Developing a public sector framework for service design

Prior to January 2016 I had not heard the term service design within the public sector in Scotland. While the sector is no stranger to words such as change, innovation, thinking differently or transformation (even familiar with the odd post-it note or two), the term service design remained strangely absent, strange of course because the public sector is fundamentally a service provider.

Fast forward a little over a year and the term service design is becoming firmly established in the conversations and plans of the public sector in Scotland. Over the past year Dundee City Council has been working with Dundee based service design agency, Open Change, to explore service design techniques and methods, engage with our senior leaders/decision makers and to trial methods of applying service design to change projects.

This month, to top off Dundee City Council’s year of embracing service design, the council have, in collaboration with Dundee & Angus College, NHS Tayside and Open Change, helped to host the cities first global service design event, GovJam 2017.

This global event, carried out simultaneously in 32 cities aimed to introduce public sector workers to a wide range of service design techniques throughout a 48 hours challenge to solve problems around a theme. With so many cities involved and this being Dundee’s first, you would be forgiven for assuming that it was lightly attended, paling into insignificance next to some of the largest cities in the world. Not the case.

Which city hosted the largest GovJam event in the world in 2017?

Not Melbourne.  Not Madrid. Not Berlin. Not Bangkok or Mumbai or Helsinki or Rome.
Attended by individuals from a wide range of different organisations, supported by service design mentors who live and work in Scotland and with contributions from the Scottish Government, keen to discuss and explore how Scotland can create a collaborative Scottish Approach to Service Design in the public sector.

So to close a year of the council embracing service design, Dundee has taking a world lead in the commitment of public service professionals to learning new ways and learning new ways of doing, fully embracing it’s status as a UNESCO City of Design, adding service design to it’s already extensive design repertoire.

What lies ahead for Dundee City Council in embedding these techniques and learnings?

From August through to December 2016, the council experimented with their first ‘Dundee City of Service Design Academy’, a way to take a problem, assemble an interdepartmental team and work a solution through a number of workshops and the use of a range of service design tools and methods. This first academy (detailed in my blog) approached the challenge of parent/pupil communications.

What was achieved with this academy, above all, was what was learned from the process. It wasn’t perfect, there were issues, there were complications, people were not always available and some tools and methods worked better than others. This learning has helped inform and shape a model for service design with Dundee, one which combines the necessary flexibility and customer focus of service design, with the complexity and process driven nature of a local authority.

The council already has an established method of continuous improvement by applying LEAN principles through a in-house developed programme called STEP. This programme is split into three stages (Check, Plan, Do) and has been successfully used across the past 5 years to help deliver small scale change within the organisation.

Following our year of experimenting with service design, the council has created the ‘Dundee City of Design Academy’ to address it’s gap in really understanding the problems which our citizens face, thinking innovatively and coming up with different solutions to problems.

While LEAN through the STEP programme has it’s place and useful applications, what service design does is it allow us to go back even further, not just looking at how we can improve on the current process but rather understand the customer, their problem and redesign, improve or invent a new service to solve that problem.

The two go hand in hand and different projects and challenges will require different levels of each and may not come into the continuous improvement model at the same points.

The important part of the model is that we don’t ignore one part or the other, the STEP programme focusses on more traditional project management methodologies and continuous improvement while the Dundee City of Design Academy focusses on service design techniques, understanding the problem and developing solutions. The aim by committing to both programmes through a shared approach is to produce Design Champions and STEP Mentors who will have a unique set of skills to help apply both to the problems at hand.

The challenge for the council over this next coming year will be on how these two programmes can be successful merged and developed to help build a capacity for project management and service design within the council. The aim is to apply service design in particular in one of 3 ways to help to address the issue of capacity:

How does this fit with the Scottish Approach to Service Design?

Over the past few months I have spoken at a number of conferences on what Dundee is doing in the area of service design, most in Scotland,  one in London, both sides of the border generating very interesting conversations.

On the Scottish side of the border, when I speak about service design I don’t get a chance to actually eat lunch due to the amount of questions and offers to meet and discuss further service design that I receive. It is quite evident from these interactions with other local authorities that there is not only an appetite to learn more about service design but also a real appetite for collaboration, sharing and co-design opportunities.

On the English side of the border, when I talk about my experiences in Scotland and the direct conversations I have had with the Scottish government and other local authorities,  there is openly discussed envy and frustration at just how much Scotland was able to achieve compared to what English authorities had achieved so far.

With Dundee, the Scottish government and several other other councils exploring service designs place within the public sector now is the time to capitalise on this energy and enthusiasm, pull together and begin a wider conversation on how we can start to build a clear and collaborative approach to service design in Scotland.

With all local authorities under increased pressure to transform, make efficiencies but at the same time deliver more for the citizens of Scotland. Now is the time to think differently, deliver differently and transform differently – service design is the enabler for thinking differently and with all local authorities facing the same challenges, a Scottish Approach is essential.

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