Building better services with citizens at the heart

Australian government organisations are increasingly using digital technologies to improve efficiency and maximise the impact and uptake of citizen services. Strategists within these departments are looking for innovative ways to solve challenges faced by constituents or the users of their services, writes Dean Lacheca.

Dean Lacheca

As a result, government organisations are increasingly taking an outside-in view of digital services and adopting a human-centred approach to service design.

According to Gartner, 60 percent of government departments will have human-centred design (HCD) techniques integrated into their digital service design process by 2023.

What is HCD?

HCD is an approach where the people that use government services are involved in the design process. The representation of human or user is diverse and depends on the area of government.

Although commonly referred to as citizens, governments are supporting all types of individuals including commuters, travellers/visitors, drivers, pedestrians, patients, parents, caregivers, students, individuals acting on behalf of other organisations, and the list goes on.

Australia’s Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) encourages government departments to: “start with user needs, not government needs.”

Although most government organisations are making statements about being citizen-centric, many haven’t really changed their design approach at all. Less advanced departments are adopting an unstructured or ad hoc approach, including some citizen research into their processes.

The most advanced customer experience (CX) focused organisations have established frameworks and formal processes that govern how HCD is applied to their design process. They often have dedicated CX business areas working closely with IT to deliver digital solutions in line with their overarching citizen engagement approach.

HCD and associated techniques will be a mainstay of future citizen service design, especially as the line between digital and physical continue to blur.

Establish a shared understanding

Government CIOs need to establish a shared understanding of what taking an HCD approach to digital services design means to the organisation. This includes clarifying accountability for the citizen experience, how it will change digital service design and delivery, as well as the benefits, impacts and risks.

Initiatives might be aimed at supporting innovative thinking about the digital transformation efforts, or establishing a government citizen experience program. They may also focus on the increased adoption of digital channels or technology-driven innovations, which is a common challenge faced as part of the transition to digital government.

Embracing an HCD approach means changing both service design and delivery. Many of these changes aren’t directly technology-related, but they’ll impact IT.

Suitable for all levels of government

Neither the nature of the government organisation nor the region have significant influence on the potential role HCD can play. However, other factors such as the urgency for change, often driven by political or citizen demand, will influence how quickly it’s adopted.

Government organisations that directly service or support citizens have been early adopters of HCD. Local governments, for example, are using it to focus smart city strategies around the problems that matter to their cities. Education departments are reimagining the classroom in a digital world to change the experience for educators, students, families and support networks.

For those that don’t directly service citizens, but are focused on internal users, businesses or other government organisations, HCD is just as relevant.

 Mitigate limitations

Coming to grips with the concepts behind HCD may be easy enough, but effectively using its techniques for service design is incredibly challenging. It will take more than a couple of one-off workshops for the organisation to be comfortable applying HCD when considering its problems and opportunities.

There are limitations that must be mitigated. Using this approach doesn’t fundamentally change the nature of the individuals included in the process, but an effective phase of discovery can open minds by building an understanding of citizens and empathy for what they need and how they are feeling.

HCD is all about delivering better outcomes for the users of government services. Direct citizen research, user segmentation and analytics are vital inputs into the process, but they take time. Concerns about time and deliverables can lead to taking shortcuts, putting the entire process at risk.

Establishing an HCD centre of excellence will allow the capability to evolve in a structured way, allowing governance to be put in place and limitations to be mitigated.

*Dean Lacheca is senior director analyst at Gartner. He will be presenting on digital government a the Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2019 on the Gold Coast from October 28-31.

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