Why the Public Sector needs strong Service Design now more then ever

Service Design for Government – An approach to addressing underlying issues and unlocking true potential

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

Most of us should be familiar with some variation of this quote coined by philosopher George Santayana which essential states that if we don’t learn from our mistakes (and successes) we will stumble unknowingly into more of the same in the future.

There is another quote from Santayana that is less known but equally critical that states:

“Redoubling your effort after you’ve forgotten your aim.”

Originally intended as commentary on fanaticism, this criticism sums up Wile E. Coyote from the Looney Tunes cartoons continually doubling down on his misguided attempts to catch the Roadrunner without a clear, effective strategy.

Perhaps it’s just part of human nature, but one doesn’t have to look far to find many examples of this flawed thinking across organisations. This is particularly true within the Public Sector where changing Government agendas and tightening constraints lead many a leadership group down the same path hoping that somehow, this time will be different.

A different approach is required

Whilst we could spend all day talking about philosophy, the purpose of this post is to drive home the fact that if we, as citizens and users, want to have and maintain great public services then we need to take a different approach and avoid repeating the failures of the past.

As experienced professionals who have held a variety of senior leadership and specialist roles across a range of different industries within the public and private sector, we understand and appreciate the Australian Public Service craft. More importantly we believe in a strong and contemporary public service capability to continue to deliver the vital public services we often take for granted.

Through our firsthand experience, we can see that there is a real need within the Public Sector to break from short sighted management fads that get rolled out every so often. A different, collaborative inter-disciplinary approach is required to design and improve the useability, desirability and viability of the public sector and services provided.

This post outlines the case for a service led approach to strategically managing and improving the Public Sector.

Drivers for change

At a macro level, there are a number of drivers that shape the expectations and requirements of public services.

Whilst a new elected Government will place a different emphasis on particular aspects in order to realise their agenda, the following drivers reflect the common expectations and requirements on public services at federal, state and territory, local, and cross-government levels.

  • Increased expectation that Government will engage with citizens;
  • Strong accountability and integrity concerning the use of public funds;
  • Strengthening of governance and oversight mechanisms to manage risk;
  • Continual focus on reducing transactional and operating costs for public services; and
  • Increasing expectations on developing truly integrated, intuitive and outcome focused (i.e. ‘natural’) systems of government.
Elements of a strong contemporary public service

At an organisational level, public sector agencies need to evolve and adapt to respond to the expectations and requirements of citizens.

Specifically, this means that each Government agency should have the following elements in place to assure citizens that they can continue to deliver public services that meet the Australian public’s expectations.

  • Clear strategic intent – A common and aligned understanding of the Government’s agenda and policy intent to define objectives, intended outcomes and scope.
  • Sufficient capability and resources to deploy – Despite the claims to the contrary, there remains a requirement that all public services be omni-channel. This places greater emphasis on rapidly building and retaining capability in order to make effective investment and resource utilisation decisions.
  • Understanding of users and recipients of services – A deep and contemporary understanding of the people that use or are affected by Government services to inform critical decision making.
  • Defined outcomes and measures – An aligned framework and set of metrics to measure performance and inform intervention and improvement opportunities.
Workshop to design Public Services
The Service Design Difference

Previously, we discussed what Service Design is (link) and demystified what it isn’t (link).

To summarise, Service Design is concerned with the planning and management of an organisation’s people, processes and ‘things’ (e.g. technology, data, assets) to improve the quality or experience of customers and the organisation.

At its core, a Service Design approach is focused on delivering:

  • Deep customer and user insights;
  • Collaboration and engagement between customers, users, leadership, management, administrators and technical specialists;
  • Clarity on complex requirements and creative and effective solutions; and
  • Reduced complexity to support decision makers at all organisational levels.

Ultimately, Service Design provides a different lens to understanding and solving complex public sector challenges.

A Service Design approach directly addresses the pressures Government agencies face on an increasing basis and provides a strong capability to continue to improve and deliver the public services that we all rely on every day.

Share your experiences

We’d love to hear your views and experiences on the underlying issues within the public sector and whether you’ve had any experience with Service Design.

Please comment below or reach out to discuss any specific challenges you may have (link).