How to Design Better Public Services for Citizens

Digital public services should be built around the needs of citizens to deliver outcomes that benefit everyone in our communities. Our recent panel session ‘Citizen Experience Design’ brought together an international group of experts to share their insights on inclusive design.


Empathy and user experience in digital services

Antony CollardAnthony Collard, Director of Strategy, Design, Architecture and Innovation, HMRC

We're trying hard to build empathy into our digital design services. We've created empathy labs in all of our digital centres and we're trying to encourage all of our policy leaders and people responsible for services to come and see what it's like to operate for people from a very different background. 

Whether that's a physical disability or a neuro-diversity challenge, it gets people to start to think about design not from the perspective of somebody who happens to have gone to a good university and understands exactly what that they need to do, but as somebody who actually needs to go and do the task in the first place. 

If you think about some of the services that HMRC offers, at one end, you've got high-level corporation tax and capital gains tax and complicated things like that. But we also pay out tax credits and social security benefits. People are normal human beings who don't necessarily understand how the arcane array of government works. So how can you see not only that the policy makes sense, but actually, when the user is using it, it meets their different needs?

CX On demand

Avoiding the assumption trap

Mark GrayMark Gray, Director of Digital, Operations & Commercial, Crown Prosecution Service

We deal with a wide range of people with differing needs - ranging from large numbers of legal professionals through to vulnerable victims of crime - so we invest heavily in our accessible IT capability. We’re looking at the end-to-end design of citizen interactions to make sure it’s tailored to how people increasingly want and expect to communicate. It needs to be tailored to ensuring that people who may never have interacted with our organisation or the criminal justice system before are supported through that journey. 

Over the next year we’ll launch a new victims’ portal effectively that takes you step by step through the process. We've got a pretty good sense of what that might look like and how that might help, but we don't want to base it on what we think because that would be falling into a trap. So, it will be heavily driven by an extensive array of user-based research to make sure that it’s based on the actual user's needs and requirements

Change mindsets before technology

Marten KaevetsMarten Kaevats National Digital Advisor, Government of Estonia

Why do we talk about citizen experience? That’s a very narrow profile, as is another word that’s used in government - ‘users’, which comes from the pharma and computer industries. What we should be talking about is ‘human experience’. 

Estonia has a strong digital identity and a schema or an architecture for interoperability - how the different systems talk to each other. I would argue that having a horizontal system for data integrity is also important. How do we maintain the transparency of those large-scale systems? How do you manage the complexity between those? To know who you're dealing with means having a strong digital identity. Those are the key learnings around technology. 

But the main one still is that this isn’t technological change we're talking about. This is a change in mindset and culture. One of the biggest problems is the lack of competence in the civil sector, and everybody wanting to continue doing their business as usual. So changing that mindset into being more open, more flexible, is something that takes time and involves more drudgery than just implementing yet another gadget or technological service.

Building diversity into systems design

Christian BasonChristian Bason, CEO, Danish Design Centre

Today Denmark has a much more diverse population than just 10 or 15 years ago and that diversity - for example in terms of new gender roles. That means we have to approach citizen inclusion - or the exclusion of human beings and their communities - in different ways. 

One example we're working on at the Danish Design Centre is in using design methods and tools for involving at-risk youth. For young people who've been placed in foster care, we work with local governments around their transition to adult life, and how that can become a much smoother transition, because many of them otherwise end up in homelessness. One approach is to take this group with diverse needs and include them in the advisory board or the steering committee of the project, so that we bring the voice of a very challenged group of users right into the decision making around the project. 

That's something we have to think much more about - the governance of structures and how you influence them as you build systems solutions. But the other issue is how do you govern your design projects and the innovation work itself? Who do you include in roles in the decision-making process? We have to embrace more diverse citizens.

Also Read