January 20th, 2023
Back in weeknotes action after taking an interval due to a packed Friday last week. What’s been on my mind? Per usual, design for policy.
We’re finally making the leap into a more structured/proactive approach to this novel practice. And perhaps ‘design for policy’ isn’t even the right frame. It’s more like, policy transformation for service excellence vis a vis design. I’m extremely agnostic to what methods we might use in aligning policy efforts to the lines of service we’re working on improving. It doesn’t have to look or feel like ‘design’ at all (how traditional design practices might present themselves). The imperative is to craft a coherent approach to the totality of the exercise and a proactive engagement with the relevant policy and program areas. In the past, we’ve been somewhat handcuffed by our reactivity to legacy policy accretion/complexity as we peel back the problem space (the service). By then, it’s not necessarily too late, but that the pace layers are misaligned: digital production can move quick, code and pixels are quite malleable. Policy (and regulation, legislation) often not so much:
All this to say: there’s no playbook to leverage. But we do have explicit direction to integrate our ministry policy and design practices to accomplish something more impactful and effective than their traditional silos. Steps we’ll be looking to take in the short term include:
- Alignment with the policy shop accountable for forthcoming lines of service. What’s the value in working with us? How do we work? What can we expect from each other?
- Open documentation of the path that brought us here: Jackie’s excellent work mapping policy to service at Land Remediation, a generative workshop with policy folk facilitated by Rebecca, etc.
- Contributing to the emergent roadmap for the product team.
- Gauging readiness and practical timing for policy transformation exercises.
What will we discover through the sensemaking exercise of aligning service back to foundational policy? To be determined. However, I’m confident in the doing ways of design to foster action; for design “becomes the shaping of things while engaging with others in the flow of action and the production of outcomes… design offers the opportunity for a different interplay between defining problem space and eliciting impactful visionary solutions in situations of increasing complexity.” (Bason, 2014, p. 229).
This week in tabs
- Creating the conditions to deliver good public services from Dan Wintercross at NHS digital. Key here: leadership that enables good services.
- Blog 2 of Marlieke Kieboom Unbounded Affairs: Public Systemic Design series. This entry reflects on designing with/in complexity in the public service context, asking questions about the role of strategic design and the unintentional reproduction of oppressive systems.
- How to conduct design research with compassion (pt. 1) from OXD Director of User Experience Jacqueline Antalik. A deeply personal story of patience and empathy in design.
- Did Star Trek predict the future of UX? from Daley Wilhelm. As a lifelong Trekkie (who as a child never harassed his parents for a toy quite like a tricorder), this was a very enjoyable read.
- The Challenge For The Office from Work Design Magazine. Key quote: the building may be the hardware, but we need to think carefully about the user experience. I love going to the office when it makes sense and am glad to see a strong post-pandemic narrative emerging regarding its design and utility.
- Province, Blueberry River First Nations reach agreement. Years in the making, “this historic agreement that will guide them forward in a partnership approach to land, water and resource stewardship that ensures Blueberry River members can meaningfully exercise their Treaty 8 rights, and provide stability and predictability for industry in the region.” Major implications for all our work in the natural resources sector.
- Finally, Autumn to Spring. Or, a ‘new metabolism’ for a circular society with Japanese characteristics from Dan Hill. Ok, I haven’t actually read this one yet (it’s long). But I will!
As Kevin notes above, we’ve missed a weeknote or two, as 2023 has started at a heavy pace (with no slowing down in sight!). That’s great for the impact and value of the Service Transformation Branch, but also a lesson on managing energy levels for the long-run.
Service transformation is a marathon, not a sprint, but it makes me wonder how that metaphor applies when you always feel like you’re sprinting — as Kevin has quoted Greg LeMond, “It never gets easier, you just go faster.”
All that to be said, I’ve been thinking a lot about the how of our work (which includes pace!), in addition to the ever-present what.
