In search for tools for dialogue

Driving service design and experimentation in Finnish government

Digital transformation in the government is about a holistic change in the practices and culture of designing and building services and processes in the public sector. This is our core mission at D9. We are an inhouse team in the government, set up in March 2017. We help ministries and public sector agencies in digital transformation. We drive towards a human-centred digital government by building capacity in user-centred design and experimentation.

The world of government transformation is full of projects, programmes and preliminary studies. There is always research and lengthy reports, powerpoint presentations and countless participatory workshops for stakeholders.

We get stuck in fuzzy ideas, misunderstandings, endless discussions and the lack of the concrete. There are massive programmes that can run years without producing any tangible output. Even service design is too often a 100-page report left in the desk drawer to dust.

Too often we outsource empathy. We have consultants running user research and service development. We have civil servants that cannot identify the user.

We lack tools for more effective dialogue — within our teams, across stakeholders, with our problems, the solutions, and most of all our users.

Digital transformation requires work in multidisciplinary teams and across traditional government silos. Yet, we lack a common language and shared practices.

We need faster ways to bring ideas to test with users, stakeholders and the real world. We need more visual and concrete ways to have a dialogue. We need ways to ensure user insights and needs are carried over to concept creation and solution building.

Introducing tools and methods that drive experimentation and prototyping to government has become my mission as an experimentalist and service designer in D9. I often find myself working as a translator — helping my civil servant colleagues to engage in dialogue with their challenges, ideas and users.

photo: Omer Levin

Looking back at our first year in operation, we can share some promising results introducing key new tools and methods to play. During this past year, we have run Design Sprints across the government, and introduced service design Jams as a popular way to build capacity and drive culture change in government agencies.

Design Sprint is a 5-day service design method, originally developed at Google Ventures. Our first design sprint was an experiment to see if the method could fit the government in Finland. We found out that it is both an efficient and fast way to bring ideas to concrete — get experimenting and prototyping, and to introduce co-design methods to civil servants. In our Design Sprints, a multidisciplinary team of civil servants define a problem, explore solutions and create a prototype that is tested with real users — all in one week. The best results can be achieved if civil servants do the work themselves. The role of consultants is to facilitate and enable the process, while service designers help keep the focus on the user needs.

As a 11-person team with a limited timeframe, D9 cannot alone transform the entire public sector. We needed tools to create a culture change within civil servants — to motivate and introduce design thinking and user centred design methods to government. We created a replicable concept for service design Jams.

It all started out as a fun side project in our new team. We took part in the international GovJam event in the Spring 2017. We invited 25 civil servants from 16 different organisations to jam with us for two days. It was a great way to build a design-minded network, motivate and energise often lonely change makers and learn new prototyping skills and service design methods.

Our jam participants went on to run their own service design projects and most brought us new cases and brilliant collaborations during the past year. Quite soon after the first jam, we started creating a jam concept that could be replicated and distributed as a toolbox for anyone to run their own service design jam in their government agency. Our partner in developing the jam concept was keha-keskus — a multisectoral government agency working with employment and economic development services.

The first D9 jam was organised during the first national Experimentation Week in Autumn 2017. The model has now been run several times independently of D9 and we see new organisations use the concept in various ways. We have found that jams are especially powerful in driving culture change and motivating civil servants to build skills in service design.

Working with digital transformation and disruptive technologies at D9

Since 2014, the government has been building a national digital service architecture (“KaPA”) and Suomi.fi services. In many of the D9 cases we help government agencies to implement these shared new building blocks. We also often work with digital strategies and even new disruptive technologies. One of the most exciting things about this year has been working closely with my team’s enterprise architect. We have discovered many similarities between our practices and started combining our methods to better work with digital projects.

One of the key challenges for digital transformation we identified with the architect, was a lack of active dialogue between strategy and development. We started looking at how we could enforce a feedback loop between strategy level and service development. We started experimenting with enterprise architecture and service design, and adding elements of digital and data strategy, platform and ecosystem thinking and co-creation for disruptive technologies.

We have now developed and tested a new concept called LED, ‘Lean enterprise design’. It offers government agencies a co-designed way to increase capacity and capabilities for digital transformation and enforce the strategy-development feedback loop. LED is all about engaging three important perspectives: inside (organisation), outside (ecosystem) and the user. We are looking forward to sharing more insights to the framework this Autumn.

In our search for tools for dialogue, and among our many projects this past year, D9 has successfully introduced Design Sprints and service design Jams to the work of government digital transformation. These tools spread a culture of prototyping and build capacity in user-centred design practice among civil servants in Finland. With our new LED model we are also able to bridge a gap between technology and design, and enforce a feedback loop between strategy and development in digital transformation.

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Anni Leppänen is a lead experimentalist and service designer working at D9 team in Finland’s State Treasury where she helps building user-centred public services.