Sneak Peek at the SPIDER Conference

Paul Thurston on service design within UK public sector. SDN Insider: The conference sold out quickly. Looking at it, it seems the UK public service managers and staff are not only well acquainted with the value that design brings to government, but are also open to the change that such approach requires.

What would you say is the actual situation?

Paul Thurston: Across the UK, a number of organisations, including the Design Council, Nesta and the Young foundation, have all run high-profile programmes to raise awareness and to engage public servants in the debate around design and public services.

This has had an impact, and the language of design is common within many public services in the UK. However, whilst there are some that are using design, others still see it as a function of communications or IT, rather than a method for service design. 

One high-profile programme that raised awareness around the use of design was DOTT (Design of the times), which took place in Cornwall. At Cornwall Council you had Andrea Siodmok (who is also one of our speakers at our conference), who really pushed through that agenda in Cornwall.  

There are now some quite forward-thinking councils who understand the value of design. However, it’s not the same for everyone and there are lots of reasons why local authorities don’t use design.  

When you look at a lot of the cuts taking place, funding for innovation has really died off. It’s now more about how you deliver and what you need to deliver at the lowest possible cost. Within that environment, design needs to offer something completely different. When design comes and offers great customer experience that’s great, but it’s now more about cost and efficiency savings. This is something we will be discussing in-depth at the conference. 

Insider: What are the most burning challenges that people driving transformation in public services in UK are faced with nowadays, taking into account that UK is one of the leading digital governments in the world?

Paul: I think the burning challenge is choosing between investing in the future of public services and taking action that’s going to save money right now.  

That’s the biggest challenge, because what will save money now and what will be a benefit to the future both require effort and resources. In addition, the election is due in May 2015 and any changes in central government will have a big impact on how things work.  

In the UK, general morale in the public services is another challenge. Within this environment we have seen lots of people being made redundant and lots of staff are now filling jobs that were previously done by other people, so their workload is increased, pay hasn’t gone up and staff that are delivering these services are demoralised.

I think there are these two pressures coming together: on the one hand you’ve got staff that are seeing their workload increase massively and, on the other, you’ve got government departments that are going to need to think radically differently, but there is no practical way they can do that, there are no straightforward steps they can take.

I think this is unlikely to change very soon. So, from a design point of view, creating new services that alleviate a lot of those stresses could have a really positive impact on both staff morale and staff retention. This is the opportunity for service design. Our tools and methods can help public services organise their work and their flow of users of better. Re-organising touchpoints to reduce pressure points and identifying new service delivery channels.

Insider: Looking at this infographic, which departments of the UK government do attendees of the conference represent?

Paul: Attendees at the conference are coming from a diverse range of organisations, from those that commission services to those that deliver them directly to users. 

These include people from, The Welsh Government, DVLA, Scottish Government, NHS, HMRC, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Local Government.  

Thank you, Paul, for taking time to speak to us. SDN is looking forward to future collaborations with the SPIDER project.

Tune in for #SDFPS Twitter live feed! 

SPIDER is an Interreg IVB project made possible thanks to funding from the ERDF & EU.  

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