techUKPS2030: Why User-Centric Design Can Make Sense of Council Services

As councils move into a new era of digital design they can make big savings by modelling new online tools, but importantly they need to continually seek to make these tools and services more efficient through the kinds of iterative user experience practices which we’re familiar with at design agencies.

At Orange Bus, our entire design ethos is to build a service upwards from grassroots user needs. Currently, frontline public services are delivered via siloed organisations with distinct budgets and policy drivers leaving the citizen in a very isolated position where they’re struggling to piece together the services they actually need.

The concept of continuous transformation provides the perfect opportunity for Public Services and Councils in particular to redesign services which meet both user needs and provide much needed budget efficiencies.

For example, a large majority of Council contact centres receive calls which relate to services they are not even responsible for delivering, such as utility complaints and blue light services.

The ability to digitally monitor more functional aspects of a City and act upon incidents and outages quickly by routing to the most appropriate partner would deliver substantial efficiencies, enabling Councils to focus their limited resources on delivering vital frontline services such as Health and Social Care.

At the same time, the provision of easy to use online tools enables citizens to access and resolve simpler services themselves whilst providing vital data for modelling service usage and identifying where early interventions can prevent more complex and face-to-face interventions being required.

“Whole Users” and “Place-Based Thinking”

In response to the combined challenges of limited budgets, rising customer expectations and a complex service environment, Councils are beginning to adopt a terminology and a set of conceptual goals which have very similar objectives to those in user centric digital design.

For example, the Institute for Government observed that Councils find it hard to identify a ‘whole user’. This is largely because of poorly aligned service providers, all offering bits and pieces of related service outcomes, which are then filtered downwards through local authorities.

Similar terminology like ‘Place-Based Thinking’ also demonstrates how groups of service providers are attempting to build a picture of what a whole collection of service providers could achieve together, serving one particular location, rather than acting as fragments of a combined but patchy infrastructure.

Within a City there are a vast array of stakeholders and service providers who Councils have to try and coordinate and influence, without having the political mandate or budgetary control to dictate how services should be designed and delivered.

Adopting a continuous user centric design approach can help to overcome organisational barriers and enable disparate bodies to view their services within the “whole”, discovering new ways of working together which will deliver benefits to them all.

Bringing Digital Era Governance and Design Values

As a digital agency which specialises in user experience and user-led service design, we appreciate the value of designing services which cut away complexity and focus on clear outcomes.

Service design and user experience professionals can define what users’ want and need in a way which can help Councils and City stakeholders see how end-to-end services could be delivered, before prototyping and building the digital solutions.

Often the hardest part of change is realising that the service you have diligently provided in the best possible way, is actually only a fraction of the bigger service which users are trying to access. Making improvements to your part of the jigsaw puzzle alone won’t resolve the bigger issues for your users and a whole new approach will actually improve the outcomes for users and provide opportunities for you to use your limited resources to meet urgent service demands.

Opening the Door to Smart Cities

As the Catapult for Future Cities project pointed out: “A digital future will provide more opportunities for user-led service design, whilst greater access to local data and Internet of Things will provide more targeted services and allow for local successes to be scaled up through better information sharing between local authorities.”

The smart city agenda has been developing around the world over the last decade but now UK Councils have the ability to drive this agenda.

As citizens define and use everyday services, information will begin to flow providing massive opportunities to develop a new appreciation of service patterns and an understanding of how early interventions in one area can reduce the demands for more complex and costly services in another area.

Once again, Councils need to grasp that ability to capture and iterate on these observations, building services which reduce costs and build a better bridge to the end user.

We’re clearly in a transitional phase of government where devolution isn’t supported by a set of services which can be collectively digitised. Nevertheless, it appears that real digital leadership is starting to emerge, embracing the idea that continuous improvement and iterative transformation will get councils where they need to be.

It is techUK's PS2030 campaign week. To see more blogs like this, please visit the website here.

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