CTF blogg: Why public services should be digital-ready and how service design can help2021-05-19
At least since the start of the Covid19 pandemic digitalization has reached most of us. By now we are all familiar with using digital platforms to meet and socialize. However, digitalization is much more than changing the way we connect and communicate; it also changes how information is gathered, analysed and used for decision making processes. For example, AI-based programs, cloud computing, big data analytics and machine learning are all tools that allow organizations to tap into the large volume of data which we feed into the system every day. In fact, digital technology is constantly evolving and learning through our use. Take platforms like Google, Facebook, Spotify etc. which customize the information or content based on your specific usage.
More broadly, digitalization changes the way how we behave in our everyday life, and as such, places new demands on public service design. For example, digital services increase the independency and with that also the detachment of citizens from public sector organizations. In other words, digital technology shifts the control from organizations to citizens by increasing their independency, flexibility and access to information. But this shift does not come without its costs. Think about how digital self-services require you to be knowledgeable and take greater responsibility in achieving the right outcome. Yet some citizens – in many cases, the most vulnerable social groups – might not have the tools and knowledge required to access and use digital services.
In our study we discuss the above issues and develop guidelines for public service design in the age of digitalization. Foremost, we recommend that public services should not be changed into digital formats ad-hoc or without clearly understanding the consequences for citizens and other stakeholders. It requires diving into public service users’ lifeworlds and exploring why and how users engage with the underlying service. This exploration helps to understand user experiences and needs, and on a higher level even societal changes that come with a technological-integrated society. We also highlight that a user-centred focus is not sufficient; instead a systemic approach to service design is needed to successfully capture the multi-actor nature that characterizes digital services. For example, the development of an e-health platform depends on other stakeholders developing smart devices, advancing browser and network security, or increasing broadband speeds in rural areas. The interdependency between these actors need to be coordinated in order to ensure a seamless service provision. Finally, the adoption of digital technology has a number of implications for the organization itself. These include technical elements (e.g., skills in data analytics and information system design) and institutional elements (e.g., the breaking of organizational silos and the change towards flexible and adaptive structures).
With all these challenges and requirements, one may ask whether it is actually worth to move towards digitalized public services. We argue, yes it is. Digitalization has real potential to move public service organizations away from a ‘designing for and delivery to’ mentality towards becoming more open and integrative especially to citizens. Take, for example, the hackathons regularly facilitated by DIGG Agency for Digital Government in Sweden: such initiatives create an open innovation platform where thousands of citizens and other actors can exchange knowledge and collaboratively tackle complex societal problems. It creates a level of value that cannot be achieved by single organizations alone.
Trischler, J., & Trischler Westman J., (2021). Design for experience - a public service design approach in the age of digitalization, Public Management Review, pp 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1080/14719037.2021.1899272