What I learned at Service Design in Government 2019

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Poster for Service Design in Government 2019

So, I spent yesterday in Edinburgh at Service Design in Government. Here’s what I learned.

A broken-down train meant I couldn’t make my journey as intended, so unfortunately I missed the morning’s keynote.

I eventually arrived at the venue, freezing cold and sodden, at 10am, 3 hours after leaving home. All I wanted was hot coffee and somewhere to warm up.

I followed the conversation on #SDinGov rather than disturb the audience.

Workshop gamification works

The first session I attended properly was Hacks for setting the conditions for service design by Linn Vizard and Marie Serrano from Ontario, Canada.

The session focused on the barriers we face, the hacks we use to get round them, and the signals we read that tell us they’re working (or not).

I liked this session because it reminded us that:

  • the problems we face are not unique; in fact, they’re universal
  • we can apply design thinking to these problems, just like any other
  • we should treat potential solutions as hypotheses and conduct experiments just as we would with a UI or any other design question

Linn and Marie have published a nice content pack so we can rerun this session if we wish. But the thing I like most about it was the format, which was slightly gamified with nice cards and artefacts to stimulate and lubricate things.

One further lesson I would take though is that if you’re going to run sessions like this, don’t leave the objects out on tables, as curious children will poke and peer at them and muddle things.

Hand them out as and when they’re needed.


Managing complex funding

The next session I chose to go to was After the Post-it notes: how to ensure the service you designed is the one that gets delivered by Simon King.

This session interested me because it resonated with issues we’ve come across time and again, especially when services are actually delivered by third party agencies and not in-house.

Incentivising volume, typically, in these situations encourages box-ticking behaviours that focus on outputs rather than outcomes.

The solution Simon described focused on collaboration with suppliers to manage demand and delivery through the ITIL framework. In other words, focus on quality rather than quantity, and have realistic ideas about what can be delivered with the resources available.

I have … questions about this (in fact, I asked one at the Q&A after the session). But I think it’s something we can explore.


Medium, message, shmessage

The third session I attended was When words aren’t enough by Carolina Pizatto and Amanda Kerry from the Ministry of Justice. Which would be a cool name for a band …

The topic interested me in the context of the single entry point project. The similarities seemed obvious:

  • Citizens who interact with the MoJ are, typically, in some kind of crisis; relationship breakdown, victims of crime, perpetrators who are facing custody and very afraid
  • Businesses that interact with government are often distressed too: our personas tell us this, they only seek help when they think they’re in trouble

So, they may have low literacy to start with, and are in a situation where cognitive capacity is further impaired by stress. How to deliver content in a way they can consume, understand and act upon in these circumstances?

The MoJ team experimented with 3 alternate content delivery formats:

I’ll not go into the results they got because they are detailed in the pdf below, but I will say that … the chatbot got me thinking.


I'm a service designer in Scottish Enterprise's unsurprisingly-named service design team. I've been a content designer, editor, UX designer and giant haystacks developer on the web for (gulp) over 25 years.

One Reply to “What I learned at Service Design in Government 2019”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.