I’d like you to imagine what would be different in our community, county, country if we were implementing service design as a tool for innovation. (Reminder: service design is a people-centred approach to a new or improved service using design techniques).
Firstly the costs of providing public services would likely decrease – at least that has been the experience internationally. That is because the service becomes more finely focussed on what it is meant to achieve and the design process ensures that it is both effective and efficient.
Secondly we would see a greater understanding between service providers and service users. This comes from the attitude of ‘co-design’ or allowing all stakeholders have a meaningful input into the overall design of the service. This understanding is also encouraged by the exercise of building different ‘personas’ or in-depth pictures or composites of typical service users. Using ‘personas’ helps us to fully understand who is using a particular service and what needs they expect the service to meet for them. The service provider puts on each persona’s shoes and literally walks-through each element of the service from their experience. That involves knowing what constraints users face, the barriers they experience, the expectations and abilities they possess and the valid opinions or objections they may have and why. Sounds simple and common sense? Yes but that is not how services are currently devised.
Thirdly, before going bald-headed at a new service it would be trialled or ‘proto-typed’ in designer speak. Again this may seem such obvious common sense that we might all presume that any service that could cost millions or more would always undergo such prototyping. Not so. Think for yourself, dear reader, of any examples you can find of where a new service has been fully launched and hoisted on an unsuspecting public and subsequently found wanting in one or more areas. Can you think of any?
Partas and its European partners in the Spider Project have designed a toolkit to make all of this easier for public service providers. The toolkit contains the three exercises outlined above in addition to other ways of incorporating design into the process of innovation in public service. In particular, Spider has focussed on services for unemployed youth and services to older citizens. But the real message is for all public service providers in whatever area of the public service they are engaged – service design is a powerful tool in developing innovative services and should ultimately ensure that public finances are used to maximum effectiveness, often with the effect of reducing the burden on the public purse.
These three simple aspects of service design do not constitute the full toolbox of ways to employ design in the innovation of public services. But they would be a great start. Imagine a world where public services fully embraced the users in the co-design of the services which they, the users, will require – and pay for.