Service design & the Digital Partnership for Scottish Local Government

Having been part of the Digital Partnership for Scottish Local Government for around 1 year now, I was pleased to be asked recently to jointly lead one of their leadership projects on digital transformation capabilities, alongside Sally Kerr (@weebletherer), the Digital Innovation Manager at the City of Edinburgh Council, and a representative from the Office of the Chief Designer at the Scottish Government, their User Research Lead Fiona Gray (@strangesparks).

The digital transformation capabilities project covers a range of different methodologies and approaches to transformation including Agile, Lean six sigma and service design.

Sally, Fiona and I will be leading on the service design elements of the project due to the enthusiasm Edinburgh City Council has to actively using these methods, Dundee City Council’s work so far in proving the concepts and ambition to integrate them further into transformation and the Scottish Government’s work in researching and applying the techniques in a number of projects to date.

The Scottish Government’s Office of the Chief Designer are passionate advocates of a ‘Scottish Approach to Service Design’ which would be a collaboratively created playbook of service design tools, techniques, case-studies and templates relevant specifically to the public sector. The digital partnership will be an ideal testing ground for the ‘Scottish Approach to Service Design’ as it’s wide membership will allow for a fantastic pool of resources to feed into and test the approach.

The first opportunity for this project to come together was on the 24th October at our Digital Partnership Forum in Glasgow which brought together over 80 people from across all 30 Scottish councils focussed on a programme update, our digital future and a partnership charter as well as running 2 workshops on the key project themes.

Sally and I ran a workshop on service design and were joined on this occasion in the absence of Fiona by the head of the Office of the Chief Designer, Catriona Macaulay (@operanomad).

There was good attendance from a number of local authorities interesting in service design and what it could do for them and their council. There were a few key topics discussed, the main purpose of the short workshops were to understand the current barriers, opportunities and best practice in service design across the groups in attendance.

Discussion points


  • Upskill staff in user research
  • Share case studies & good practice with Scottish Government & partnership through K-Hub
  • Recognise and encourage those who already think like designers
  • Sharing what we are all tackling now – can we collaborate?
  • Sharing personas and information


  • User researcher availability
  • Leadership commitment
  • Cultural barriers
  • Language
  • Taking strategy to implementation

Good Practice 

  • Design and data team – Glasgow City Council
  • Renfrewshire personas with Snook

The discussion points clearly show some key points – there are opportunities, there are barriers and there are not a lot of current examples of service design being used in  practice – and this was not a surprise.

Key Points

Picking out some of the most interesting points it starts to build some clear next steps for this project and how to encourage service design further:

1. Language

There was some discussion about the phrase ‘service design’ and if it is really new or is it a new word for existing practices and about the word design versus user research.

It is clear that how we brand the ‘Scottish Approach to Service Design’ and how we recognise good practice that puts citizens at the heart of service delivery is really important and we need to be flexible, avoiding strict adherence to one set methodology or the other – the important part is the focus and outcome of the improvement work, ensuring that citizen need is at the heart.

2. Cultural barriers & leadership buy-in

Culture will continue to be something we will need to work on and doing so will be possible through time, effort and proving the concepts. We discussed that the development of strategy around service design was the easy part – nobody has a problem with buying into a method which puts citizens at the centre of our thought process, but the delivery of that strategy was much harder in practice.

Other cities which are further along with the integration of design into organisational culture see have seen this as a gradual progression over a course of years, becoming increasingly mature in their thinking around design in governance.

(Slides courtesy of Anu Mänttäri, Executive Office of Economic Development, City of Helsinki, Finland)

3. Sharing and collaborating

As mentioned in point 2 above, sharing what works is essential to gain buy-in and understanding. It is however equally important to share what doesn’t work and how we learned from these experiences.

There was discussion about some of the good work being carried out in the public sector in Scotland which is making a real difference to how services are delivered to citizens – but we are mostly not aware of what we are each doing, in spite of all working in the same sector on similar challenges.

The need to share and collaborate is increasingly important in the current financial climate where we cannot afford to try and all reinvent the same wheel separately.

4. Upskilling staff

Again linking to point 3 above, the financial context we are working in does not allow us to go out and recruit hundreds of service designers – even if we had endless amounts of money, there simply are not hundreds of service designers to employ. We do however have a huge existing staff base who possess a wide range of skills and expertise.

It will be necessary to look at how we best use this existing skill base to our benefit as well as how we give our staff new skills in service design techniques without the expensive and lengthy process of recruiting skilled designers into the public sector or relying on external agencies for every re-design.

Fortunately, institutes like Dundee & Angus College, who are currently developing a Service Design Academy designed to give professionals a professional development award (PDA) in service design methods and techniques, can help us all to work towards developing our workforce as service designers.

Next Steps

So what’s next? Sally, Fiona and I will be meeting in November to discuss the next steps following this workshop. The key actions will be centered around the 4 key points above and how we can best use the digital partnership to encourage the growth of service design and the sharing of good practice.

It is clear that there is an appetite for service design and a need to grow peoples knowledge in this area. With D&A College running their first Service Design Academy module as a trial over the next 6-8 weeks, I am also keen to discuss with them how they can help the digital partnership to understand service design in more detail, perhaps through some regional workshops on the topic – more on that later.

If you have any thoughts on service design in digital, the public sector or in government – comment on this article or tweet about it, lets generate some discussion.

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