Why senior leaders and commissioners should care

There’s a saying that change is the only constant. But a constant challenge we face is making change transformational for organisations. This is true across local authorities, central government and health & care providers.

Too often, we see organisations focus solely on their technology or services, without considering the business model of organisations. However, it’s the combination of the three which create the best method for delivering improved user experiences and outcomes, as well as more cost-effective and future-facing operating models.

Increasingly, we understand the need to articulate the impact we have, which is why we published our impact dashboard earlier this year. We’re also asked what the return on investment (ROI) is for design-led change.

Why is investing in a design better than traditional change management?

What do we mean by design-led change?

You can look at change management through different lenses. It could be an organisation restructure, buying new software (technology) or rethinking how to provide a particular service. Taking a design-led approach to change means that all three of these lenses are seen together. We call this an integrated design approach.

Design venn diagram

Designing services is about delivering the best possible outcomes and end to end service experiences for people; products & technology is about supercharging services through the best of breed digital technologies; organisations is about working with organisations to review processes, build capabilities, rethink structures and deliver new or improved ways of working. The three of these, when seen together, can unlock new perspectives and enable us to frame problems and work in very different ways.

Reframing the problem means that we focus on solving the right problems, in the right places. Combined with research to understand user needs, data and existing assets, we can then start to prioritise opportunities and different options. This creates the space for prototyping, giving the organisations we work with the ability to focus on developing solutions iteratively.

Constant testing of ideas and learning allows us to validate where we are right and, more importantly, learn about how we might be wrong when designing how future services could work. It means that when a new product, service or organisational structure goes live or becomes operational, then we already have a high degree of confidence in how it will work at scale; including costs, levels of support required and how it meets the needs of users.

Why is this important?

Design-led change isn’t just about hiring more designers. It’s about how an entire organisation can work.

This isn’t easy. Adopting unfamiliar ways of working, often in organisations that are beginning to understand what it means to be a 21st-century organisation, can feel very uncomfortable. At least to start with. But, you’re embedding an approach that has cheaper, iterative testing and learning at its heart. This ensures that you implement and scale the right solutions and the right strategies for your organisation around technology and service delivery.

Design is also a way of increasing creative output and thinking across an organisation. Creativity applied to ways of working should mean generating a stronger and more diverse set of ideas and opportunities. This is about being open to exploring new ways and alternative models of how to deliver services to meet user needs. It can mean making use of new technologies and new ways of delivering services or meeting the changing expectations people have for how services should work.

In the same way that design-led change isn’t just about hiring designers, it also shouldn’t be thought of as a specialist or localised resource (like a design team). Creativity and thinking about design as a state of mind is more a competence that should be part of the fabric of every 21st-century organisation.

Unlocking the potential of design

I spend a lot of time working with senior leaders to help them understand more about why the way we approach change is important, what it means for them, and being a sounding board for questions or concerns. To do this I often ask the question: “What is keeping you up at night?” And, “Is organisation effort focussed on addressing this?”

I try to get under the skin of where decisions happen, what information people are comfortable with and used to, and how a design-led approach can be the first step of a bias to action becoming the default mindset in an organisation. This might mean bringing together the quantitative and qualitative data we gather through user research or engaging with democratic decision-making alongside our agile rhythms. These things help ensure that we agree on a shared lens and perspective about design being the right way to approach change.

A concern I often hear is that there isn’t time to slow down and reframe the problem or do more research and learning before delivery. The answer to this is that design helps ensure you don’t only improve services, but embed continuous improvement at the heart of the process. This way we’re always working towards transforming services and organisation. It also means shortening feedback loops and introducing a way of managing the risk of delivering the wrong solutions. Or, solutions that aren’t joined up in a way that delivers services that work for both users and organisations.

In summary

A design-led approach to change costs time and money, but its value will outweigh the investment in this way of working. To summarise, the key benefits explored here have included:

  • user focus using research and continuous learning to understand user needs, data and assets.
  • reframing to solve the right set of problems
  • creativity to generate a stronger and more diverse set of ideas and opportunities
  • cheaper/iterative testing and learning in order to design, implement and scale the right solutions
  • continuous improvement using shorter feedback loops and hypothesis-driven design

We know that moving to any new model for managing change isn’t easy. But we also believe that design-led change is an important step for organisations to take. We’re seeing more and more organisations with the ambition, vision, and leadership to not just imagine a better future, but who are being intentional about designing it.

If you want to learn more about how FutureGov is working with public services to reimagine them for the 21st century, subscribe to our FutureGov newsletter and Statecraft.

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