Our work with the United Nations Development Programme has seen us work alongside teams in Albania, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova. We’ve helped foreign governments set up innovation labs, run experiments in digital thinking and train teams in agile and the design process to bring our ways of working abroad. Last week our relationship with the UNDP took us to the mountain-edged, tree-lined city of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. This trip kickstarts a series of workshops we will run with the Kyrgyz government.

Introducing new ways of working

The Kyrgyz government is an interesting place where the fall of Soviet rule in 1991 left the country with some tough choices. Much of the government structure and implied rules of the earlier era are still evident in departments and public services, often comparing impact against performance decades ago. Services are more accessible to citizens now than they used to be, but there is not yet a vision for creating a better future.

In response to situations similar to this, UNDP is setting up innovation labs across the world for public services at the national and local level. They asked for FutureGov to be involved in running experiments that will bring new ways of working to public services in other countries to test the appetite for change. The first of these experiments saw myself and Simone Carrier travelling to Bishkek to work with the national vehicle registration service.

Transformation in Kyrgyzstan workshop

Working with users

Alongside representatives of the vehicle registration service, UNDP team members and a few members of the public, we looked at vehicle registration; a service known for poor user experience expectations. Working together, we rapidly introduced the team to the design process and new ways of working.

One of our main focuses was in speaking to members of the public about their experiences and expectations. Having a few members of the public within the team for the week helped us approach and decide the kinds of questions we should be asking to better understand the user experience. Once our research was complete, we collated our findings to analyse their meaning, began writing our own briefs for sketching and prototyped and presented our ideas to wider stakeholders.

Transformation in Kyrgyzstan meeting

Working in multidisciplinary teams

Our workshops provided a new opportunity for staff members of the vehicle registration team to collaborate with others from across their department, as well as members of the public. Everyone sat at tables together with an equal voice and equal space. It seems simple, but this often overlooked change is effective. With a broad group of individuals with different backgrounds and experiences at the table, we were able to hear from staff members at various levels of the service who approached the challenge with different views and goals.

Transformation in Kyrgyzstan process notes review


As part of our workshops, we introduced a couple of quick methods the teams can use to form ideas and quickly share them with others to gather feedback. Storyboarding is a great way to do this and one of the new methods we explored.

There was a general consensus was to somehow reduce the sheer number, and cost, of human interactions taking place in the current vehicle registration process. We asked, “What might fewer interactions look like?”

By storyboarding, the team learned to quickly and roughly sketch the opportunities in changing the process. We rearranged the order and redrew some of the screens as we went. Within a few hours, we went from a five-hour process involving eleven people to a mobile-friendly, self-validating and online payment process. This design could save citizens time and worry while also simplifying the process for employees, freeing them for other important tasks. In one afternoon, our team agreed on an aim, made the idea visual and can now test it with stakeholders.

Transformation in Kyrgyzstan lego model scenario

Creating physical diagrams

Sometimes, the space we experience a service within dictates the experience of that service. For our team, looking at the physical space and more tactile tweaks to the service was a big part of the design challenge. For a user, it’s not only what are they are there to do, but how will they feel in that space? Is there somewhere to sit, clear signs to direct their needs, or are they walking into one large, blank room? For this very reason, we tend to pack a box of Lego. This one pictured was used during the trip and is from the Sinclair family archive.

Having a few bricks on the working tables allows us to naturally show our ideas as we talk about them. It helped the challenge of literally speaking two different languages, giving us a reference to visually show what we were talking about, so the translator could use the same references to be easily understood by the Kyrgyz team, and they could use the model to point and reference their ideas back through the translator to us. By using a physical space to show what I mean, my point becomes more easily understood. We can then form agreements and quickly create changes at little expense. The ability to show proposed ideas in a model is also a great way to show them to those outside of the team to gather feedback.

Take a leap and trust the process

The team in Kyrgyzstan plans to continue developing these ideas by researching, testing and iterating on them until FutureGov rejoins later in the year for more experimentation. This experience, like so many others, drives home the truth that most of our work at FutureGov revolves around helping people experience and believe in change — exploring the benefits of a new approach and negotiating that approach with people entrenched in the traditional process. Our view of a better future for our governments comes from a different mindset.

It’s brilliant and exciting that talk about our work is travelling across the globe, but it remains important to consider local context and mindsets. Yes, organisational change is a tough and a persistent challenge, but it’s one full of hope and optimism. To spend even a week with a small group of individuals who desire to see public services change for the better is time well spent.

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