Human-centred service and policy design for the public sector

In exploring “the next frontier of service innovation” Maryantonett Flumian, former Deputy Minister at Service Canada (now President of the Institute on Governance) recognized that what was needed during her tenure to realize service transformation was a “new breed of public managers who could understand the workings of government, appreciate the outcomes that policy makers were trying to achieve, work with the power of the technology and business processes, and be prepared to ask citizens how they could best be served” (Citizens as Prosumers, The next frontier of service innovation, page 6).

I believe that these folks exist in pockets in various levels of government, the private sector, and think tanks across the country. Some work in policy development and others work in service-oriented fields. Some are specialists, others, generalists. Some work in large, complex organizations that are about as easy to change as turning around the Titanic would have been.  Many are asking “how?” and “what next?”.

HOW? Yep, that’s the question

I believe the secret sauce in the public service renewal sandwich can be found by being explicit about HOW things work that incorporates both human nature and the reality of the rigid structures and organizations within which we live and work.

Design is the deliberate shaping of the environment in ways that satisfy individual and societal needs. -Donald A. Norman

People like Don Norman and Liz Saunders paved the way in the private sector to use tools from the fields of interaction design, information architecture, psychology, information visualization, business analysis and user-centred design to improve consumer products.

Peter Morville took it to the next level of intangibility by using these principles and tools for service design, as he so elegantly explores in his post on ubiquitous service design in an era of ever-present information in the digital age.


User Experience Treasure Map

Design products and principles that can be applied to service and policy design.


If product design principles can be used to craft better services, why not apply the principles to policy design?  That’s exactly what we’re starting to see right here in Canada!  Folks have started to apply these principles to explicitly focus on designing interactions between people that focus on achieving policy goals.

Examples, please!

Process mapping is used to compare present and ideal state of how information flows through an organization, personas are used to keep our clients needs and preferences front and centre and the newly-developed Centre for Citizen Experience uses 3D paper prototypes to help public sector staff ‘walk-through’ service interactions in order to design a process that is human-focused.

Coming back to the canada@150 experiment, the participants recommended learning:

  1. simple visioning and foresight processes
  2. social, cultural, and organizational norms for working collaboratively.
  3. to self-organize in multi-disciplinary work groups
  4. flat project management
  5. to peer review each others’ work
  6. by doing

For me, that means exploring various disciplines and the tools that go with these specializations and adding them to my virtual toolbox.

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About Laura

As a Business Analyst working for the Canadian federal government in Web usability, I have the opportunity to be a part of a growing movement of professionals implementing user-centered design principles.
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9 Responses to Human-centred service and policy design for the public sector

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Human-centred service and policy design for the public sector | --

  2. Mary Beth says:

    If you haven’t seen this Armchair discussion ( yet, you must! If you’ve already heard about it, awesome :) I think we’re got a lot of great people who could make Human-centered service and policy design the default approach.

    Any though of a HCD/HCS bootcamp for policy makers? Check out this awesome course that I took a few years ago: All it needs is a focus on policy writers and a few case studies like the one from the Armchair discussion :)

  3. Amy says:

    “… the secret sauce in the public service renewal sandwich can be found by being explicit about HOW things work…” I agree!

    That said is there also value in asking WHY things work the way they do? Why does this issue matter? Why are we developing this policy? Why are we implementing this policy? Why is the policy implemented in this way? These conversations might help clarify our human-centred goals which – I sometimes find – are obscured.

    Ideally, we should be serving our citizens but that link isn’t always clear to the citizens with whom I work (or to me for that matter). Especially when policy and service-design takes place amid inevitable pressure to serve ourselves, our colleagues, our managers and our agencies. Sometimes the citizen is the only stakeholder with whom we don’t have a face-to-face connection! The only stakeholder whose needs are not obvious to us. So, with that in mind, I would suggest a 7th point to add to the Canada@150 list (which is SPOT on!) – “keep the end goal in mind”. If we can all agree that there should be a line of site between our work and serving citizens – then we will always have a benchmark to measure against, a touchstone, and we might be that much closer to both human-centred services and policies, and human-centred design.

  4. Laura says:

    Thanks Mary Beth, didn’t know about that Armchair – will check it out. Re: training, yes, we are talking to the school about what we could offer either as an armchair or as a training session. Some people are also interested in putting on a UX Camp here in Ottawa in the Winter, so that could be a fun way to find out what people in different organizations are doing in this space. Stay tuned. :)

  5. Laura says:

    Too true! Pretty hard to keep focused on the citizen with all the other more direct competition!

  6. Gordon Ross says:

    Hi Laura,

    I took think that user experience has a great role to play in the public sector. We had an interesting discussion about it at OpenGovWest in Seattle earlier this year. I blogged about it over at our if/then blog.



  7. Laura says:

    Awesome blog post Gordon! Thanks for summarizing the event and providing so many wonderful resources. I’m going to revisit it and dig deeper on a couple of them.

  8. Francois says:

    Great post Laura – just wanted to point out a small mistake – it’s Maryantonett Flumian and not Marionette!

  9. Laura says:

    Thanks François. It’s fixed now.

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