At FutureGov, we aim to make things simpler. We know we can have a positive impact on services by getting public service professionals to think deeply about how they do things and understanding what it means for a user to access support.

It’s easy to make things complicated when they aren’t consciously designed. How we understand the system, and how people access it, is often described in one way: complex. But this doesn’t get to the root of the problem. ‘The system’ — that is, public services — is complicated. People with complex needs have to interact with this complicated system.

It’s our job to show the impact of this and of the beauty of simplicity in service design.

Complex or complicated: what’s the difference?

Systems are complicated. They are difficult, often with many interconnecting parts because they aren’t designed with the complex needs of users in minds. Traditionally, it’s been considered easier to design services around each individual perceived need of the user, segmented into siloed areas. It’s difficult for users to make their way through a complicated system because they don’t know where to start or where to go next to reach the end goal.

People’s needs are complex. It’s often the case that someone who seeks support has a presenting problem, but this is one of a number of areas where they need information, advice or help, sometimes from multiple agencies. Consider the wonky view of welfare where an individual needs housing, but they also need employment to pay for that housing. User needs are complex, needing support across multiple areas, yet they have to traverse a complicated, unlinked system.

This has an impact at every level with repercussions for user experience and outcomes. For users, it’s difficult to know where to go for support. Too often, the result is users passing between parts of an enormous system until finally arriving at a service that can help.

Finding the shared perspective

FutureGov is currently reviewing all adult services in North East Lincolnshire. Not just social care, not just health care, but all adult services. The scope is massive and understanding where one service stops and the next begins isn’t always easy.

We’ve found that having a shared lens and perspective on what is and isn’t part of adult services is hard. The scale of the system introduces a high level of complication, which makes putting the jigsaw together in a clear or consistent way even more difficult. This is true both for staff and residents. Add in the different cultures and models of professional practice that exist across health and social care (this is true everywhere, not just North East Lincolnshire), and you really start to get a sense of the challenge.

Emerging map of the system in North East Lincolnshire

Do it again, with feeling

An example of a complicated challenge meeting complex needs is the Single Point of Access (SPA) operating in North East Lincolnshire. This is a crucial referral point for professionals and the public, where users can be signposted to more information or begin to have needs assessed and connected with the right services.

However, there are two things that make the system more complicated. Firstly, some crucial forms of support can’t be accessed directly through SPA. Housing, for example, cannot be accessed, meaning that a holistic view of user need isn’t possible. Secondly, a ‘No Wrong Front Door’ policy means that wherever you enter the system you can get the support you need. But if you’re a resident suddenly referred back to the beginning of a process of assessment, information and triage, this can feel confusing and difficult.

Finding the emotion and human element to the user experience in a situation helps us to navigate the complexity in a way no amount of numerical data has been able to do.

Customer journey map with the emotional impact of service changes

There is power in the human story. Our ability, and a councils ability, to empathise with the user journey provides a clear narrative about why understanding complex needs and reducing complication through service design is so important.

Visualise something better

Everything everywhere moves. Things change quickly, and people respond to change in their own way. To provide the support people need and deliver better, cheaper public services, we should always question what already exists and how things work.

Finding the shared perspective and visualising a better future, we aim to deliver a clear plan with a constructive order so that in future it’s easier for users and public services to understand each other. Living within the context of complex needs meeting complicated systems, we can begin designing a system that is both clearer and simpler.

Get in touch

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

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