What is design thinking and how does it relate to service delivery?

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‘Design thinking’ is an investigative and collaborative process that involves empathising with the users of a product or service to inform and improve upon its shortcomings. When applied to service delivery in a government context, design thinking requires decision-makers to challenge preconceived ideas about their customers, and instead, remain open to working with them towards alternative ways of meeting their needs.

Looking beyond ingrained patterns of thinking

When faced with a problem, it’s human nature to jump to a solution using habitual thinking patterns. Overcoming this tendency in favour of ‘thinking outside the box’ allows service providers to question the conditions of the apparent problem, and provide an innovative solution.

Design thinking is valuable in that it encourages organisations to look beyond what is known, to identify the root issue, which may not be immediately evident. Government services are designed to help people and communities; therefore, combining analytical research methods with customer insights and perspectives is often the most effective way of reaching the right outcome.

Empathising with your customers through consultation

Effective use of design thinking in service delivery starts with understanding the needs and expectations of your customers. It is important that before searching for a solution, you first research the real problem, through consultation. Only once the issue has been reframed in a way that empathises with your customers should you consider testing potential solutions.

Involving customers in co-creating solutions

Co-creation is vital to successfully applying design thinking to service delivery. Once the root issue is clear, placing your customers’ experience goals at the core of the redesign process will typically return the best possible results. The perception of customers as passive recipients is outdated, so for governments to provide a meaningful service that addresses customer needs and expectations, they must be actively involved in the solution design.

Getting it right through experimentation and iteration

Service redesign is rarely sequential, straightforward, or linear, and robust testing is in the best interest of both the organisation and its customers, long-term. So before reaching an outcome, governments should embrace the trials and tribulations of an iterative process.

Don’t be afraid to take it step-by-step. The critical testing phase may reveal insights that redefine the problem or open up avenues for alternative solutions that were previously overlooked. Importantly, governments can save significant time and money by testing solutions before allocating resources to their implementation.

This willingness to experiment and test potential solutions before implementation provides the opportunity to build upon customer feedback. Integrating this feedback into the service design will ultimately create a more customer-centric experience with fewer gaps in the delivery.

The benefits of employing design thinking are clear

Like all service providers, governments cannot afford to make assumptions about their customers’ needs, and while there is no silver bullet approach to perfecting service delivery, employing design thinking can go a long way towards co-creating the most valuable, meaningful service. It stands to reason that involving customers in service problem identification and solution-based iteration, offers benefits to both governments and the very people they wish to serve. Not only will long-term solutions be more likely, but in the process of collaboration, relationships between governments and their customers will become stronger.

If you’re unsure of how best to undertake a design thinking approach, consult the experts at NEXA for an evaluation of your service design and a guiding hand towards a better process and stronger delivery.

Blacktown City Council Case Study