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Service Design

Public Sector Service Design in NZ.


Interview with Chris Jackson, Service Design Lead at DNA by the Service Design Network. Excerpts reproduced from SDN's February insider. Thanks guys.

Read the full article at the Service Design Network.

Chris is a Service Design Lead at DNA, which is a leading customer experience design practice from New Zealand. He has over twelve years experience initiating and leading innovative, design-led projects in the UK and New Zealand. His background traverses public and private sector, academia and research.

SDN Insider: You were hand-picked to be part of the Chief Executive’s Innovation Team at the Ministry of Justice in New Zealand. From your experience, is it better for a governmental agency to have an in-house service design team or to commission a design agency? Why?

Chris Jackson: It’s extremely important for government to build internal design capability. Government Digital Service is a great example, but it’s quite particular to the UK and the amount of talent located in London.

In New Zealand, there is a lot of design capability building within government but there is also a lack of focus on hiring the right design talent. New Zealand is a small nation and, with many government projects focused around Wellington, there isn’t a huge pool of talent to pull from.

It’s essential for design agencies and in-house designers to work together, especially in New Zealand. It enables in-house teams to be challenged and expedite their working process and it enables external agencies to better understand the business needs and inner workings of Government.

Insider: DNA is considered to be a leading customer experience design firm in New Zealand. Your clients come from both the private and the public sector. What is the difference in approach your team takes to the former and the latter? Is there a formula for a successful collaboration with both sectors?

Chris: The private sector is competitive, so there is a constant drive for innovation and they have the mandate for getting things up and running quite quickly. Government has a monopoly on service, so don’t seem to have the same drive to innovate. The political nature of Government agencies, both internally and externally, means it can take much longer to get anything done. We have to be more patient and help clients by walking them through projects.

There is a core to everything we do, but each project differs depending on business and client needs. I don’t think there is a formula. I believe the key is to build relationships, mutual understanding and trust within organisations.

Insider: You’ve been involved in a good deal of service design projects within the public sector. Looking back at them, what was the most challenging project that you faced? And why?

Chris: I think each individual project has its own challenges. Sometimes they are individuals, sometimes it’s the organisation itself or its readiness to take on change.

Increasingly, we need to design for emergent themes, especially for the inherent complexity of the public sector. One of the things that I think is most detrimental to external agencies doing good work is the pitching and RFP process, which needs some serious service design love!

Insider: New Zealand is part of the D5 (Network of the leading digital governments) global network, a small fraction of leading digital governments that recognised the value design brings to the public sector. How has this translated to opportunities for service design projects in the public sector in NZ?

Chris: We haven’t seen any change at DNA. It’s still a relatively recent initiative, so it needs to be given time to develop and mature. I’m still unsure if it’s a ‘nice-to-have’ or if it is an initiative that will make a difference to those working on the front line and to the end users of services.

It’s always valuable to share skills and knowledge across agencies, governments and countries, but when you get back to your desk in your government department, what does it mean? How can you implement new ideas in a risk-averse environment? How can you build traction for innovative ideas in government?

Partnering with external agencies can help answer some of these questions and actually deliver results that assist internal teams to gain credibility and deliver results.

Insider: What advice do you have for initiatives in other countries that have been trying to bring about change and make their governments more citizen-centred?

Chris: It’s natural to look abroad for inspiration, but there are lots of people in close proximity that can help to make amazing things happen. Staff members, citizens, other government departments and external design agencies all need to be looked upon as valued collaborators and assets that can make great things happen, as opposed to being seen as stakeholders that need to be ‘managed’.

If there is one thing that I have learned, it’s that being open and honest whilst trusting people who are there to provide value and socialising ideas across silos are the best way to get things moving, even though it can be counterintuitive within some public sector environments.

Insider: Can you think of the public service that you used most recently? How did you experience it, taking into account that you were a user and a service design expert? Are you willing to take up a challenge and try to sketch its customer journey in 120 sec?


Chris: I have taken the challenge, but it was a little longer than 120 seconds! It’s more a storyboard than customer journey. I hope everyone can figure it out and not judge me too much!

Insider: Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us. SDN wishes you all the best with your future projects.

Who is SDN?

The Service Design Network is the leading institution for expertise in service design. SDN is a partnership of professionals and an open-minded, knowledge-sharing network. Through national and international events, online and print publications and coordination with academic institutions, the network connects multiple roles within agencies, business, and government to strengthen the impact of service design, both in the public and private sector.

What is the article about?

SDN Insiders goal is to present the diverse landscape where service designers work, putting the spotlight on one of the many themes from the field each month. This month we are starting off with the service design in public services.


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