From my experience, one of the critical areas of the future of public services is designing human centric services. Currently, most public services are government-centric: they are designed to solve internal authorities’ issues, and citizens rarely participate in their design. But we know that the best companies in the world are customer-obsessed, as they put the user at the center of everything they do. That is their major competitive advantage and that is the path government have to follow.
Where are we now?
Before going into the details, let’s think a moment about where we are now. I suppose everybody remember the Blade Runner movie. It is about a dystopian future with advanced robots known as replicants that rebel against humans. The book was written in 1968, and the funny thing is that the movie was set in November 2019, just a few months ago. Today’s reality is that we are not living with robots more intelligent than humans yet.
But we are living in a very complex interdependent world, with many uncertainties, where changes are more unpredictable, getting more dramatic and happening faster and faster. This is because we are in the midst of a new technological revolution, a climate change crisis, and a worldwide pandemic. All at the same time.
Since the theory of evolution of the species of Charles Darwin, we know that “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” This quote also can be used for companies and, even, public authorities.
We, government, believe that we have the monopoly of public service delivery. But it is not true: more and more, the technology platforms such as Google, provide much better and innovative solutions than governments because they collect the data and, as a result, they get knowledge to transform traditional public services such as mobility, housing, or health, for example. And we are losing this ‘competition’ because the private sector is more agile, innovative, and, of course, user centric.
Governments must be much more responsive to change, or they will become insignificant in the future. They will not disappear, but they will struggle to guarantee its core priorities such as equality, inclusion, or sustainability. The point of my presentation is that delivering human-centric services is paramount for governments to adapt to the rapid changes of the 21st century.
How we can foster user-centric services in the public sector?. As a starting point, Governments must change some attitudes and traditional ways of doing things.
We must be very humble. We, government officials, do not know what the citizens’ needs really are. It is hard to admit, but it is true. And we have to design services for citizens like Homer Simpson, who doesn’t care or understand government services and have many other things in his mind.
Besides we must strive to understand citizens’ needs, expectations, and frustrations. If we know these, we will be able to deliver outstanding solutions for both citizens and government.
This is not easy at all; it is a deep cultural change. Because it means being modest and abandoning our egos about the ways of working from the past. And because it means changing the traditional development processes with the participation of ‘annoying’ citizens.
What are the essential elements of a human-centric strategy?
1 Vision & Strategy
First, we should have a clear vision and strategy: It is a long-term project, a marathon, and having a vision is key. We are very lucky: we have excellent papers from renowned organizations that define a clear vision, like the Berlin declaration or “The State of Co-Creation” from COVAL and The Lisbon Council.
2 KPI & evaluation
Second, we have to define the key performance indicators and make sure we evaluate our progress. As we all know: if we don’t Measure It, we cannot Improve It. Some of the KPIs are:
– Digital maturity, in terms of adoption rates
– And Citizens’ expectations and satisfaction levels
But we must avoid using vanity metrics: big numbers that are not aligned with our vision.
3. Focus on value-based services
Third, we should put in place a set of processes focused on value-based service delivery.
We should implement active listening processes like conducting surveys, asking for user feedback and analyzing the data about the citizens’ behavior
We should carry out co-creation design processes. Like the double diamond design process of the British Council, which provides a systematic way of getting great insights and creative ideas from end users
Finally, we should use agile prototyping, like the lean startup model that implies iterative development and end users’ validation at the end of each iteration
4. Focus on value-based services
Fourth, we must create spaces of Learning by Experimenting. In Catalonia we have 1.000 public authorities. Most of them are small and do not have the people, the resources, or the skills to innovate on their own.
That is why it is so essential to have a Cross-Government Innovation Lab where they have the license to take risks and experiment without bureaucratic restrictions.
Where they can make mistakes in a safe space (without criticism). Remember the quote: ‘there is no failure: you either win or learn’
Where they can collaborate, share ideas, and harness the power of collective intelligence. Therefore, they can fail fast, fail cheap and learn a lot
5. Large-scale deployment
Fifth, we have to foster large-scale deployment so innovation and cocreation become a standard way of working.
We need to Identify best practices and share change management key insights; to Provide cocreation tools as a service, where possible, such as user-feedback as a service; and to foster the replication of successful models.
6. Leading change
Finally, government innovation is very tough. We have to manage a long list of barriers, obstacles, and excuses. We have lead change, push very hard to reach success and apply all the best change management practices that we know from John Kotter and other gurus.
This is my contribution to the future of public services, focusing on a human-centric approach. Governments must adapt to the new times, or they will become marginalized or insignificant.
Collaboration, human-centric value-based services, and innovation are paramount for making governments much more agile and responsive to change.
Human towers are a very popular tradition in Catalonia festivals. They are a Masterpiece of the Heritage of Humanity. It can build up to ten levels of people. There is only one kid who reaches the top, but it requires 1.000 people in the base to make it possible. We, too often, just look at the kid at the top, and we forget the essential team at the base. Achieving human-centric services is an outstanding collaborative work. To get to the top we have to create a great base first.
Note: All views expressed in this article and presentation are my own and do not represent the opinion of any entity whatsoever with which I have been.