A Bold New Era of Public Services

IDEO Stories
Published in
3 min readOct 28, 2020


by Nazlican Goksu, Sue-Jean Sung, Jason Baker, Peter Jackson, and Kyle Cheon

The year is 2025…

Five years ago, COVID-19 gripped global communities and exposed cracks in many of our foundational systems. But today, there’s a new era of public services — and governments around the world have redesigned how they meet the emerging needs of people. At national and local levels, governments have reallocated existing resources, incentivized internal mobility and learning, created contactless options, and reinvented how they deliver services. These leading nations are attracting talent and growing their economies, and their residents feel safe, supported, and ready to work.

Read six stories from the perspectives of residents and public servants, and find out what this new landscape of leadership looks like.

1. A Social Contract with Less Social Contact

Protagonist: Seema
Position: Retiree
Government: City of Philadelphia, USA
Illustration by Coline Prevost

Seema is a people person, a master quilter, and an American history nut. She also has an auto-immune condition that can make these passions feel risky. About ten years before she retired, Seema developed an extreme sensitivity to her environment. She started to get sick a lot, and during the COVID-19 crisis, Seema stayed safe by following Philadelphia’s isolation guidelines to the letter, and even beyond.

After the vaccine was distributed in 2021, people started congregating again in larger and larger groups. But something else happened, too. People like Seema — for whom social distancing is not a temporary but permanent way of life — suddenly became visible, and so did their needs. According to a nationwide poll conducted in 2024, one in five Americans still practices social distancing.

To provide up-to-minute information about safe ways for residents to congregate, Philadelphia created an app: Contactless Philly. Every morning, Seema uses it to check her neighborhood park. With real-time data, Seema can find out how crowded it is before she leaves the house. She can even reserve a spot for her weekly quilting bee.

Illustration by Coline Prevost

Seema’s city went one step further and created a program of events for people like her who want to gather in a socially responsible way. Each month, Philly closes down one street to host block parties, Revolutionary War walking tours, or even open studios with local artists. They even put on concerts in underutilized spaces, like parking lots during off-hours. Each event has strict limits on attendance so that everyone can feel safe and enjoy themselves.

The art and practice of civics is a huge part of the American experiment, as Seema can tell you. And the social contract has two sides to it: residents taking the right precautions for the greater good, and cities making sure there are safe avenues for neighbors to build connections with one another. So each and every morning, Seema looks at Contactless Philly to find out what’s popping. It’s part of her daily routine, like checking the weather. But it’s more than that: It’s a critical part of her self-care.

How might public services and spaces provide a contactless option?

Where to go from here

There are numerous ways to take this profoundly unusual year as a chance to permanently transform. Governments at national and local levels that embrace this “reset opportunity” will emerge stronger. It’s time to listen to people, learn what has changed in their lives, and find new ways to address their needs.

These six provocations are more than hunches; we believe they will be critical territories in the new landscape of leadership. Read more about the visions behind these questions:

1. How might public services and spaces provide a contactless option?

2. How might we incentivize mobility and upskilling within government?

3. How might city, state, and federal governments reallocate resources to meet emerging needs?

4. How might we support marginalized communities and make sure they don’t fall through the cracks?

5. How might we amplify access to public services and meet residents where they are?

6. How might we give both residents and public servants more access and more choice?



IDEO Stories

We are a global design consultancy. We create impact through design.