The next evolution of service design – cross-organizational service platforms

Citizens move across and through a range of private and public sector organizations in the course of their life. One of the problems that has long been highlighted in this process is the lack of continuity across these service journeys. Design can play a role in helping people understand how these types of service networks could operate through the use of tools such as design games or participatory prototyping but also in the build-out of these networks. The next evolution of service design is the creation of platforms that allow a more integrated service journey for users.

Part of the impetus for this work is that innovation requires long-term partnerships and collaborations. That is collaboration beyond just individual projects between agencies, and towards a shift towards true collaboration in the creation of shared processes between and within agencies across the public, private, and non-profit sectors.

In the health sector, as just one example, a typical service journey might begin with meeting with a family doctor who then refers the patient to a specialist who then refers them to a hospital and a range of other service providers before then returning to the family doctor for long-term care management. This process may require the patient (and their family) inputting the same information multiple times over the course of the service journey as well as physically having to transfer the required information and physical artifacts (tests results etc) between service providers as only limited channels may exist between these various organizations. Examples like this occur across and between organizations in a wide range of sectors across the world everyday.

As a response to this, increased focus is being placed on the design of forms of cross-organizational service networks. The issue in doing this though is the design of the cross-agency service delivery platforms that enable the collaboration that this requires.

The problem is that, building on the increased bureaucratization of the public sector in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many public sector agencies still operate in terms of expert-oriented, hierarchical and ‘siloed’ ways of working. These legacy structures and processes can easily inhibit cross-organizational cooperation and collaboration. The creation of cross-organizational service networks may require deep levels of transformation that require engaging with the very underlying assumptions of many public sector organizations. Much work is thus required to shift mindsets away from legacy approaches, and towards embracing the value of the co-creation process and increased collaboration across traditional agency boundaries.

As recent research has demonstrated, done well this work can provide a range of positive outcomes including:

  • helping diverse actors within the network to better understand each other’s situations and concerns; and
  • transforming customer experiences into a shared grounds and aim for improved collaboration.

However, despite the obvious gains from this process problems may arise though. In respect to this, recent research in Finland around the creation of just these types shared service networks identified four key challenges in their implementation. These were:

  • a need for customer-centered information sharing;
  • the bureaucratic inertia of the public sector;
  • a lack of trust and commitment; and
  • a lack of resources and sustainable support

While none of these issues appear particularly surprising, they do help us understand how the creation of these networks does not just require the design of new services per se but instead a long-term commitment to new ways of working. It also requires a realization that this requires a concomitant restructuring of the actual structures of public sector agencies.

In this respect, the role of design is important. Design is seen in this particular light as being:

a process of exploration through the application of tools for making sense and sharing insights within organizations and across organizational boundaries

While various service visualization tools, such as customer journey maps, service blueprints, and stakeholder maps have been successfully combined with methods and techniques such as participatory prototyping or design games to help facilitate collaboration within and across agencies much work is still required to ensure that this work results in broader organizational transformations. These design processes can definitely help stakeholders – organizational and external users/stakeholders – to understand the possible value that these types of shared service networks can provide.

Key points of focus in undertaking these processes include:

  • The creation of the ways for front-line bureaucrats to share their learning with others within the agency – both horizontally and vertically.
  • Realizing that all too often in service design projects almost all focus is placed on the customer – with this person being equated with the user. However, a service network has a range of users – from those providing the services, those consuming the services, and others work (possibly indirectly) to support the services – and all of their perspectives need to be considered.
  • Restructuring budgets to include both pooling of cross-agency funds but also the ability for agencies to roll-over funding into successive years.

Cross-organizational service networks – and associated platforms – are an important development. Their existence would do much to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of service journeys for many. These types of networks are the next evolution of service design.

However, as is often the case in the creation of new and innovative processes and structures, the development of these new networks will necessarily require over-coming the legacy structures and processes of earlier cycles of bureaucratization. Doing this, however, will require strong buy-in from both organizational leaders and users but their creation would provide obvious advantages for all.

Images courtesy of: Pixabay