Voices from Accenture Public Service

As consumers we all have ‘liquid expectations’ set by the digital services we use every day, from Facebook to online banking. We transfer these expectations, based on our latest, greatest digital experience to everything else we do. The result is that consumers now expect the social services that they use to follow suit.

People first: rebuilding trust

In addition, as recent political developments highlight, a large group of people feel overlooked, left out and misunderstood. The aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 has driven trust in the establishment to new lows. ‘Losers’ feel pitted against ‘winners’ – sharing little common ground. For governments everywhere, this is a big problem. They need to reconnect and establish lost trust. How? By radically rethinking services and support to put people at the centre.

In no area is this more relevant than in social and employment services. Employment provides people their livelihoods, as well as a significant degree of purpose and meaning. Social services are designed to support the most vulnerable people – precisely those likely to express an anti-establishment sentiment as they feel neglected and ignored in a world that is shifting and changing around them.

Agencies’ challenges change; models stay the same

When the agencies delivering employment and social services were first created in the post-war era, their aim was supporting people to rebuild their lives. Policy and welfare driven, they were designed to deliver specific services and support. Over time, those organisations have devolved into a series of silos, oriented around transactions and focused on specific outputs rather than more holistic outcomes. But those same agencies are also today operating under new and significant pressures. These range from ageing populations to new family structures (eg 16% of all EU families are now lone parent) and the rise of the millennials. What’s more, the funding available is constrained as governments pursue an agenda of austerity. At the same time, tax contributions are declining. The imperative to do more with less has therefore never been more urgent. And satisfying that requirement is creating an unequivocal need to redesign services that reconnect with and support citizens in new ways.

The way forward

Re-establishing the relationship with the citizen-customer requires a focus on some fundamental principles. These include usability, efficiency, fairness, simplicity and accountability. Governments therefore need to build their services on a foundation of those qualities. How? Through citizen services innovation, driven by a human-centric approach that combines desirability, viability and feasibility to identify the opportunity gaps in services. And to see what that means in practice, let’s look at the work we did with the German Labour Agency. This created a single customer portal for online and mobile offering personalized services to meet the needs of every individual. But it’s much more than just another channel. The portal is based on an in-depth and completely new approach that puts people at the centre of service design:

  • Discovery: starting from the “discovery” phase, we aim to understand the user and empathise with them. We started with deep ethnographic research to get under the skin of how people feel and experience their situation.
  • Envision: during “envisioning” we focus on synthesising insights and generating ideas. We build a series of personas, developed collaboratively with practitioners and customers, that encapsulate the different types of people that are going to be interacting with the organisation.
  • Define: We define the direction of the service by taking the created personas on a customer journey, understanding all the touchpoints with the organisation along the way. These not only provide powerful blueprints for service design, they also help spark conversations and build understanding that can secure buy-in from all stakeholders.
  • Deliver: we deliver the service that suits the client context. But it’s not the end of the process. The service needs to be continuously developed, with trialling and testing of new ideas with the very people the services are designed to support.

We followed this same approach when we developed a new way to bring together the various agencies that provide social support to citizens of Illinois, via the Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. Here we developed a digital-only check-in for customers. This shares data with an integrated profile for each customer across multiple agencies, requiring a fundamental redesign of services based on being able to precisely identify every individual in every interaction.

Developing insight-driven services

Innovations like these are driven by advanced analytics. These harness growing volumes of data to help target the right interventions, to the right people at the right time. The results can be impressive. For example, the US Department of Health and Human Services piloted a text analytics tool to automate the interpretation and analysis of user feedback. The analysis for just one health and human services agency predicted annual savings of more than 300,000 employee hours.

People first

These approaches are a distinct break from the past. But they are the only way forward to create not only services that people will use, but to do so in a way that makes sure they can connect with everything they need to improve their lives and support their families. People centred service design is all about understanding how people really are. It’s about creating dialogue rather than communications that flow only in one direction. Information – and access to it – is simplified and relevant. Transparency helps foster trust, putting users in control and tracking their own progress rather than feeling powerless to act. And in a world where many people feel deeply overlooked, pushed around and misunderstood that’s never been more important.

In my next post, I’ll look at why innovation needs to become an integral aspect of every organisation, and the steps that all service providers can take to embed innovative practices and approaches into their workforce.

See this post on LinkedIn: Human-centricity: Why service innovation starts with people at the centre.

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