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Digital transformation in the public sector 👩‍💻

AUGUST 1, 2021

We do not engage with public services until we need them most. And when we need them, we need them ASAP. Over time, government services like paying taxes or changing the address on your driver’s license have been digitally transformed to be more responsive to our needs. There is still much to be done, but many of the ways citizens interact with their governments are now digital, and this transformation has been made possible through service design.

Embarking on a journey of re-designing services that underpin the inner workings of how citizens interact with the government is no small feat. I have taken three core lessons away from being involved in this work. This list is not exhaustive, but for the sake of writing a short and snappy article, I’ve selected my top three.

Innovation happens outside of silos

The government of British Columbia employs over 30,000 people across 20 ministries. Implementing digital solutions to meet the needs of citizens happens differently within each ministry. From our experience, innovation has the highest velocity when problem-solvers break down silos and collaborate with one another. A digital solution for aggregating health data may also contain best practices for a new product that is collecting data on BC’s zero emission vehicle incentive program.

Let’s not reinvent the wheel. The chances of someone encountering a problem similar to yours within the public sector is quite high, you just need to set your ego aside and seek them out.

Delivering values to citizens

What goes on behind-the-scenes of delivering a service to citizens is extensive. From developing a policy to improving data security, there is a long laundry list of moving parts that make redesigning the service pretty complicated. And to make things more complex, each moving part usually has a stakeholder at the table with a certain point of view on the way a service should be designed and delivered. As you can imagine, a policy expert would have a very different viewpoint than a customer service representative supporting citizens on the front lines. 

Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context—a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan. — Eero Saarinen

When developing a new service or redesigning an existing one, stakeholders (with varying viewpoints) should all come together, share their pain points, and come up with solutions together — this includes the citizens themselves. A product has the greatest opportunity for being successful when it’s designed holistically for everyone. As painful as it can be to ask for everyones thoughts and opinions, it is often their insight that can pivot a service or product strategy in ways you never even imagined.

Bring Executives Along the Journey

Service designers will often strive to include executives that might normally see themselves as sitting at a higher level, above the service design process. Because this process is the divergence and convergence of multiple viewpoints it can be time consuming, however having executives along for the journey is always worthwhile.

The empathy that is built between users and executives throughout the service process will only strengthen the design of your product or service. By having executives at the table as stakeholders gain an empathetic understanding of the problems, come to agreement on the highest-value problem, and ideat solutions that might solve it, buy-in will begin to naturally occur between all stakeholders groups, including executives.

A truly human-centred approach to design can drive the creation of a product of service that resonates deeply with users. And it is this intentional connection that can drive engagement and growth for your organization. This is why we need heavy-hitters along for the ride. Yes, executives — that’s you.

By creating a shared, interdisciplinary space where all walks of life can share their experience with a product/service, we can begin to place users at the centre of solutions.

About the Author

Roxanne believes that simple and smooth user experiences grow out of intentional user research and iterations of design.

Human-centred design has informed Roxanne’s work in both the private and public sector. As a Toronto transplant currently living in Victoria, British Columbia, Roxanne designs experiences that are informed by a deep understanding of the motivations and behaviours of the end user. Using design thinking, she has facilitated organizational change of systems, products and processes through her design work in many spheres: tech start-ups, e-commerce, and environmental ministries at the provincial level.