8 February 2013
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Service design in government: UK paves the way

The global economic crisis has triggered significant cuts to government budgets, forcing public services to be delivered both more efficiently, and less expensively. Especially in the UK, service design has made great inroads in influencing the way that central (and local) government engages with its citizenry.

This is the first post in a three-part series on service design in government, surveying both developments overseas and Informaat’s thinking and activities on this topic.

The application of service design in the area of business continues to gain traction. Its ability to bring a user-centered perspective into the redesign of entire services – rather than single touchpoints – has been repeatedly successful, and the steady stream of books and publications attests to this increased recognition.

But from its beginnings, service design has played a part in public sector services as well. Perhaps nowhere has this been as widely practiced – and as visible today – as in the UK.

Some of the pioneering service design firms in the UK, such as Engine and livework, have worked with local and central government from their inception. In doing so, they’ve brought the visibility of service design right to the highest levels of government.

This long track record in the UK has meant that rather than being a short-lived “fad”, service design is well-established. So much so – in fact – that it is increasingly being implemented and directed from within government, rather than by external parties.

The extent and impact of these activities was most recently highlighted by the Sprint13 event held in London in late January 2013, under the aegis of the Cabinet Office and the Government Digital Service initiative. The GDS has set an ambitious benchmark, distinguishing itself from the traditional image of government as slow to adapt, constrained by red tape and technology-phobic:

“Our aim is to be the unequivocal owner of high quality user experience between people and government through being the architect and the engine room of government digital service provision.”

“Digital by default” is the slogan behind their activities, which in turn guides digital services initiatives for the numerous levels of government beneath the Cabinet Office. And one key driver is uniquely ambitious:

“(…) As digital by default comes into effect the scale of government service provision will grow dramatically and the quality and user centricity of major commercial internet properties should be our minimum goal. We aim to make the products and services built by GDS not just best in class, but stand shoulder to shoulder with the sort of digital experience that users come to expect from daily interaction with the giants of the web.”

But what is the significance of these UK activities for service designers (and those involved in digital services delivery in general)? Due to the non-commercial nature of this work, it is (for the most part) made freely available to anyone. This means that service designers, interaction designers and content strategists can find inspiration in well-researched and well-documented pieces of work from many UK sources.

Here is an overview of what can be found online:

UK Government Digital Strategy [Cabinet Office]
Sets the stage for the “Digital by default” evolution of all UK government.

Departmental digital strategy documents
Links to digital strategy documents for 17+ governmental departments.

Design principles [GOV.uk]
10 high-level design principles written for government but with clear applicability in enterprise as well.

Content principles [GOV.uk]
Detailed content guidelines for communicating with (in principle) an entire population.

Talks recorded at Content Strategy for the UK Government [April 2012 event]
Presentations with a content strategy angle.

Other posts in this trilogy on service design in government are “eGovt initiatives in the USA” and “A systematic approach to designing digital government“.

Customer experience (67), Digital strategy (22), Service design (41)

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