Hands up if you’ve got a Monzo or Starling bank account? Over the past three years, these two brands have revolutionised people’s expectations of user experience in the consumer banking market. Before that the story was Netflix, and perhaps before that it was gov.uk.
It’s fair to say that the internet-era revolution hailed by Tom Loosemore has arrived and gone mainstream. Most people expect to be able to access services digitally, whether that’s online or via apps. Public services are no exception to this, and providing people with the right tools to be able to use them quickly and easily is key, and can also create important efficiency savings for government bodies.
But what does this mean now that gov.uk is more than 10 years old and the government design system is ubiquitous in public sector service design? Well, it doesn’t mean that rolling out a suit of cookie-cutter digital services will produce results. After all, public services each have different requirements, both from the public and internally. At the same time, evolving situations and policy means that these services need to be both adaptable and scalable. As such, how these services are delivered is of the utmost importance if they are going to produce the desired results.
So, what does good digital delivery look like in the public sector? A good example can be seen when looking back at the pandemic. Then, we saw digital services being developed quickly, innovatively and effectively to meet urgent needs and changing expectations. I believe the public sector needs to build on this and continue to find new approaches to delivery that question what is possible, and how we can apply these in a sustainable way.
Delivery teams can do this by first optimising their work and adopting a modular approach. This involves reconfiguring and breaking down approaches into individual components, especially when there are high volumes of common interactions (e.g. applying for something) which can be reused, reassembled or reconfigured.
In my experience, this approach can have a big impact, especially in local government as service patterns are similar across most councils. For instance, in a recent project with a council, we identified and mapped around 150 user interactions and transactions with similar user flows and operational dependencies. By connecting these shared capabilities and designing for them once, we were able to create user experiences that could be built and maintained more easily and cost effectively, benefiting the local authority and the public alike.
We witnessed with the digital delivery responses during the pandemic that amazing things happen when we empower high-performing, multidisciplinary teams to make decisions. By removing barriers and allowing delivery teams to get stuff done, government bodies’ digital services will be better placed to respond to any and all future challenges.
Whether it’s a public or private organisation, to build successful digital services we must always put people and their needs front and centre of decision making. To do this, we have to be prepared to continuously learn and develop, questioning our assumptions and the evidence we have that informs our understanding of these needs. By taking this approach, public bodies can make sure their solutions are consistently meeting changing user demands, while also ensuring they always understand what is working and where changes or investment is needed in new ideas or technologies.
If done correctly, this continuous optimisation can allow organisations to reinvent entire operating models and ways of working, producing ever greater efficiencies and savings.
The term “move fast and break things” has become synonymous with the technology sector, especially amongst entrepreneurs and software developers. This may be a good approach for a tech startup, but in the public sector, it risks creating bad outcomes to people’s health, livelihoods and security.
This doesn’t mean public bodies can’t move fast, they just need to do it carefully. For example, rather than just launching a new app, supporting the live piloting of solutions in controlled service situations will enable delivery teams to test and learn safely through a series of smaller experiments. This can be done all while delivering and managing change incrementally and ensuring errors are caught before they reach the public.
By questioning how quickly ideas and solutions can be deployed, government organisations can prevent new solutions from spending years in slow development cycles or being stuck in specification phases that don’t deliver value to end users quickly enough.
Lastly, organisational structures and approaches to leadership are vital to setting up teams for success in digital transformation and delivery. But good leadership has to be about more than just “owning” a project. There must also be an emphasis on influence and orchestration between leaders and their teams. At the same time, as service teams move towards building, maintaining and optimising whole, end-to-end services, project leaders must show accountability for the vision, direction and quality of their entire policy and service areas. This will provide teams digital delivery teams with the confidence and ability to complete a project successfully from start to finish.
The way we engage with services is constantly changing, and the public sector cannot be idle when it comes to service design and delivery. The pandemic demonstrated what can be achieved, and through modular thinking, autonomy, ongoing learning, testing and learning, and strong leadership, the public sector can deliver digital services that benefit everyone.