5by5: Service Design in Government, Lincoln Neiger

Interview with Lincoln Neiger, Service Designer at the City of Austin

by Thomas Brandenburg

I have seen that government is different in it’s ability to accept change than the private sector. We’re learning quickly that we can’t throw UX at a public service that predates internet and expect profound outcomes. We have to get much deeper, sometimes even to the policy!

1. What components of service design are most interesting and relevant when working with government and public institutions?

  • The main foundations of service design apply perfectly to government: user-centeredness, co-creation, evidencing, holism, etc.  I actually find myself reframing this question into something surprisingly obvious: what components of government are most relevant to service design?* These two fields are so deeply connected to humans that they can surely be combined in beautiful ways!
  • *All I know as of now is that bureaucracy exists for a reason, and this reason can somehow inform the actual process of service design. When you think about it, so many of our service design tools were born in the private sector, where finance is the highest value. I’ve found that the value structure within the public sector is very different. And when we change something as high-level as our values, a lot can fall out of line down the road. Combine that with different imperatives (impact, accessibility, efficiency) and you’ve got a new approach on your hands…

 

2. Has the relevance or acceptance of service design changed in government over the last 2-3 years within the US?

…not to mention the last six months! Trust is an incredibly important virtue a government must foster, and I’ve never experienced a trust so fractured! I believe the citizen experience could be the root to building this type of trust. Imagine if government services were efficient, enjoyable… DARE I SAY ONLINE?!?! Service design opportunities abound! More voting, more policy reformation, more community!

 

3. Do you think there are specific aspects that make it more difficult for government institutions to adopt a human-centered perspective?

I actually think it’s quite the opposite. By the people, for the people! There’s no confusion about who is at the center of our actions. I have seen that government is different in it’s ability to accept change than the private sector. We’re learning quickly that we can’t throw UX at a public service that predates internet and expect profound outcomes. We have to get much deeper, sometimes even to the policy!

 

4. Given that government institutions can be very large and complex, are there specific business units/parts of the organization that you find typically embrace service design first?

Many departments look at our service design capabilities with curious excitement. They know they can use it, they’re just not sure how. Additionally, it’s hard to allocate budget for something so intangible. I think by beginning with an image of the citizen experience and reverse engineering it, agnostic of departments, is our best step forward. Everyone can benefit from that!

 

5. How would you like to see the practice of service design evolve in the public sector?

Quite honestly, I cannot think of a more complimentary union. In a sector that is by the people it exists for, service design has full ability to stretch and grow into something efficiently impactful. Policy design, systems design, urban planning: all these practices are enabled if service design is given the space to clarify and improve the everyday citizen experience.

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