How Service Design Can Assist the UK's Local Councils

02 Dec 2016 - OB Insights

In the past few years Service Design has experienced a rise to prominence in design circles, reflecting its ability to bring new levels of understanding to the most complicated of business challenges, whilst uncovering well-hidden opportunities in the process.

This trend towards certain disciplines is common in design and development, but rather than pitching the merits of one approach against another - as is often the case - it’s much more productive to view how the likes of Service Design, agile and UX marry together as complementary methodologies, with Government and Local Councils being a perfect case study.

Agile became a byword for the UK Government’s approach to IT in recent years, but the initial focus on agile has perhaps undersold the importance of supporting disciplines like Service Design and UX, when producing user-centric services.

Agile’s build, test, learn approach invites constant design observations to guide its development sprints, so in terms of the quality of the end product, agile will often rely on quality user research from Service Designers and UX professionals.

With Government in particular, agile’s explorative nature brings the user into the design process, but it would be left a bit isolated without guidance from a large amount of design strategy - lacking the ability to feed off the intricate systems which represent the core of the service.

Service Design in the Public Sector - Aligning the Physical and the Digital

Service design is forged in the social sciences and involves building a solution based on the People, Infrastructure, Communications and Materials involved - joining all the dots of a complicated service ecosystem.

Service design incorporates both the physical and digital realms exposing opportunities for innovation and creativity in its maps and plans, but a large part of its mission is to practically identify a solution’s overall workability. This involves taking into account all of a system’s intricate backstage and front stage operations - the things you see and the things you don’t.

Its application in a multi-layered public sector environment is therefore ideal and its high-level strategic toolkit complements UX’s magnified view of the way humans interact with the product.

A purely functional brand of service design may be less glamorous than many designers would like - but the artform lies in transporting a physical service along with its tangible component parts into absolute usability and clarity of intent.

Town Hall

Nowhere is this need clearer than in local councils, where services such as social care, council tax, maintenance, transport and housing all have highly complex digital and physical dimensions, provided by a mixture of charities, the private sector, central government, public sector, volunteers and the NHS amongst others.

This mix of providers and services can lead to mass confusion when digital solutions are proposed, with questions springing up during development and huge revisions at the end of the project.

Agile negates the chance of major surprises due to its controlled growth and constant re-examination of the goal, but the use of Service Design’s most potent tool, the service blueprint, is equally important.

Matching the customer journey to the practicalities of internal processes, service blueprints could be a revelation to local councils, highlighting exactly where the gaps in budget and responsibility occur, as well as highlighting opportunities for savings and enhanced customer experience.

If agile was the catalyst driving better mainstream Central Government services, Service Design could take centre stage as the foundational concept which drives meaningful digital change at a local level.

A careful marriage of disciplines makes a product special and these subtleties are now becoming apparent in UK Governmental design, with the GDS publishing knowledgeable articles such as ‘Service Design: Isn’t it Just UX with a Different Name?’, and industry conferences like ‘Service Design in Government’. Service Design and agile seem like ideal partners in the public sector, building approachable services which can have a genuine social impact.

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