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The tough issues in user involvement

January 25, 2010

The GovCamp event on Saturday was a terrific opportunity to ask the assembled tech and policy experts, innovators and creative disruptors, how they thought we might get more user involvement in the development of digital public services to improve quality, and/or save money. It’s a project we are working on for Consumer Focus, as explained here

I shot some video interviews, and ran a session.

What came out was, surprise, that it isn’t easy. While we might believe that it is blindingly obvious that involving the people who use services as early as possible - to make sure we develop the right thing - this may be particularly challenging in a digital context.

Community/user engagement nearly always face internal barriers: those who control budgets and processes may not want their professional empires invaded by people with different, unprofessional ideas. Not only that, it costs time and money.

In the digital context, it may be that those who you particularly wish to reach may be the least sophisticated of users.

These days people are not necessarily prepared to go to supersites like Directgov. These may be necessary at the moment … but not sufficient in future. People will want to use apps on their phones or just Google stuff …. a point that Directionlessgov has been making for some time.

We’ll see more and more examples of people developing their own services … and if councils are smart they will go the route of some commercial brands and encourage citizens to keep their rate bills down by asking and answering their own questions.

Here’s the videos I shot on Saturday, using Qik on an iPhone, with automatic transfer to YouTube. It meant direct streaming to the web, and no tedious uploading later, but the quality suffered. Audio isn’t too bad though. To see all videos, start to play and mouse over lower screen. If you don’t like the showplayer, you can see the videos more easily on YourTube here.

I’ve pulled out some of the key issues. These are not direct quotes - rather more summaries of points, with names attached to issues to make it easier to find the appropriate video if you wish.

This week we’ll be discussing with Consumer Focus how to take this exploration forward, leading to a workshop in about a month. If you are interested, please join the Digital Public Services group here. The overall challenge

* There are two main dimensions to service delivery: the complexity of the services and the sophistication of the users. In banking it is relative easy: the service is relatively simple, and users sophisticated. In government the services are often complex, and many of the users that you wish to reach may be unsophisticated online. In order to make improvement you have to move on both dimensions - Mark O’Neill

Addressing internal barriers to change * Service managers may be fearful of losing control of the way the services that they own are are designed and developed. They often live in a bubble of purity … wanting to retain their empires. However, there is a massive shift needed in how services are provided, involving communities - Carl Haggerty\

* Video clips can be used as a way of bringing user and front line experience to the attention of managers, and transforming the organisation. However, it depends on leadership from the top to achieve these changes and create the culture necessary - Mark Watson

Service users becoming service providers

* The big issues for councils is how to save money. One way to do that might be for councils to follow the example of commercial brands and build communities around their services. Then users can ask and answer questions themselves, solving problems before they get to the council. That way ratepayers are saving themelves money. - Ingrid Koehler

* Government needs to be open to other people providing services that Government has in the past, and collaborating in those developments. If mums are running a great services for mums, encourage them to do so. - Ivo Gormley

* We will need to redefine the social contract on service provision; we need to have adult conversations about who provides what in different circumstances. - Carl Haggerty

Involving users in service design

* Don’t assume people know what you mean by digital public services - people need online skills in order to be involved. Focus on upskilling people, and you may then find that they start to create the ways to access services for themselves. If you want to ask people what works for them you have skill them up so they can engage. That applies to the service providers as well - Nick Booth

* We need to separate service design with users, from the way services have been developed in the past. - Carl Haggerty

* Think Public uses video to research and tell user stories, building this into a film that can be shown prior to a workshop. It helps build a shared understanding of the issues. - Ivo Gormley

* If you are open about the challenge you can bring people into the design of services at the same time as you are trying to understand their needs - Ivo Gormley

* The most advantageous way to design services is to work with the entire collection of people involved - the users, developers, designers and services managers to walk them through the service in order to make it as simple and easy as possible. Make people think through their assumptions. It has to work collectively. - Mark O’Neill

* Think Public uses video to research and tell user stories, building this into a film that can be shown prior to a workshop. It helps build a shared understanding of the issues. - Ivo Gormley

Delivering services online

* One channel of communication for all is doomed to fail. People will increasingly design their own interfaces for accessing services - just as they are using different apps on their phones. - Steve Dale

* Government should wholesale service provision, allowing a lot of different retail options - Steve Dale

* The challenge for services is to provide packages that can be reconfigured for different channels, so people can choose which way they access them. We also need to measure how far people use different channels. It’s fine to have all services in one place - but we also have to provide alternatives in the places and channels they use online. - Carl Haggerty

Session reports

We ran a one hour session on the theme of user involvement in design and delivery of digital public services

* Report by Lauren Ivory

* Report by Michele Ide-Smith

Round-up of coverage of Govcamp from organiser Dave Briggs

Main ukgovcamp site

Thanks to Dave Briggs others for the organising, and demonstrating how an good unconference should work. More here on the fomat

sxs/the-tough-issues-in-user-25-01-2010.txt · Last modified: 2017/06/12 15:20 (external edit)