We have recently completed the discovery phase of the Life Events Service Design project. The aim of this project was to understand if, by following human-centred design principles, there are viable, cost-effective ways to make it easier for citizens to engage with council services.
The project looked at ways to bring together services offered to support citizens during a specific life event (for example, a major health shock or a divorce). For the discovery, the project focused on the life event of entering poverty.
Scoping the project
It was important that at the outset of the project, the team had a shared understanding of the aims of the discovery phase and the problem we were looking to address. We therefore first worked collaborative to define a problem question and discovery goal.
How can we make it easier for the people of Wales to engage with council services in a way that helps them efficiently fix their problems, address their issues, or achieve a specific need?
Firm up the understanding of the problem and conduct the necessary research and engagement to understand if there are viable, cost-effective ways to make it easier for the people of Wales to engage with council services in a way that helps them efficiently fix their problems, address their issues, or achieve a specific need.
What we did
As we were taking a human-centred approach to design, it was important to recognise and consider each person involved in service delivery – extending beyond the citizen to include the experience of council employees and external delivery partners.
As a result, the discovery phase was focused around three pillars of work:
- Firstly, to build a body of user research to understand citizens’ experiences of entering poverty, including how they think, feel, and behave throughout this life event.
- Secondly, to engage officers with responsibility for delivering entering poverty services, to investigate ways to undertake an analysis of back-end council processes and how they relate to each other. This was done with the aim to understand if it is viable to produce a set of best practice guidelines that can be used as part of the service design process.
- Thirdly, to consider the issues around helping councils embed the necessary skills in-house, so they can do service design and manage ongoing service improvements without the need for reliance on costly external resources.
The aim of each of these pillars of work was to identify the best approach, highlight any potential issues that would hamper progress, and assemble one or more viable, cost-effective problem-solving options to prioritise and test during the alpha phase (assuming there is a case to have one).
We worked with Merthyr, Monmouthshire, Powys, Rhondda Cynon Taff, and Wrexham authorities throughout discovery, and would like to thank them for their valued help and participation in the project.
What we found
Activities here included one-on-one semi-structured interviews with citizens, a focus group with staff and volunteers from various third sector organisations, and a cognitive walkthrough of online council services by the team. During this walkthrough experts from different service design disciplines assessed different aspects of the design and feel of poverty-related online services.
The key issues identified from this body of research were:
- Participants had issues around awareness of and locating appropriate services, and in understanding what services they were eligible for.
- The feeling towards the council responsible for delivering services was primarily negative.
- Services use complex language and acronyms that are hard to understand.
Service process mapping
We conducted an analysis of how best to understand council back-end processes, how they relate to each other, and how to identify pain points. Business analysis and user experience professionals investigated how to define online best practice and how to conduct testing to evaluate the actual experiences of citizens making a service request via their council’s website.
The key issues identified were:
- The online services reviewed had a variety of failings, often significant.
- Citizens are not involved enough in the design and testing of services.
- Service owners are unsure how to assess their online services against best practice guidelines.
Areas of focus here included developing a way to identify the required skills, undertake skills gap mapping, and embed the skills (ensuring the individual and teams are practically using new skills).
The key issue identified related to the need to strengthen agile service design skills within councils.
We believe the project has achieved the stated discovery goal, and have recommended investing in an alpha phase to test various solution ideas.
Based on our findings from discovery, these will be focused around providing authorities with the tools, knowledge and skills they need to make it easier for citizens to engage with council services, in a way that helps them efficiently fix their problems, address their issues, or achieve a specific need.
We’ll be sharing more details about what these solutions look like and how we’re testing their viability in a future alpha phase blog post so keep an eye out for that – and if you’d like to be kept up to date with what we’re doing as a team, you can sign up to the newsletter on our website.