Design thinking helps deliver better public services

Main banners Ministry of Justice v2

Optimation used design thinking to help this government agency transform complex business process maps into meaningful human-centric blueprints for delivering joined-up services to the public. 

This large and complex public sector organisation works across areas including law, immigration and social services to make New Zealand a better and fairer society. Optimation has been a partner of the agency for several years, so when they kicked off a project to design a new intranet, they asked our consulting team to provide advice on designing a solution to enable all staff to easily find the information they need to do their jobs well, regardless of their role.

Like most large and complex organisations, the agency has a number of specialised knowledge bases, each of which contains a vast store of documentation that gets used every day. As experts in information management and knowledge management, we were asked to provide specialist advice on crafting content and designing navigation for these knowledge bases as they were migrated into the new intranet environment.

The agency had a series of existing process maps that people were using to find their way around these knowledge bases, but these were constructed ‘by BAs, for BAs’ and were too complex for non-specialist users. While they provide vital technical information for ICT people looking to deploy and integrate new tools and systems, frontline staff dealing with the public found it difficult to use the process maps effectively to navigate to information directly relevant to their roles or to see how what they were doing fit into the bigger picture.

To address the challenge of making the knowledge bases more usable and navigable, our team brought together Optimation’s strengths in the traditional discipline of business analysis with a creative, human-centric design thinking approach to problem-solving. The end result was that we were able to replace the process maps with visually meaningful service design blueprints that were co-created with the agency’s staff. By prioritising simplicity and clarity and removing unneeded technical detail, the service design blueprints let frontline staff see exactly where and how their role fits into complex business processes that can touch multiple parts of this large, multi-faceted organisation. The service blueprints also enable people to efficiently navigate the knowledge bases they need to do their work, and so allow staff to provide better information and improved services to the public.

These outcomes were achieved through a collaborative design thinking process. In a series of workshops, we first encouraged participants to empathise with end users and to let go of preconceived ideas so they could rethink the challenges of finding and using information from the ground up. They identified all the reasons they could think of that process maps were needed and described specific examples of how they had been used in the past. Drawing on these insights, the group then agreed on a clear definition of the problem and turned this into a positive vision statement for the project moving forward.


Design Thinking 1

Next in the design thinking process is to ‘ideate’, where everyone involved comes up with potential scenarios and solutions to the problem.  This phase includes what we call ‘serious play’, where participants can use creative techniques like drawing, making paper models, and building with Lego (yes, Lego!) to envisage what potential solutions might look like. In this case, we ended up with ‘a thousand ideas on a wall’ and the group then whittled these ideas down to just two through voting and prioritising. 

Rapid prototyping was the next step, with our BA and design team creating multiple iterations of the two top ideas and then testing these with the agency’s staff. Feedback immediately fed into the next round of prototyping, as we sketched out new iterations of the navigation schema and tested these in real time with staff in interactive workshops.

The outcome was a series of elegant, usable service design blueprints for each of the knowledge bases. These allow staff to visually trace a client journey from end-to-end at a high level, and dynamically connect the agency’s many parts and services. The blueprints use a clear visual iconography that renders complex processes comprehensible and meaningful to all staff, regardless of their role or where they sit within the wider organisation. Navigation has been iteratively improved based on feedback, and where a new navigation aid or map is required, the agency can now use the service design blueprint process to generate this.

By making it easier for staff to find and use the information they need, the new intranet will bring significant improvements in efficiently serving clients, in a number of cases reducing the time needed to process critical requests from days to hours. This has important real-world impacts in terms of improving people’s lives, building stronger communities, and delivering equitable outcomes.

The intranet project is part of a larger change happening within this agency, and also the wider public sector. Increasingly, government organisations are looking at the client or citizen journey as a whole, and not only at the way people interact with a single service or part of the system at a specific point in time. By taking a holistic, people-centric view of these challenges, Optimation’s consultants give organisations the tools and knowledge they need to design joined-up services that achieve better public service and business outcomes.

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