A new focus on service delivery for Australians
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison began laying out the priorities for his first full term in office there were some questions raised.
Where was the vaulting ambition? Where the inspirational nation building?
It’s there if you know where to look.
Because within the priorities laid out by the Prime Minister – hiding in plain sight – is an initiative that is ambitious, important and utterly integral to the lives of all Australians and how those lives are touched by government.
Stay with me. Don’t drift off to sleep. It may not be a grand new piece of infrastructure; a huge piece of social engineering.
But it couldn’t be more important.
In the days following his re-election, in remarks to both the party room and to senior public servants, the PM touched on three priorities:
The Indo Pacific region – national and regional security
The first two we know are at the heart of this government. They haven’t exactly been shy about discussing them and both are obviously of enormous importance. If the third seems a little out of place -- out of scale -- It is not.
The Prime Minister repeatedly implored his colleagues and senior public servants to make sure government “does the little things well”. What are those things?
“The things that people rely on,” the Prime Minister said. “Returning the phone calls, making sure services are being delivered, making sure the payments turn up on time.”
These may be “little things” but the opportunity they represent is huge: change that positively impact the lives of millions of Australians. After all, service delivery is the primary way in which most of us experience government. If it is done without thought or feeling for those experiencing the delivery then we know from experience that negative consequences will likely result for those people.
And they won’t like it.
If it is done in a human-centred way, with the kind of buy-in that comes from meaningful user insights and a collaborative co-design process then there is massive scope for positive impact.
The NSW Experience
The Prime Minister has announced a new body, Services Australia, to be formed out of the current Department of Human Services. It was an announcement that took many by surprise but one that draws some inspiration from Service New South Wales, a State Government initiative launched in 2013.
Service NSW created an umbrella service delivery agency that takes in all counter service, all call centres and all digital service delivery in the state. The change has been broadly applauded as increasing the service experience for people in NSW.
As one of them, maybe Prime Minister Morrison, resident of the Sutherland Shire, enjoyed the experience. Because from all appearances it is the Prime Minister himself who is driving the push for a new focus on service delivery.
It is yet to be determined how the new Services Australia will operate. A task force has been set up to quickly begin the high-level design work. It will mean significant upheaval for around 50,000 public servants. But it will also offer a massive possibility to remake the relationship between government and the Australian people.
A new focus on service delivery can be a key instrument in building trust with the Australian people. All over the developed world, trust in governments and institutions has been falling in recent years. A commitment to the idea of excellence in service can be a powerful force in addressing this. But it does require a fundamental shift in mindset.
A human-centred service ethic concerns itself with the way service is experienced by the user. As part of this shift, processes may be streamlined and silos may be demolished. But if the purpose of doing this is to increase efficiency and produce a dividend solely for the organisation, it will increase not decrease public disengagement and cynicism.
The focus must be on experience rather than efficiency. How can representatives of government and its instruments make the experience better, more seamless and less painful, for users who come into contact with them each day?
Design for a service mindset
I don’t say this just because we are designers; design has a critical part to play in this important transformation. Firstly, there is policy design. A poorly conceived policy, executed well will still be a failure. A brilliant policy executed badly, will follow suit.
To get great outcomes, and cement a shift towards valuing service and valuing customers, we need to be designing policy with service delivery in mind. Does this intervention only work well on paper? How will it interact, in the real world, with the people who will experience it? What will their experience feel like, for them?
There is also a necessary element of organisation design. Making a fundamental shift like this requires significant retooling for some of our largest government departments. New capabilities and mindsets will need to be added. New accountabilities and approaches will need to be developed. Effective service delivery is driven by an empathy engine. It sees delivery through the eyes of those who are receiving the service. This will be a key – and an exciting – challenge for the impacted agencies in the coming months and years.
Making it seamless
Done well, this transition will bring service delivery to the people and to the places where research shows they prefer to spend their time. It will allow Australians to use the platforms they already value and inhabit to achieve effective and painless interactions with government.
This can often mean using advances in digital technology to make accessing services easier. Emerging technologies offer the promise of streamlined services that use data and artificial intelligence to anticipate needs, remove silos and break down barriers, seeing service delivery as an overall system, comprised of smaller systems.
At ThinkPlace we say people seldom experience a system in totality, they experience a pathway through a system. Along this pathway are multiple touchpoints. When we need to access medical services. When we need to pay tax or receive a tax refund. When we need to find employment or choose a school for our children or access funding for disability care. These are all moments when we interact with government and with a system of services and obligations.
Opportunity with risk
Simplifying, tailoring for the individual and allowing the possibilities offered by big data and algorithmic decision-making to inform interactions with government can lead to a better user experience. Unchecked and unguided it can, just as easily, result in invasion of privacy, unethical decision-making and unjust outcomes.
Moving towards a service delivery mindset means never losing sight of the user and building an ethical, authentic design process around their needs.
Members of a community might be persuaded to sacrifice a small portion of their privacy if the result creates a vastly better experience or removes an enduring pain point (they also might not).
What we do know, from thousands of hours of working with government on projects like this, is that the only way to win social licence for such changes is to work WITH users. To employ a meaningful co-design process that draws real insights about users of a system or service and then engages those same people in prototyping and testing new ways of doing things.
Only via this method can government win the kind of social licence it needs to make sweeping changes in how services are delivered. People will support a change if they genuinely believe it is made with their interests at heart. That is the opportunity we are facing here.
It is such an exciting opportunity. And one that can touch the lives of every single Australian for years to come.