Petteri Mäki // June 15 2018

Digital Government: More Effective when Constituents Contribute to Design

Across the United States, Nordics and Europe, as a growing number of cities and states face budget shortfalls, communities are trying to figure out how to do more with less. Increasingly, a digital presence of some sort – whether a web site, mobile app or self-service kiosk – is a way to efficiently provide services at lower costs. But in an age where companies like Amazon and Apple set the bar for user experiences, public sector agencies tend to fall short.

Unlike the private sector, where a company can tailor its products and marketing for a select group, public sector agencies serve everyone. Meeting the individual needs of diverse groups of people can cause even the most well-intentioned government agency to get bogged down in bureaucracy, become siloed and move slowly.

In the digital age, it doesn’t have to be that way. As a creative agency, Digitalist works with agencies filled with public servants who are eager for ways to better serve their constituents and improve the quality of life in their communities. And as populations grow and government regulations change, the demands on the agencies will only intensify.

When we work with government agencies, we challenge the status quo by engaging in a variety of creative design techniques, such as Design Sprints. In which, within a week, we ideate and prototype new services and approaches to enhance the everyday life of citizens and public officials. After, Digitalist designers and citizen representatives meet to co-create the solutions based on user needs, habits and behaviors. The end-result is to modernize a government interface to improve citizen experience and engagement.

Along that journey, we also work to break down organizational silos within an agency and between agencies recognizing that the services being offered by one agency might be linked to a service that falls under another. While silos may help organize the org chart, services from a citizen point of view cross-reference each other more like a web – and recognizing that inclusive and connected design up front makes the process much more efficient. Design Sprints and our other service design methods create bridges across teams within the organizations so they can work together.

 

Constituent Engagement

As part of the commitment to breaking down silos and building bridges, we cannot forget about the constituent, the end user. As part of our design process, we engage with both agencies and constituents – from initial concept to final product.

One of the most impactful benefits of designing for public sector is that we can apply observations and scenarios from other agencies and scale globally. Even though the processes and procedures around government interaction can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, many government agencies around the world have the similar goal of making the lives of their residents safer, simpler and more efficient.

As part of our process, we involve constituents in as many ways as possible. All our Smart Citizen projects involve people from the community – the very constituents served by the agency – to involve them in the process and integrate their feedback. Similarly, our Digital LeanLab digital community engages different stakeholders to guarantee continuous feedback from end-users.

Since 2016, Digitalist has worked with the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare to modernize a range of social services and health services through e-services and websites. Our services have involved a number of elements – product management, UX & design, web services development and architecture and setting management environments. To ensure that we were designing what the true end-users wanted, as opposed to what the agency (or Digitalist) thought they wanted.

We always look to design with the current conditions people live in every day, and in the era of 24/7 digital connection, citizens expect their governments to be as responsive as companies and corporations. We look to improve customer service for governments by designing digital accessibility, meaning all citizens can use the digital services despite their possible disabilities, handicaps, or situation in life. Our consistent design goal is democratic digital services for everyone.

 

Saving Time and Money  

In an age when chatbots can handle the bulk of a public agency’s easy-to-answer questions and information can be obtained by visiting a website instead of a physical office, digital solutions make sense.

But the reality is that the agencies are as unique as their constituents – some slower to adopt than others and some with greater budget or staffing issues than their counterparts. Our service design approach tackles the issues process by process, streamlining the interaction between the officials and the citizens, and suggesting the best technological solutions to fit the client needs to reduce the work required to deliver the services.

As more agencies embark on their own digital revolutions and technologies continue to evolve, we intend to stay focused on co-creating the best experiences possible so that a government service by the people truly works for the people.

By Petteri Mäki, Business Development Executive, Smart Citizen

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