10 Takeaways from Service Design in Government

16 March 2018

Last week, several of us from the Consultancy team made our way across town from Storm HQ to attend the Service Design in Government conference. The conference featured talks and workshops from speakers across the public and private sectors to discuss skills and ideas for improving public services.

At Storm, we work closely with both public and private sector organisations, and the themes from the conference translated across all sectors and industries. Here are the top ten themes that we took away from the conference.

Only in Edinburgh does the view from a conference look like Hogwarts ?

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1. End-to-end services are about one world, not two

The field of service design is moving away from thinking about the physical world and digital world as two separate entities, instead thinking about one world with which digital intersects.

The shift towards end-to-end service design, considering the entirety of a user’s journey as they move between physical and digital interactions, will not only help organisations to paint a more holistic picture of their users but also enable improved customer pathways. The benefits to both organisational efficiency and ease of use for users are huge.

2. User-centred, user-centred, user-centred

Something that we heard repeatedly throughout the conference, in every talk and in every water cooler conversation, was how we should all be designing for users first.

With the recent introduction of the digital first service standards here in Scotland, and with ongoing digital assessments for public bodies across the UK, it’s no longer good enough to be designing services without the user at the centre.

Many of the talks we attended during the conference talked about digital as an enabler to people. Instead of designing digital services, we should be building user-centred services that are enabled by digital. Services that aren’t built this way are at risk of misinterpreting user needs and ultimately failing.

3. We need to change how we see our roles

As we become more agile and specialised it’s easy to get blind-sided by the day to day, but perspectives on what jobs demand within the digital sector need to start shifting. As we begin to consider how our individual responsibilities affect users, we start to understand more about the impact and remit of our roles.

Designers, through visual identity, interaction and experience are primary communicators between organisations and users. Business Analysts, through interrogating data, business priorities and user needs are knowledge centres for connecting experiences. It’s increasingly important that we understand how each of us is contributing to the bigger picture and take ownership and responsibility for it.

It’s not just people working within digital and service design that need to change either, but everyone. Improving outcomes for users is a part of everyone’s responsibility and job role, regardless of department. As the UK government moves towards end-to-end service design, people across all disciplines will need to consider their impact and the role that they’re playing in the end user’s journeys.

4. Bad service design costs a lot

In a keynote by Janet Hughes, previously a director at GDS, she spoke about the state of digital waste. In the first ten years of this century, around $3 trillion was spent globally on IT projects by businesses. Around 60-80% of those projects failed. In the UK government alone, it’s estimated that we’ve wasted £50 billion on IT since then, resulting from a very similar failure rate.

We must ensure that we don’t allow ourselves to get used to this amount of digital waste. Now that businesses are reorienting themselves to focus on their users first, we have the opportunity to ensure that the work we’re doing is valuable, useful and usable. Ultimately, services built on these values are far less likely to fail. It’s the responsibility of everyone to champion these values, from business teams to those working directly within service design, because we cannot afford to keep wasting at the rate we have been.

5. Digital transformation doesn’t have an end date (it’s also really hard)

Back in the day when everyone in digital was building websites and apps in silos, there were clear end dates to projects. Now that we are moving into the space of organisation-wide digital transformation, there is an expectation that this will be the same, but transformation doesn’t have an end date.

Digital is moving at a rapid pace, and for organisations to remain at the forefront of user expectations, it’s vital to continue to transform and adapt as an organisation. This is a new operating model for companies both in the public and private sectors, and it’s not easy, particularly for large organisations who will find it harder to pivot at pace. But for business to combat disruption in their field, it will be necessary.

6. We need to empower people to control their data

Transparent data is at the forefront of everyone’s minds with GDPR coming into enforcement in just a few months, so it’s no surprise that putting data back into the hands of users played a large role at the conference this year.

Healthcare is going to be one of the most challenging areas for overhauling how data is shared and controlled by users. In talks from NHS Digital, FutureGov and Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, the challenge of overcoming this and allowing users to control their health data was a hot topic of discussion. It’s exciting to see so many people in the space trying to tackle this issue and the different ways they’re approaching it.

Here at Storm we have developed Lenus, a platform to enable secure data sharing between patients and healthcare professionals. The platform allows patients to view and have control over who has access to their health data, all in one place. We are currently working with NHS Scotland to pilot this. You can find out more about the platform on the Lenus website.

7. Project teams should become the users they are designing for

It’s common for us as digital teams to design user-centred services without ever truly putting ourselves in the shoes of the users. We collect user needs and requirements from direct engagements with users, we run iterative testing sessions with users, and we gather user-generated feedback. But to really empathise with the users, project teams should take the time to spend a day in the end user’s shoes.

In talks from companies including Deloitte and the GDS, we heard from project teams who started projects by trying to complete common tasks performed by their users. In one example with a leading bus company, the project team spent a day trying to navigate the east coast of Scotland by bus. The benefits to this included the chance to meet and talk to users in context, to identify pain points that they weren’t aware of before and to understand emotional patterns that were driving user’s behaviours.

The benefits didn’t just end here though. Beyond what the team learnt on the day, what they took away for the rest of the project was empathy with their users. It affected the work of everyone in the team to create a more user centred service.

These activities might seem trivial when taken at face value, but the underlying benefits are great, and we should all be making the time to undertake this kind of work.

8. Effective projects require dedicated teams

To quote Tim Paul, GDS, “Until you have the full team, you haven’t got a team.” This is something that rang true throughout almost all of the talks we attended. Having the right people in a dedicated and agile team is key to the success of a digital project.

It’s also important that teams represent an organisation effectively, too. Siloing projects along organisational lines doesn’t allow for collaboration between project team members. The result, poor service design that fails to understand holistically the needs of the user.

9. There are hidden consequences to poor content

Content has been king for many years, and with the ratio of content designers to user researchers at GDS at 5:2 it’s clear that content is more important than ever. Something that many of us fail to realise however, is just how impactful poor content can be.

In a talk from the Center for Civic Design, Whitney Quesenbery discussed the consequences of misunderstood content in the electoral system. Between different language and cultures, words have different meanings, and translating word for word doesn’t always work. Whitney gave the example of the word ‘citizen’, which in American English is largely understood to refer to the legal definition of citizenship status within a country. In other cultures, particularly in Southern American ones, the word ‘citizen’ is often understood as citizenship to the world.

The result is that many people incorrectly identify themselves as citizens in official US records, the consequence of which can be deportation. It’s staggering to think that something as simple as the misinterpretation of a single word could have devastating consequences, and it only serves to further highlight how critically important the role of content is in service design.

10. Introducing design thinking is easy, implementing it is hard

Many of us within the fields of digital and service design have begun to effectively change how organisations think about how they should operate and respond to user needs. Introducing people to design thinking and getting buy-in for it has been the easy part however, and now what many people across the industry are finding is that implementing it is much harder.

Proving the worth of design thinking on a small scale is the key to implementing it organisation wide. As we discussed earlier, transformation is time consuming and difficult, but showing how organisational efficiency can be achieved through design thinking will allow for mandating it across more areas of an organisation.

If you want to find out more about service design and undertaking a digital transformation, contact our Digital Consultants who are on hand to guide you through the process.




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