8 Recommendations for How the Public Sector Should Be Using Service Design

By: Paul Thurston Date: 07/04/2016

This week I’ve been writing up a three-year project with public authorities in Ireland, France, Belgium and the UK. The aim of the work was to build capacity in previously inexperienced public and third sector bodies for service design. As I was writing this up I thought that people might be interested in some of our recommendations for how the public sector should be using service design.
As a bit of background to this - On 10th June 2015 at the final project meeting in Dublin all of the partners participated in a workshop led by PDR. Our aim was simple, to agree on a set of recommendations for the public and third sector for using service design. I asked the partnership to reflect on their experience of managing service design projects and identify what they would you recommend to colleagues in other public authorities, social enterprises and government departments.
These recommendations fed into a talk my colleague and I gave in NYC at the Global SDN Conference, which was then updated and published for the latest DMI Review and has in turn helped us shape our Greenhouse training course that we’ll be running next month at PDR for public service managers.
Here are our recommendations for how the public sector should be using service design:
1. Make it organisational policy
Formally making user-centred design ‘how you work’ will ensure that service design is recognised and implemented across the organisation. Service design can be a new approach for government officials, but if policy makers can work together with designers to take a service design approach it can help overcome common problems in traditional policy making such as understanding the impact of new policies on citizens.
2. Use it to realise ideas
Think of service design as your research and development process. Service design offers a structured process towards innovation. It enables organisations to create a pipeline of new and innovative ideas that can then be refined into high-impact solutions. Companies that have this as an internal capability thrive and the public sector is no different.
3. Recruit design managers with experience of it
The public sector needs people that are skilled and experienced in managing design projects. We don’t think that the public sector should be full of designers but working with people who understand the design process is key to bringing service design into your organisation. You should work with your HR team to redefine job roles that better meet the skills and work environment required to deliver service design projects.
4. Use it for co-creation
Service design provides a framework in which collaborative working and co-creating can exist. By involving citizens and the service providers in the creation process it ensures that both the provider and the user will have more ownership over the service and that adoption of the new service is more likely.
5. Use it to develop strategy
Using service design as a method to develop strategy can ensure that the strategy is robust and that all stakeholders have an input into its development.
6. Use it to stimulate social enterprise
A thriving culture of social enterprise adds social and economic value to a region or city. The better designed the enterprise is the more likely it is to be successful and better at responding to local needs and challenges.
7. Build capacity to do it for yourself
We believe that service design should be added to every public sector organisations core training programmes. By making service design a core competency for staff in a service development role all public services will be designed within a structured and user-centred framework.
8. Use agile procurement to buy the right outcomes
Service design is a process that can result in innovative outcomes. Procurement systems need to work in a way that allows for this. Agile methods allow projects to respond to changing requirements. By splitting projects into phases and commissioning accordingly it will result in services that are more cost effective and efficient.

The 8 recommendations are included within the final SPIDER Project evaluation, you can find out more about this project here, and learn more about PDR and our work here. Some of this thinking was also included within a DMI Review article (Spring 2016) called Future Trends In Design and Government in Europe.
What do you think?
 I started out working in this field in 2005 for the consultancy Thinkpublic and at the time we were one of a handful of service design agencies and the only one that specialised in public service design. This experience of being at the sharp-end of service design projects taught me a lot. It's great to see this sector grow and I now oversee an award winning team at PDR carrying out award-winning work in this area.
For the public service managers I speak with it's gaining an understanding of how and when to deploy the service design tools and methods that are required, essentially we're talking about service design management.
However, inroads are being made and we've seen significant growth in teams centrally located and targeted at the management of design for both service development and public policy design. People such as Andrea Siodmok at the Policy Lab in the UK, Chelsea Mauldin at the Public Policy Lab in the US and Hefen Wong at the Singapore Ministry of Manpower are doing great stuff at the most senior levels of government.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these recommendations; do they ring true to you? Or perhaps you have examples from your organisation of where this has worked well.
Email me: [email protected]