At FutureGov we help build organisations fit for the future. Working side by side with our clients and partners, we use service design to bring together work focusing on people, infrastructure, communications and technology in ways that deliver high-quality user outcomes and experiences.
We’re a change agency, but we talk a lot about service design. The question to start with is, why service design?
Service design helps us to understand, improve or rethink end to end services, starting with the user.
When thinking about ‘users’ we mean a range of different people. Both citizens and sometimes customers (people that choose to pay for services), and importantly we’re also talking about staff and employees inside organisations. Services can be ‘internal’ and/or ‘external’ facing and we believe applying the same approaches and mindset to how we approach service design can work for all types of services.
Experience has shown us that a ‘service-led’ or ‘service-oriented’ approach is an effective way of organising change and managing priorities inside organisations. There is no one size fits all approach. But, we’ve found that aligning how an organisation works to the services it delivers–using this as an organising principle–is the most effective way to keep a clear focus on user needs, goals and delivering better outcomes.
Over the past few decades, alternative approaches to organising a business might have meant coordinating around technology or business processes. Being technology-oriented is starting with technology and systems. Think Office 365 as a service, rather than starting with the needs and goals of someone who requires tools and software to do their job. While process-oriented organisations optimise products and services around existing operational processes and structures. This will mean traditional components of ‘business as usual’ and optimising for how things have always worked or been structured — it could also be an indicator of a lack of deliberate or conscious choices inside these organisation. Think, traditional management structures for people (HR), and technology (IT). User-focused, design/research and agile mindsets have always struggled to add any substantial value to these traditional, process-driven businesses.
A shift in technology thinking
The spirit of technology is ‘optimisation’. This is what makes technologies cheaper, faster, and most of all, scalable. It’s what’s so attractive about technology as an organising principle. The problem is, this gets detached from delivering the right support to people in the right places. Public services need to be more than cheaper and faster or we’re in danger of optimising for the wrong sets of outcomes.
In contrast, the spirit of being service-oriented is equity. Yes, optimisation is important, as is scale and sustainability, but not at the expense of improved outcomes for everyone. This might mean the flexibility of service models to provide types of support for groups of people with different sets of needs and not a one-size-fits-all model or over-reliance on digital channels. When working on public services this has to be a priority. A service-oriented approach is a way of being user-centred in this way or staying ‘user-led’. It means providing services that use the right technology solutions to deliver better outcomes. Making this shift means putting user needs and goals at the centre of the vision, culture and operations of the organisation. Then, making sure everyone owns and advocates for it, so the user needs to drive technology and decisions.
A ‘service-oriented’ approach recognises that we’re working in a new era of (digital) technology and this gives us a fundamental platform to build from. This way decisions about what is the best solution for users of services and technology decisions become intertwined. A shift from enterprise tech (tech-led) to digital tech (service-led).