Point of View

Service design and design thinking efforts must recognize every end user; the public sector’s digital struggles are a stark reminder

April 14, 2020

Project teams, and the leaders who are building them and the surrounding talent pools, must reaffirm whether they’re asking the right questions for service design and design thinking.


  • Are they really considering the end user, and are they considering every end user— meeting with and listening to them—whether the user is a customer, customer-facing employee, or the employee end-user of new technology?
  • Are the project team and wider talent pool diverse enough to capture the needs and wants of every end user?
  • Can the project leadership work at a strategic high level and simultaneously consider the end users on the ground?


It’s not good enough to give the end users a token mention in a meeting room as part of a standardized design framework. This guidance applies to all verticals, but few more so than the public sector, as organizations and authorities aim for their version of digital transformation. The public sector is outspoken in taking a renewed view of service design and design thinking, emphasizing their focus on the end users. This view was also a constant theme at a recent event on digital transformation in local government. In the public sector, change means barriers, including budget scrutiny, change-averse cultures, low-risk appetites, and the clashes between politics and bureaucracy.


These challenges should serve as a stark reminder to look beyond technology and data and at the impact of projects and decisions on your employees’ and customers’ lives.


It’s outcomes, not technology, that end users care about—both politicians and enterprise leaders must get out of this trap


Local politicians are some of the worst offenders in asking for technology for technology’s sake rather than for achieving outcomes. They often view technology as a siloed policy, rather than something integral for improving people’s lives. The same view holds in enterprises, where many frustrated service providers lament business leaders’ demands for AI or blockchain, having no concept of an end goal or business problem. Instead, consider what people really need, which might differ from what they seemingly want: leaders must get over the “faddism” of technology being solving all their problems.


The problem will often boil down to a lack of decision-making clarity. In local government, for example, is it the elected councilors or the council officers making the decisions? In an enterprise, does the decision maker or project lead have an open channel to all the end users? Do they have a diverse project team capable of recognizing and reaching the end users, or are they a disconnected overseer?


There are almost always multiple end users: consider whose priorities are being given more weight


There’s a real fear factor surrounding the public sector adopting a digital-first approach; it often gives the impression of exclusivity to the “tech savvy,” even if, in reality, the digital option is user-friendly, well thought out, and doesn’t eliminate the traditional option. Both public and private sector employees feel this pressure.


Take the analogous enterprise example of automation causing a fear of job losses: a better consideration for all the end users of this technology can help to dispel unwarranted negativity. One of automation’s core benefits is freeing employees’ time, which they can then spend on mission-critical tasks, a point that vendors must relay better. It’s not just a case of considering the end customer, who might see quicker transactions or responses to queries.


Consider whether you are listening to all of the multiple end users’ priorities. For example, in providing care for the elderly, it might be care-workers’ skepticism hampering digital adoption more so than that of their elderly care patients, who simply want and need better care.


Data-heavy public sector projects show the value of a high-level view for the end users


High-level, industry-specific expertise is crucial to the design process. There must be someone who knows the end users, asks the right questions, makes strategic sense of data, and applies emerging technologies to a given scenario.


Successful public sector projects typically involve many partnerships that can bring data together in one central pot where relevant experts can interpret it from an end-user perspective. Here are two examples:


  • School readiness assessments consider whether children are ready to attend school at age 5, a proven determiner of economic performance throughout life. By pooling data and knowledge, a local authority moved toward predictive rather than historical analysis to better-identify households at risk of having children not school-ready at age 5, finding 200 new households. Interventions then targeted high-risk communities, which serves as a perfect example of going out to find the end users.
  • “Targeted endings” consider families and children moving out of the care system (for example foster or social care). An authority wanted to better understand who was at risk of returning. With unstructured data, the authority built a new model and refined it in conjunction with local community experts, who could provide a user perspective rather than getting bogged down in the detail of the data, platform, or technology.


The Bottom Line: Yes, we all know to consider the end user—just be sure to cover every end user: it’s critical whether you’re in local government or a CMO.


Beats headphones’ Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Apple VP Omar Johnson has undoubtedly had success in designing campaigns with end users’ experience in mind; Beats’ 2012 Olympics campaign jumps out. His recent keynote typifies the call to action we see in the public sector’s digital challenges:


  • Diverse teams mean a diverse range of talent, making it easier to better consider every end user, what they currently need, and what they want to experience.
  • Go to the end users. Sitting in the boardroom with a design thinking framework just doesn’t cut it.
  • Perhaps the most liberally tossed around soundbite is that technology is about outcomes for the end user, not technology for technology’s sake.

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