Posts tagged ‘Human Services’


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 As we were involved in early service design improvements to key components of 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.

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Today we were extremely happy to be part of a presentation to local ACT Minister for Housing Shane Rattenbury MLA by the National Council of Women ACT, of a report on NCWA Older Women and Homelessness Seminar held on 31 October 2014.

The Council approached us in October last year to ask us to help support a seminar they were running on the topic.

The seminar drew on the leading experts from both the research and practitioner fields, as well as community advocates and service providers, to discuss this often hidden and misunderstood issue.

The goal of the Council was to bring to the fore the causes, the present provision of services and solutions for the future for older women in the ACT. The information presented, which ranged from personal accounts of women becoming at risk of homelessness as they aged to more general reflections on homelessness as an issue, highlighted some key themes for policy makers and practitioners in the field as well.


The common situations which escalate to homelessness for older women include:

  • Relationship breakdown – domestic abuse, a women’s lack of knowledge and understanding of the family financial situation, often compounded by belittling and/or controlling partners.
  • Unsuitable housing situation – Partners refusing to move out. having nowhere to go, or lack of knowing of where to go, the challenge of proving that a women is separated but living under one roof with their ex, couch surfing – where the women has temporary accommodation, but can, in some cases lead to survival sex where the women may exchange sex for a (insecure) roof over her head, stuck in a waiting list, or in a refuge (if one can get in).
  • Health Situation – often escalated by the insecure housing situation, particularly impacting existing mental health issues.
  • Employment Situation – loss of employment, low income or part-time work.
  • Poverty – lacking the resources to own your own home or afford rental accommodation.
  • Women new to the country with little support, or English as a second language.

Present service provision

The services currently available to older women (both homeless and at risk) sit within an overall homelessness service network:

  • The values that underpin service delivery for the homeless and those at risk of being homeless are based on safety, social justice and the right to have somewhere safe to live.
  • Though there is a range of services available from a range of providers, the sector is good at working in a coordinated way.
  • The waiting list for public housing continues to grow.
  • There is still no overall view of the true cost of homelessness to our society.
  • Older women should have a right to feel safe in their movements and housing, and we need to bring up our young people to feel that too.
  • The definition of assets and income (including superannuation) can make access to services difficult for some older women. Even before emergency services are required, CALD women are subjected to discrimination in the private rental market.
  • The question of culturally appropriate housing must be taken into account when planning solutions.
  • Domestic violence was our lens into homelessness, but this preconception needs to broaden to issues such as housing affordability, changing housing requirements and a lack of women-focused service models reflecting inequities in employment and earning capacity.

Possible Solutions

The solutions put forward can be as simple as “building more houses” or as complicated as restructuring the investment portfolios of major industry superannuation funds, but all presenters were unanimous in the view that the response to the emerging potential “tsunami of older women and homelessness” must be addressed now:

  • Community housing is being pursued as a critical model in the Canberra market – the ACT is relatively poor in terms of availability of this solution.
  • The move into housing provider for traditional community organisations can be difficult as the range of factors involved in determining what “affordable housing” is are complex.
  • Accessing the private rental market is difficult in Canberra not only because of cost, but transport, home modifications and the willingness to see elderly women as legitimate tenants.
  • Co-gender accommodation can work well as a solution for elderly women, solutions do not need to be exclusively female.
  • “Marketing” elderly single people as tenants of choice is working with some real estate agents.
  • That the simple solution of building more houses, though complicated, would help.
  • That systemic inequity (lack of assets, financial insecurity, inequitable pay and super) will be the emerging triggers for homelessness in the future and must be addressed.
  • That there are new and evolving solutions and models appearing all of the time and though many of these take time to launch, they should be explored.
  • The phases of potentially homeless older women (emergency homeless, at risk due to being aged now, and the young with low financial literacy or independence) must be acknowledged in order to understand the sheer size of the potential problem.
  • That there are models that should be explored outside of the focus on emergency care – such as utilising superannuation savings to invest in affordable housing.

As service designers we recognise that the kind of situation emerging with older women is complex. Social, cultural and economic tradition and pressures mean accessing and delivering services for this group requires significant re-thinking of the homelessness model.

From our perspective (and the Council)  it was clear that further work must be undertaken in at least three areas:

  • Understanding the older women and homelessness user groups as they stand now.
  • Exploring more agile traditional housing solutions in innovative ways.
  • Addressing systemic people capability issues.

Those are the themes we presented to the Minister today and we are excited about the response and recognition that the profile of this important issue has been raised.

Working with the Council was a great experience, as was hearing from the experts in the field. We’ll be keeping our eye on the issue into the future.

