There are currently two key challenges facing government operations:
1) Government service delivery model is consumer based
2) Government focus still leans heavily on end results without sufficient thought to the design of the experience that leads to that result
Using healthcare as an example, we
· Don’t own our health and well-being so much as we contract it out (medicine, physiotherapy, ERs, etc.)
· Complaining about contractors (doctors, nurses, physiotherapists) isn’t the same as direct ownership of our own care – we are motivated to gripe about service (I’ve seen a dozen specialists but don’t feel any better) not own the process of maintenance (if I did more exercise at home/monitored my diet/worked with my employer to better address at-work stress, I could proactively own and maintain my own health)
· Government Service Providers cater to specific clienteles, providing a mass produced, more uniform experience for diverse populations with differing needs; it’s customized service, not tailored service
· if you don’t have a lot of access, you simply don’t get the service (see upcoming Toronto Central LHIN report on Mt. Dennis); telling people they need to step up simply doesn’t do the trick, nor does trying to provide more of the same to everyone
· ERs are like corner stores, places we go to for that emergency need – a great model if those services are being sold in situ, but they’re not
This is a model that worked more-or-less successfully for all producers/service providers over the last century or so, but society has become more complex, diverse, specialized, busier and as a result, less focused. More emphasis needs to be placed on changing the relationship between government and taxpayers from provider/client to something more like an investor/entrepreneur model.
Similarly, there are many internal challenges facing the Ontario Public Service (OPS) that impede the maximization of service provision and the ownership of work by individual public servants. The OPS is undergoing, in fits and spurts, a Human Resources Change Management review with the intent of identifying the internal communications, accommodations and ownership barriers that lead to avoidable presenteeism among OPS employees.
Under Premier McGuinty and now, Premier Wynne, the Government of Ontario has made great strides in empowering end-users – CCACs are an example of how government can educate and empower demographic/regional groups with specialized needs to better understand and manage their own health experiences. I don’t believe there has yet been much consideration of the impacts of and solutions for presenteeism within the OPS, but that’s a bridge that needs to be crossed if we truly want to foster open, accessible and accommodating government services.
The challenge and opportunity I see presented with any Open Government Initiative is to shift the focus from a product/sales model to one that’s experience-based/collaborative.
REDESIGNING GOVERNMENT SERVICES
There are plenty of reports that provide examples of current government service experiences. The upcoming Toronto Central LHIN report on challenges faced by, in particular, Somali-Canadians living in the Mt. Dennis community provide a perfect example of how current process are meant to provide outcomes for clients rather than delivering a user-friendly experience of accessing services and feeling ownership of that outcome.
Dave Meslin has a great TedX Talk about how this works in practice; if Nike designed their consumer experience and marketing the same way government has, they’d be a much poorer company. The same holds true for internal motivation; if employees are seen as functionaries, they aren’t motivated to do their best work. This has been identified as a real problem within the OPS which has struck an OPS HR Change Management Committee to review the internal problems they have identified.
To properly design government service delivery for transparency, efficacy and a user-friendly experience that results in the end-goal of stronger Ontarians for a stronger Ontario, here are three themes that need considered:
For both end-user and service-provider. People have a much harder time motivating themselves to go through frustrating experiences, which accessing government services often is:
· The correct entry-point for the service required often isn’t clear; you can spend hours on the phone, frequently on hold, being sent back and forth between service providers without ever finding who is ultimately responsible for your concern
o This is because service delivery isn’t clear; there is no service map of what government does anywhere; as such, there is plenty of unidentified and avoidable duplication, gaps and overlaps that feed in to frustration by both user and provider
· Employees don’t always have clarity of mandate – what are they doing, when direction is being changed from above, the reason for changes aren’t explained nor is front-line input solicited. You end up with frustrated employees not motivated to go above and beyond in their work
· A laissez-faire approach to service modelling (the service is here, come find it if you want it) leads to standardized services that make sense to their designers, but not to the variety of users intended to access them
The first step to improving service experience is to map services out. This can be constructed like a family tree, with tiers of service and how they connect/don't connect made clear.
There is also a need to better understand the nature of current end-user experiences, both what works and what doesn’t and employ a design thinking approach (tailor the product/service for intuitive use by end-users, not try to train users to engage product/services the way they are). This approach of designing services for mass-customization has propelled Apple to success and can work just as well for government.
When employees feel like they are part of their work rather than tools for their bosses, they do a better job and are less likely to look for the added-value they feel entitled to (longer lunches, using government resources for personal use, etc.). This provides a better experience for end-users as well.
When end-users feel like government wants them to use their services and that they are an active and appreciated part in the process of nurturing stronger individuals for a stronger society, they are more inclined to participate. Of course, services need to be designed for use, which leads us into the next theme:
Who is trying to discover government services? What are they looking for? What are their instinctive search behaviours? What tools are they using to do so (laptops, smartphone Apps, the phone, Constituency offices, OPS service offices, etc)?
Compare your experience walking into a Target or a Nike store to that of walking in to a government service office.
· How welcome do you feel?
· How encouraged are you to explore, ask questions, etc.?
· Are the providers you engage with trained on how to zone in on your need through asking the right questions?
· Do those providers have a general sense of cultural sensitivity and how to identify potential barriers to communication/end-user assistance?
Borrowing from existing models of service delivery and customer experience design, it is possible for government to remove frustration from the experience and make it more enjoyable for everyone.
The redesign of government websites with the how can we help you, popular and featured windows are a definite step in the right direction – we need to go further.
End-users don’t always know what they’re looking for and might not be sure of how to phrase a query to find it. The more complex the process is, the less likely they are to engage in it. By having websites that facilitate this process, we can enhance service accessibility, improvement of use and also collect internal metrics to foster better design tweaks in future upgrades.
· Add more guidance to websites – they should look like a smartphone with labelled icons (images help those with limited English/French and ease the process for those who simply don’t know where to begin) that help narrow one’s search.
o i.e. – I’m looking for specialized help for my elderly grandparent, where do I go? The Ontario Ministry Of Health and Long-Term Care website would have a “senior” icon that leads me to more senior-related services. If I know my grandparent has mobility issues, I could also push on an icon that leads me to a sub-menu with related icons. Whichever route I take I will land on the services, service locations and contact information for the specific resources/providers I need to help my grandparent
· Add value to the experience – my previous search patterns can be remembered, allowing for pop-ups aiding in the directional process. Other pop-ups could include “tips and tricks” (in the grandparent example, related to senior care, senior self-care, etc)
· Smartphone Apps can be designed to help individuals better monitor and communicate their needs (this is a concept being tried out in other fields right now)
This brings us back to the first point; OPS employees are largely viewed as cogs in the machine rather than part of a team; service end-users are viewed as clients rather than partners.
Revisiting internal HR practises, clarifying responsibilities and enhancing internal communication equality is a key part of nurturing an open, transparent government services that achieve their maximum potential.
Reversing our current consumer-based model of service provision to give end-users more ownership of their own care with providers acting more like EAs than sales agents/managers is a critical step is we are to ensure the financial feasibility of service provision down the road.
It's a starting point. I'd love to hear your thoughts.