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"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein

Service Design

Clever Government?

Noel Brown March 2012

It’s been a busy start to the new year for many of us and how come it's already March? We are winding out the financial year, looking forward to the next and in Wellington eagerly watching the manoeuvring around the Government’s planning for their new year and May’s budget. It’s no secret that significant change is on the way. The impetus to constrain Government spending is gaining momentum. But will the change be just brutal reductions reminiscent of Muldoon’s razor gangs of the early eighties – a 10% cut in every department – or something cleverer? Do our politicians have the vision and our public sector leaders the nouse to innovate rather than cut our way to a more effective public service?

We are hearing encouraging noises from the public sector itself – receptiveness to, interest in and even concrete plans for innovation in the way public service is delivered are clearly evident. And the opportunities are myriad. One example is Inland Revenue’s quest to get 95% of their transactions enacted online. Imagine the transaction volume and the quantum of system innovation necessary to get all but a very few trusting their tax to the online medium. I imagine that New Zealand would be one of the first jurisdictions in the world to achieve such a transformation. In the late eighties the Rogernomics inspired reform of the Government sector was similarly world leading and spawned a considerable export of our expertise to the world. The same opportunity exists now. Innovative ways to deliver more service with less cost would find a ready export market right now you’d think.

This sort of breakthrough though is tough, and requires a similarly innovative approach to the challenge of change. Going back to the Inland Revenue example, what will it actually take to change people’s well entrenched behaviours around their tax business? Whatever IT systems drive this, if they are not incredibly well grounded in the realities of life of the intended users they will fail. The challenge will be not so much to roll out the system – though that will be challenge enough – but to understand what the barriers are in the heads and hearts of the users and to imaginatively and realistically transcend those barriers. This will take some brave leadership, and dare I say some superb application of design problem solving. Let’s hope for all our sakes that this combination occurs in many departments.


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