9 minute read

Joining heads on design in public services

In a recent online panel discussion, Dr Andrew Larner, Chief Executive of iESE, John Comber, iESE’s lead researcher for Digital & Technology, and service design expert Molly Balcom Raleigh discussed design principles and how they can benefit the reinvention of public services.

John Comber (JC): We are here to talk about the redesign of local authorities using design principles and design principle methodologies and what some of the critical success factors are to using those methodologies. We are going to look at what design principles are, how they are and can be used in a local authority setting and what advantages they can bring to the transformation and the reinvention of public services.

We are living through challenging time for the planet and local challenges around the economy, jobs, housing and the supporting the vulnerable in our communities along with issues impacting on transport, infrastructure and mobility, struggling even to get the goods we need into the shops and on the shelves.

Andrew Larner (AL): There are increasingly ranges of very interesting solutions out there, the danger is getting trapped by the problem and trying to find a solution that fits it. The amount of funding that has been taken out of local public service in the UK is phenomenal. We haven’t started to pay the pandemic bill yet and issues like people living longer with complex care needs, those issues are still maturing as problems.

We knew there would come a point where efficiency gains would not work, there is just not enough money in the system. If you just projected forward the cost of social care and the cost of waste management, there came a point in time when they absorbed the whole budget of local government and there was no money for anything else left. We have passed the point where that would have been true if we had carried on delivering things the way that we have, so we need to continue to transform to increase impact but also to find new ways of doing things that deliver outcomes that don’t require the levels of funding we have currently got, doing this at a time when there is no financial headroom to make a mistake.

We very easily get trapped into asking people about their experience of the current service and what they want and of course they can only imagine their current experience of the current service without the holes in it, a bit shinier and a lot faster. What you don’t think about is what is causing them to need the service in the first place and addressing that issue. By thinking about that you are no longer thinking about redesigning the service, you might be thinking about a new service, but even then you shouldn’t assume that the local authority is going to deliver it. What we can do collectively is imagine the future and then together we can work on reaching that future minimising the risks of failure and the cost of getting there.

Molly Balcom Raleigh (MBR): Design is an approach and a set of capabilities that can really connect what the needs are that are present in communities that you are serving with the services you can offer. Design principles can help as a method to bring in the capacity from the community to actualise the vision and values and goals of the community. Through a human-centred design process you are really looking at uncovering what those values, intentions and needs are. We talk a lot about serving needs and the demand for services in local government but it can also help you understand what the strengths are that are present in your community and how those can be activated to help curb the demand and reduce the needs in the first place. If you are thinking about how design operates in that, you have this potential in your community and a vision or goal of where you want to be. Design provides tools, methods and capacities for connecting those two and getting you from those needs and strengths to what you want to achieve.

JC: Are there developments in the design thinking approach or elements of academic research into design that are yet to be exploited?

MBR: There is an emerging critique about using service design and design thinking in particular in the design and delivery of public services, which is very powerful. When these processes are used they have quite a big impact and with that power comes responsibility. If you do these design processes without interrogating who is at the table what you end up with is just an elegantly redesigned version of the same problem. The superpower of design is something that needs to be handled with a lot of concern for who is involved in the co-design processes, whose voices are at the table, and who is not only participating in evaluating processes and using services but who is defining the problem space, what is actually the problem to solve? It is one of the most important places to include people as widely as possible in the process and without a vigorous approach to uncovering hidden stakeholders in a problem space and understanding the complexity of needs that are creating this problem then the solution that comes out of that process will not address what is really needed.

JC: What would you say are the characteristics and success factors in applying this design approach?

MBR: In an iESE project with a Care Management System we are developing these ideas about how to help people within the community achieve their goals through listening and understanding. We are building this system with the idea that the people who use services should be able to make sense of their data and that they should be empowered to make decisions about their data and that is coming from listening to practitioners and care users. This process we are engaged in is a great example of listening to goals and capacities, not only to needs, and trying to put as much of our resources into activating things that are already working and capacity that is already at hand.

AL to JC: What is it about the iESE Transformation Model that appeals to you?

JC: It is a methodology that is born of userresearch not just academia. It provides holistic outcomes, not just reinvention or total transformation. It actually picks up on all of the levels of change within an authority acknowledging you are never going to get one authority that is at one level. It deals with reinvention and asks the impossible question which is as it were the litmus test that if a local authority is to create vibrant communities it is saying that it needs to be needed as little as possible. That is not a business model but it is a model which works to empower communities to meet as many of their own needs other than where it is essential perhaps involving vulnerable or complex needs.

AL: John, you led the iESE research on the Digital White Paper. What are the things looking at the future that you think will be important in designing the next level of local government?

JC: From the research it was clear that it has to be a holistic approach and include all the stakeholders but actually all the individuals too. It isn’t just about becoming an intelligent council, it is about becoming an intelligent geography. We are increasingly seeing drones and robotics. It is interesting to see how that is moving forward. It is acknowledging you don’t have all the answers and that is okay. The community are part of the answer and we have got to be comfortable in sometimes getting out of the way and letting them deal with their own problems.

We are a stone’s throw away from authorities using real-time information to make decisions, not using historic data like the census to make strategic decisions.

AL: Even if you are doing the design well and creation well, sometimes you do trap yourself in thinking about the problem as it currently presents and real-time changes the nature of that. Because our budgets have shrunk we think about people in our direct line of sight but what about people who we don’t have responsibility for because we might have a responsibility for them when money disappears. Eighty per cent of people self-fund their care. It is that broader view of time, short-term events, such a storm, to long-term events like fuel poverty and what that does to the shopping basket of the community, including those that we don’t have a direct line of sight to is a really important approach. Thinking of expanding our minds and challenging ourselves on the time period is probably the one fundamental key design challenges that came out of our digital and technology work for me.

JC: What are the next steps for iESE in using design in public services?

We have developed a Vibrant Community Health Check which uses the design methodology, an agile design approach, and goes through stages of

looking at the needs of the community, how is that reflected in problems that might be addressed and the critical bit is that we should be looking globally but we are all limited by what we know and who we know. What we have now is an artificial intelligence engine that can do six years’ worth of research in one-and-a-half minutes. What it does is it puts global firepower underneath to help ensure no stone is left unturned. Once you’ve got that you can look at your community plan or overlap that with the council’s own plan about how it can support its community to achieve its goals. The next step is looking for volunteer councils to join on that from around the UK which we think is another positive contribution to sector-led improvement.

• To read more about Design Principles or to get in touch with iESE, please go to: https://iese.org.uk/transform-talks/ design-principles

This is a partial transcript of the talk. To view a full version visit: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=yNw_qvKPw10