The report (a record of proceedings on the day) will also be available in electronic form from the National Council of Women ACT.


The day itself was a success due to the organisations represented and we thank the following groups and people for giving up their time and providing such excellent information on the issue:

  • Shane Rattenbury MLA, Minister for Housing
  • Helen Dalley-Fisher, Equality Rights Alliance
  • Marcia Williams, Women’s Centre for Health Matters
  • Carol Benda, Women’s Legal Centre
  • Sue Sheridan, First Point
  • Chris Redmond, Woden Community Service
  • Chin Wong, Canberra Multicultural Community Forum
  • Alice Tibbits, ACT Housing
  • Susan Helyar, ACTCOSS
  • Terri Stiller, Argyle Community Housing
  • Heather Douglas, Abbeyfield
  • Leigh Watson, Shelter ACT
  • Frances Crimmins, YWCA Canberra

And of course, thanks  the organising committee of the National Council of Women ACT.

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“It’s not faddish to try to get policies and services right for the communities that rely on them”

Article: In Defence of Design: far more than jargon (2MB)

Our Article: In Defence of Design: far more than jargon (2MB)

In our recent post Six thoughts for the Centre for Public Sector Design’s future CEO we put forth our advice to the incoming CEO of the Centre for Public Design. At the time we also reflected briefly on academic J.R. Nethercote’s ‘Recruiting the ‘charisma’ to innovate‘ – 7 February 2012. Following this, the Public Sector Informant (Canberra Times) took us up on our offer to respond in print.

Here is the article ‘In Defence of Design: far more than jargon‘. We hope our thoughts add to the thinking on design and innovation in the public sector.

Thanks to Markus Mannheim, Editor of the Public Sector Informant, for this opportunity.


Update: Here’s a link to an online version of the article.

There was big news in the public sector design space a couple of weeks ago when the Acting Deputy Secretary for Industry and Innovation Ken Pettifer, announced plans to hire a CEO of the Centre for Public Design (the actual Department and Centre names are more wordy but we’ve shortened them here).

We noted a number of references in the broader service design community. People in our network – both local and international – have also been in touch with us for our take on the Centre.

We think the idea of setting up such a Centre is important in terms of placing design thinking at the forefront of public services. We’ve all seen enough poor examples of administrative, legislative, policy and technical implementations to prove the need. But we also think that there are some lessons that should be learnt from those who have gone before, or the whole Centre could end up a well meaning white elephant!

So, as designers who have been involved in the development of public sector design in theory and practice for over a decade, we thought we’d capture what our advice would be to the incoming CEO. Here’s our top six thoughts:

  1. The methodology is NOT the most important thing – it is important but the Centre will also need to get in there and do stuff early.
  2. Don’t move slowly – don’t let the phrase ‘capability building’ be an excuse not to act.
  3. Measure EVERYTHING that you do – build the case and make sure when people are doing conference presentations about their wonderful design project it actually made a difference for the community.
  4. Do more than ‘assure’. After a few months you’ll realise the job is really really hard. If you hear yourself say “I think we are just going to focus on best practice models and assure other Departments’ work” you’ve failed. Assurance is a vital component but nowhere near as vital as actually supplying resources and collaborating on actual design projects.
  5. Do what is right for you. We understand the relevance of the Mindlab approach, but we also love lots of international and Australian design consultancy models (and there are plenty). So don’t just pick one up and try and implement it. Be clear about what you are trying to achieve and what outcomes you are seeking and then deliver it yourself. Sure – learn from others, but OWN your process and practice.
  6. Don’t limit your network. Sure there are rules and processes for appointing and engaging with people but get out and about in our service design community. Be at the drinks, be at the conferences, but most importantly come and see how we and plenty of others work – we are all really good sharers ;)

As a post-script, the excellent Public Sector Informant (now a part of the Canberra Times) has published a stirring critique of the concept of the Centre by academic J.R. Nethercote ‘Recruiting the ‘charisma’ to innovate‘ – 7 February 2012.

Nethercote has some legitimate concerns about what might happen with the Centre (many of which are echoed in our thoughts above) but he seriously underestimates the importance and need for the Centre itself. The vocabulary of the Department may be a bit waffly in the advertisement for the CEO, but in our minds the need for design (and in particular service design) thinking to permeate every element of policy design and administrative implementations of that policy is absolutely non-negotiable.

We’ve approached the Informant to present a response to Professor Nethercote’s skepticism, we look forward to the opportunity.

Postscript: We were taken up on our offer and here is the article ‘In Defence of Design: far more than jargon

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