Designing public services (1/4): innovating with intent

Innovation in the pandemic era

The last two years have been challenging for us all. In our professional and personal lives, we have all been forced to deal with the uncertainty and complexity of a globally connected world. The pandemic has also highlighted the weaknesses of the current policy-making and public management paradigm. It has revealed the limitations of our approaches to studying, designing and implementing social and economic policies in a context of ever-increasing complexity.

And yet, in the last two years, many governments and local public administrations have shown they can indeed innovate and achieve previously unthinkable results by making commitments at all levels in favour of citizens.

So if there is one thing this pandemic has taught us, it is that new and innovative approaches within public service administration are possible.

The risk today is that the enthusiasm for innovation in public services – which was very strong during the pandemic – will wane and eventually lose its purpose. Complexity and uncertainty have not been reduced, far from it: the processes of policymakers and government officials are perhaps even more complex than ever.

The first major challenge relates to the very concept of innovation, which is too often presented as a be-all and end-all solution to the world’s problems. Many have forgotten that innovation – in the way we do things or produce new tools and services – relates first and foremost to a clear purpose: to help achieve (public) objectives and address (difficult) challenges.

Remembering the “why” of innovation

What happens when innovation lacks purpose?

In a post on the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) blog, Misha Kaur (who works at the OECD in Paris and helps public servants adopt innovative approaches to achieve positive change for the community) stated that any choice, strategy, innovation path that isn’t tied to a specific objective can have very negative effects.

Furthermore, Lee Vinsel and Andrew L. Russell, authors of the book “The Innovation Delusion: How Our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most”, argue that our way of thinking about and pursuing innovation at all costs has made us poorer, less safe and – ironically – less innovative. Drawing on years of research and reporting, The Innovation Delusion highlights how the ideology of change for its own sake has proven a disaster.

There are numerous examples in which money is wasted on innovation programmes that fail to gain support or implement meaningful change. Examples of innovative new public services that lack fluidity or are simply worse than what existed before. Or digital applications that do not meet their users’ needs, and even put their privacy at risk.

Misha Kaur writes: “Too often, the purpose of public sector innovation is forgotten, along with the people it is intended to serve”.

Innovating with a purpose, focusing on “why” and “for whom”

To achieve meaningful innovation in the public sector, we need to ask ourselves “why” and “for whom” we are innovating.

Public services must be designed not only to meet citizens’ expectations but also to provide a seamless and intuitive experience, on par with the user experience offered by private players. Why should using public services be strenuous? Why should it require more effort? And why should it require skills that citizens do not necessarily possess?

A good methodological approach to designing public services would be to go beyond the goal of innovation itself and focus on the “who”, i.e. the citizens.

As mentioned in a recent article on Assist Digital’s LinkedIn page, we must rethink our approach to public service design by taking into account the experience of citizens, their challenges and the critical issues they actually face on a daily basis when accessing a public service.

This way, innovation and the effectiveness of public services can be measured by the level of satisfaction among citizens

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Francesca a plus de 18 ans d'expérience dans le domaine du CRM numérique, avec une spécialisation dans la stratégie de CRM numérique, la gestion d'entreprise, le design, l'intelligence artificielle et l'interaction homme-machine. Elle croit profondément qu'il faut aider les entreprises à adopter une vision de la conception centrée sur l'humain pour rendre les produits et services simples, beaux et rentables. En 2018, elle a été sélectionnée parmi les cinquante femmes inspirantes d'Italie, considérées comme les plus influentes dans le domaine de la technologie. Francesca aime la mer, notamment autour de la Toscane où elle est née.