Millions of people use local services every day. But the user experience can be hugely inconsistent across local government. Though there are overwhelming similarities in the types of services councils offer, these services are often designed and implemented differently.

Essex County Council (ECC) wanted to better understand the services they were delivering, to look for opportunities for service improvements, making things quicker, easier and more accessible for citizens while also streamlining the work required to run services.

The plan was to establish what common service patterns existed, in what forms and how they could be used and develop an approach to prototyping new ways of delivering the same types of experiences for different services, and ultimately designing services that provide a consistent and familiar user experience.


Working in a blended team of designers and researchers along with ECC’s service design team, we mapped service patterns and developed the team’s skills in design and pattern development.

In our first phase of work, we started mapping ‘as-is’ common service design patterns, identifying approximately 150 types of transactions that residents have with the council. Services such as ‘registering a birth’, ‘applying for a school place’ and ‘reporting a flood’ include many of the same building blocks: registering, booking or paying for something.

Building on previous thinking around ‘service-orientated’ approaches, we captured information for each service to frame our work. This included the type of service pattern, life events, technology components involved, service steps and the functional area within the council. Using a tool called Airtable, we were then able to create a relational database where we could store and filter information.

Essex service patterns mapping planning process document

Mapping created a view of the type of services and transactions across the organisation and helped us understand where patterns existed and how often. We then prioritised patterns for further development, prototyping the form service patterns would take and to learn more about how they might be used.

Different patterns were then iterated and further developed to better meet user needs. These approaches are now used by the ECC service design team as part of ongoing pattern design and development.


With a better understanding of service patterns, the ECC service design team can begin to design more consistent and familiar user experiences across the council. Making things quicker, easier and more accessible for citizens. They can also use this work to see how services and interactions are linked, identifying opportunities to improve or transform user journeys and create better service and policy outcomes.

This work started as a proactive way for the ECC service design team to find opportunities to improve services the council offers and quickly transformed into a set of approaches that can be used by the service design team when working on future projects. For example, when approached by a specific service area that is interested in reviewing its services.

By designing induction days at the beginning of the project, weekly on-site days to work together and biweekly 1:1 time to support talk personal development, we successfully upskilled ECC team members from getting familiar with a new approach to leading the work on the project. More recently, the team have shared proactively progress at GDS events and on the Service Gazette. Three patterns flows are currently available and the team is refining a fourth, going public soon.

LocalGov Patterns

Building on this work ECC and FutureGov launched LocalGov Patterns, a project to create build a shared library of service patterns for local government. The library was built to open up our work and create opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing across the sector, and includes all the services we’ve analysed, the patterns we’ve identified, plus an understanding of the life events people are going through while accessing services.

Visit LocalGov Patterns to contribute and to learn more about the project.

Get in touch

We’re always happy to answer any questions you have about FutureGov and discuss how we can work together.

Contact us