October 7th, 2022
In the spirit of transparency and candour, we publish weeknotes reflecting on the what and why for the ENV service transformation team.
In lieu of a recap from the week I’m instead offer a sneak preview excerpt of a presentation I’ve been developing: Working from ambiguity: Problem definition and research exploration in the design process
I’ve often felt like I’ve been sent into work that supports decision based evidence making, rather than evidence-based decision making. Addressing complex, open, and networked problems requires us to pause the rush of our business and budget cycles and step back to create the right ‘frame’ for the work, to borrow from Dutch design theorist Keyes Dorst. And certainly, sometimes the brief comes straight from senior exec or the minister, and we follow through to delivery at a high quality. But when things are murky and the boundaries unclear, that’s where a stronger problem definition is critical.
Developing a new product, service, or program often involves far more than defining form and function; it should involve identifying the problem and opportunities; creating a hierarchy of needs, researching the context, performing user studies, etc. This early information collection represents the foundational step of problem exploration, and as a central component of early-stage design, it can be very important in influencing the outcomes of the entire process
As I said off the top, there’s no one way to approach this, but as always, we advocate for doing it in open, through collaborative and generative processes. For example, transformation of the compliance and enforcement ecosystem has been a long running issue for the sector, with many false starts and stops over the past decade. With systems and services failing to meet the needs of anyone involved (especially staff), it was clear that we had to start somewhere and learn by doing. One of the first things we did in early alignment was to run a problem definition workshop with C+E exec, which looked like this:
I might call this ‘generative sense making’. More than anything, this canvas held space for discussion and alignment. It’s an enabler much more than a standalone artefact. It helped us rally around a starting point, which led to greenlighting phases of exploratory research and a successful capital case.
So as with compliance and enforcement, problem definition alone often isn’t enough. There’s some designerly nuance here, but we benefit from a pre-discovery phase we might call ‘exploration.’ During this phase we’re working just to bring legibility to the problem space, without a clear sense of what the real problems to be solved might be and how that should inform a process. This definition and refinement, to guide the discovery phase, can be driven through many different activities—mostly qualitative—as problem definition is an inherently qualitative undertaking, attempting to synthesize through complexity.
If this sounds like something your team might benefit from exposure to, get in touch! I’d love to deliver this to a variety of audiences following its first run at Environment.
A few things stood out this week:
- Making progress on policy + service design
I’m excited that we’re starting to put some shape and form around how to bring policy/service/delivery together within the Environmental Protection Digital Services team. This week, we landed on an approach:
a) Mapping existing policies to the service
- Building out the existing service blueprint for contaminated sites services to include where policy defines how the service delivered (our service designer will collaborate with policy staff on this)
- Sharing back this revised map with Digital Services team
b) Delivering a policy design workshop and identifying opportunities
(Goal: alignment and awareness of policy issues and idea generation)
- Partner with the Strategic Policy Branch’s Business Improvement Unit to facilitate a workshop (something like this) *I can’t wait to try out the Open Policymaking Toolkit methods!
- Bring together policy/design/delivery teams to identify and discuss policy changes + service transformation opportunities
The broader Digital Services team seems excited and game to try out this approach — I’ve got high hopes! This timely Public Policy Design blog aptly sums it up, “Policy teams should work closely with the people who are designing and implementing those services.”
2. Opportunities to go end-to-end with support the Strategic Services Division
The Strategic Services Division is a corporate service to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. Together, the division’s three branches provide guidance and strategic direction to the ministry on approaches to policy development and legislation, engaging with Indigenous Peoples and improving service delivery.
Our collaboration with the Strategic Policy Branch on policy design is one way we’re bringing our teams together. I know our team is also looking forward to future collaboration with the Indigenous Partnerships and Engagement Branch to help inform how engage and work with Indigenous Peoples to inform service design and delivery. In line with the Government’s Digital Principles, we need to design and deliver services that express cultural and historical awareness and respect.
3. It’s time to feed the growing appetite for clear guidance on how to work in digital ways
I had a lot of conversations this week about the value of corporate guidance to shine the light on new ways of working — and to set the bar on ‘what good looks like.’ This was echoed by a fantastic DigitalBC Livestream session (recorded session not yet posted) with host Jillian Carruthers and Namita Sharma from the Ontario Digital Service. Namita’s commentary on service standards and assessments as a means to empower teams (vs just a bureaucratic layer) was spot on.
I’m excited to see where current work on a Digital Code of Practice and some nascent conversations to support agile governance will go!
4. Cheers for tools that make your life easier
Check out this Chrome feature that allows you to screenshot a full webpage (perfect for capturing the full set of pages in a website IA).
5. Cheers to inspiring and fantastic collaborator teams and colleagues
Part of what I love about my role is its positioning as a ministry team — we work with multiple teams across the ministry to design and delivery great services. The diversity of perspectives and skills across the ministry is fantastic —UX designers to biologists to conservation officers and systems administrators. We may not be on fully formed multidisciplinary teams, but we are each contributing a diverse set of skills to the problems we face. And, I get to work with people outside the ministry to push forward digital ways of working (high-five to the folks at Citizen Services and elsewhere!).
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.