditional decision-making process to the sometimes difficult and confronting process of co-design (even when they asked for it).

And for every great agency you need willing participants. To get true lived experience of service systems and deep insights about service delivery, you need experienced and willing service deliverers and users. And this means taking them away from their day jobs. It was a shock for us to realise that many of the participants in our processes not only had to do the day job but were also called upon to go to so many co-design activities some barely have time to do their work; so you need to respect that.

 

Postscript: participants, service delivers and agency representatives have sought us out to express their appreciation of the co-design experience and it makes it all worthwhile:

  • “I truly believe that for the first time we have been able to talk about what’s important in a way that embraces the expertise and experiences of the sector. Thank you for designing a process that has enabled us to talk about the important things in a non-threatening way.”
  • “[the] design work is really connected to the experience of people and workers. It matters, and it makes a difference.”
  • “[the experience was] very genuine, and created a space for the sector to have conversation that it doesn’t always have – and it was good being pushed by knowledgeable outsiders.”
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ServiceACT

We try our hardest to reflect on our work professionally, but it’s not often that we have to explain what we’ve done and how we’ve done it to a broader audience. Recently we chose to enter our ground-breaking strategic service design project with the ACT Government – in the Good Design Awards Australia. As part of that process we took time out to create a video about the project with our mates at Newcast Studios here in Canberra.

Service ACT transforms the strategic approach to the delivery of services for an entire government. With Chief Minister and Treasury, DMA re-framed what ‘one-Government’ means in the ACT by collaboratively developing a suite of strategic frameworks and conceptual models to support service delivery across the many arms of government.

The work focused on defining service and user types, visualising an entire Government service system from a user perspective and provided a principle framework for the design and delivery of current and future services, resulting in a shared language for decision-making on service design and delivery across Government and an agreed and shared philosophy on user experience.

We hope the video gives an insight into why we think this is such important work.

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digital

The digital steam train (or is that light rail) continues to career ahead. Every day Ministers, Department Heads, policy officers articulate the need for services to go digital.

A significant part of our work is looking at digital services strategically and developing digital services for clients. As we are currently in the headspace because of a digitisation project across the broadest of customer groups who regularly interact with non-government digital products and services, we wanted to capture the lessons we’ve learnt about what digital even means in a public sector service setting.

 

What is a service, What is a digital service?

A service is the seeking and receipt of a specific outcome of a customer/user across a range of interactions and touchpoints over time. The value of the service is as much about the quality of the experience for all the people involved (customer, service provider) as it is about the resolution.

To us, a digital service is simply where any aspect of that service, as defined above, utilises any aspect of ICT to enable and/or deliver the desired outcome to the customer. The value of the service is enhanced by the use of digital technology, not marked out by it.

 

What we think it means when government says it wants a digital service

While there are many areas of government that are digital converts for the right reasons, the drivers that send government to digital aren’t always about the service part of digital service.

The desire for digital services is generally wrapped in the customer-friendly language of ‘access and ease of use’, but invariably the motivation for ‘having a digital service’ seems to still be a range of factors that are very much from the government (at any level) point of view:

  • “We need to reduce costs and digital will be cheaper because the service is online and I’ll need less people.”
  • “The digital service will be entirely automated which will enable (or force) customers and clients to ‘self-manage’ which puts them in charge of their service experience.”
  • “We’re expected to reduce red tape and move things to digital to suit a whole-of-government directive.”

We think that when government uses the words ‘digital service’ it is often referring to transaction, not the broader definition of service. But part of the drive to digital from government must be that it is done for the right reason – a better service experience or outcome.

 

Four* lessons we’ve learned

A digital channel is critical. Crucial. Not optional for any organisation. But we’re service designers, not UXers, nor interaction designers or even technologists. What we see, and have been lucky enough to do when creating digital services from scratch are captured in these four un-ordered lessons:

  1. Digital service not only extends beyond the interaction or channel, it extends beyond what the public sector might even define as the service. This means that when a client asks for a transaction or data collection activity (i.e. form filing) to be digitsed where they actually need to start is by understanding the services system in order to change and improve what the service actually is from the customer perspective.
  2. Conversely, it’s not good enough for the public sector service deliverer to only think of digitising a transaction, they need to think about the designed service within which the transaction is available. This comes from our experience, and from the frustrations of clients who come to us having to build on platforms and decisions that don’t understand how they actually operate or their capabilities. It means the expectation that existing core digital platforms can even cope with the introduction of a range of digital services should be explored early – if the experience is to be a so-called seamless one.
  3. There is a an educated expectation on the part of customers that moving a service online means customers expect to see a corresponding, if not direct, drop in charges. This means service deliverers are dealing with government- and digital service-savvy customers who believe that digital is cheaper for the public sector to run and deliver.
  4. Probably don’t make it an app. This means make it device-agnostic, and consider the volume of transactions and regularity of the use of the service to determine whether the customer is willing to engage with it on the valuable digital real estate that carry around with them daily. Post-script to this lesson is make sure your organisation has a policy of responsive development for multi-device delivery.

 

Digital isn’t the end game, it’s just another in a long line of service game-changers – albeit a huge one. So making sure the service is designed – with customers, users and organisational sustainability in mind – should always be the starting point.

*as always, we have four lessons now, but we reserve the right to learn more!

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AboveBeyond

When we look at the work we do we always think of our clients as design partners. As partners we work with them to discover insights and opportunities to improve or create new services. In that partnership we bring technique and approaches that can often push them beyond their comfort zone and enable decisions that we (or rather the outcome of the work) might recommend or suggest. Much of the time we provide evidence for a design and spend time encouraging our clients to implement change.

That’s why we were so pleasantly surprised recently when the client pushed beyond the envelope of innovation and decision making we’d presented to them.

We are working on digitising a financial service for a local Statutory Authority. Our research has shown – on this and other similar projects – that users of government services are coming to expect ‘rewards’ for using a digital instead of face-to-face service. This makes sense in the context of online being seen as cheaper and placing more responsibility on the user to ‘get things right in their time’.

So with our current client we suggested thinking about how to make the digital service less onerous for people. In this case one of the large overheads for users is bearing the onus of proving their identity and their connection to an amount of money. Based on our work with them we suggested an amount that should apply to trigger a more streamlined burden of proof, and the service description of what should happen for people who fall into the category and asked the client to think about it.

They went back to their desks and, armed with the insights and the logic of ‘reward as reducing red tape’ that we had built for them, looked at their data.

Not only did they call us back to say that they agreed with the recommendation, they suggested – with a clear business rationale – a limit of more than twice the size of our suggestion. Effectively opening up the concept of ‘reward’ to even more of their clients.

When a client is not only a design partner, but is enabled to improve their own business decision-making and innovation parameters, we know that design as evidence for change has done its job.

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