If as much time was spent thinking about the customer experience as the quality of a business case, local government services would be in a much better place. Why is service design, particularly in adult’s and children’s services, always an afterthought? Our experience shows that the drivers for this behaviour are usually three fold.

  1. The lack of culture/incentives/reward for placing the customer experience at the heart of an Authority’s priority list.
  2. Capacity/capability – service design is just another skills set demanded of managers, without any real investment in understanding the best way of designing services to meet customer needs.
  3. Accountability – where does service design sit within an authority? Is it commissioners? Or heads of service? Or a corporate function?

Too often, we see a heavy focus on desktop research and analysis, with an absence of investment in a deeper understanding of customer/service user needs. Sufficiency Strategies in children’s services and preventative services in adult social care are good case studies that demonstrate this point. Similarly, there is often a gaping chasm between what an Authority wants to do, and the detailed thinking needed on how something will be done. A list of bullet points in a strategy or plan has to somehow be developed (by non-designers) into a service that meets complex customer needs… and to compound matters further within often impossible timescales to reflect budget sign off/spend commitments.

The solution? We suggest there are five things for Authorities to consider.

  1. Detailed customer insight should be a pre-requisite for any sign off. Do we really understand what customers want and need?
  2. Elevate customer experience within the Authority’s priority list. Make good customer experience something to celebrate, not an afterthought.
  3. Build capacity/capability – as well as brilliant opportunities with the Design Council to build internal capacity, there are specialist organisations, such as FutureGov, that can be commissioned to work collaboratively with local teams to develop new services in new ways.
  4. Adopt a different methodology – using an agile approach, that is iterative, that responds to a deeper understanding of need, that quickly prototypes, tests and develops, rather than a rigid business case/approvals process.
  5. Get the fun back in. Use a new design process to inject some optimism, some creativity, some ambition – the process of design can be used to re-ignite public service passion that has too often been crushed over recent years.