Designing Invisible Systems for Government

We have ideas about how Service Design can solve the intangible problems.

It is human nature to focus on tangible problems because they’re easier to interact with: if your phone got broken, your car won’t start or even something like getting ill. But for the problems that are hard to define, solutions aren’t always visible to the naked eye.

The problems we are talking about are the ones that are embedded into Government, through tradition, or adherence to old systems, or even the notion that ‘things have always been done this way.’ They’re hard to see because they are problems that have become institutionalised.

So how do you fix an intangible and invisible problem?

We found a way to solve that riddle. The answer lies in Service Design.

What is service design?

Our Design Strategist, Ellie Burge, says that most solutions to a user’s problems nowadays comprise a digital solution. The discipline associated with the designing this digital part is usually user experience design because UX is concerned with the design and development of digital interactions.

It is all well and good to make digital solution to help a user do something, but what about all the other things they need to do on their journey to solve their problem?

The Portable Process — How We Solve Problems

That is where service design comes in.

Service design is concerned with creating the ecosystem to support the digital solution: it understands the role of the user and what they seek to experience in their journey.

Why Government and Service Design Work Well Together

Policymakers should look to service design thinking to innovate policy development and to address social issues.

In the same way that Government is concerned with the interactions of its citizens, service design is concerned with the physical interactions a user must undertake as part of their journey.

If all of these things in a user journey are not considered, it doesn’t matter how great the digital solution is — it won’t work. Same with Government.

Design Thinking Principles Can Help Government Innovate

Government is encouraged to innovate and use different strategies to improve and redesign systems which are not working. However, as there is no formal instruction booklet for innovation, it may explain the difficulty as to why Government has often been reluctant to introduce tools such as service design, especially if a process requires failure (sometimes, multiple) along the way in order to realise what works.

At the White House Frontiers Conference, held at Carnegie Mellon University, President Obama highlighted the distinction between approaches taken by government and technology companies. He said Silicon Valley’s methods are not for Government, by that, meaning that government needs to deal with the problems that the private sector doesn’t always address.

We agree — to an extent. The Government takes on the problems that citizens need solutions to, like welfare and taxation. But Design Thinking methods can actually suit Government really well, as service design can prepare Government for embracing new ways of thinking. It can dealing with reforming systems, processes and those invisible problems in a different way.

If Government are willing to see service design as a tool for innovating and engaging with their end-users — ie their citizens — then they will have an excellent approach to co-designing the bureaucratic system with the key stakeholders (again, ie, their citizens).

We believe these concepts are universally applicable. It’s one of the tools we use to define the strategy, tools and direction that organisations need to innovate and evolve.

Portable recognised that innovation is not easy, and that’s why we wrote a free report and guide to innovation in Government. Hacking the Bureaucracy provides an overview to what innovation is taking place inside government and the steps and best practices that motivated individuals can take to create change.

Read more.

Technology is constantly going to reshape the way the Government serves its citizens. Portable continues to transform organisations and companies by delivering efficient and accessible user-centered services.