How: the intentional organization of teams and their approach to work
What: the work itself — defining the problem, understanding people who use government services (and the staff that delivery them), redesigning and delivering better digital services, opening up policy (see Kevin’s notes above), etc.
The ‘how’ is something we often take for granted, but it charts a path that’s often more impactful than the multitude of ‘whats’ we deliver.
A few thoughts on our ‘how’:
- The Service Transformation Branch is a small team of capable doers, strategic thinkers and supportive cheerleaders.
- We’re small on purpose. Our goal is to build up the capacity of multi-skilled teams across the ministry. We aim for a decentralized, team of teams approach vs a central shop that others look to for delivery.
- We work fast and measure our impact by the speed that we can help teams deliver good services. We seek to impart lasting change (service transformation) through our methods and advocacy—this part is usually slower.
- The team does (and could evolve further) to focus in four key areas: design, content, data and development.
- The team should hold senior expertise in these areas to guide and support divisions to deliver good services. We partner with others to increase our impact, wherever possible.
- Kevin and Harry hold senior experience in strategic design and UX (and Laura/Jackie are top service designers from NRIDS)— we’re a bit light on content and data. Our close partnership with NRIDS (Natural Resource Information and Data vision) and product teams helps us deliver on development (though I wouldn’t say no to a fab technical architect joining our team!).
- These senior roles should support their disciplines across the ministry and provide guidance and tools (conditions!) to help their ministry peers deliver and scale their impact. A few examples of this include: Kevin’s work to make legible the Environment design community and practices, Harry’s stitching together of design systems for each division and digital application, our emerging design for policy practice in partnership with the Strategic Service Division’s Business Improvement Unit and our support group for ministry product owners and digital leaders.
- Our model is a spectrum of service — we often start as doers and eventually graduate to cheerleaders, advisors and supporters (best case scenario!). Our work alongside the BC Parks team is a great example of this — Kevin, Jill and Harry started deep in this work in 2021 on the camping reservation service and new BC Parks website. They partnered on research and Harry produced the new designs for BCParks.ca. In 2023, we’re removed from the day-to-day work, but join sprint reviews, read the BC Parks design research blogs and support organizational design and funding discussions.
- We’re building out a distributed transformation team through establishing Director, Digital Delivery roles in divisions. These key roles provide depth to understand the nuances and context of divisional lines of services and are embedded momentum for service transformation.
- These director roles mirror the STB focus of design, content, data and development and will need to build the capacity within their division to advance in these areas. Having product teams reporting into the Directors can be a key way to do this.
More to come on our ‘how’ and some of our lessons learned in the coming weeks. It feels like others are reflecting on the ‘how’ too, based on some recent convos with folks like Heather Remacle at the Exchange Lab and the convening of a few digital leads from the Natural Resource Ministries (NRMs) on ‘the future of digital’ in the sector earlier this month.
A few ‘what’s’ from the past weeks:
- Ensuring we’re supporting the new Permitting Strategy for Housing through the Environmental Protection Digital Services work and Product Team ADA, with our current focus on an improved digital application for remediating contaminated sites (a key piece of the permitting process for some new housing developments).
- Sitting on a panel to support interviews for a Director role in BC Stats — great warm up for the Director, Digital Delivery interviews for the Climate Action Secretariat role this coming week.
- Starting digital planning discussions with divisions to chart our their business and digital application needs for 2023/24. These convos are a great blue-sky opportunity to surface key policy initiatives, ideas or plans that could benefit from a service-focused and digitally-enabled approach.
- Retrospective with the STB team on highlights, challenges and opportunities from 2022 and looking ahead to 2022. I’m looking forward to diving deeper into these notes as I reflect on the ‘how’ of our work this winter.
- Participating in an empathy mapping workshop to support the development of a climate adaptation data strategy. Great work from Laura and Dave to build out the key user roles, needs and tasks related to climate adaptation data use across (and even outside of) government.
The opinions and views expressed in this post are solely the author’s and do not represent those of the Province of British Columbia or any other parties.