min read ·
March 8, 2021

Making local councils more user-centric

Experience Design Practice Lead

Ruben Cardoso

With over 12 years of practice in product strategy and design, Ruben is passionate about people and problem solving through innovation. He is a strong and empathetic leader inspiring teams to deliver the best customer experiences.

Being user-centric has been a trend for successful big companies and startups for many years. Approaching problems and solutions 'customer-first' and being 'customer obsessed' are buzzwords often associated with retail businesses but not so much with local councils. This is the case despite the core purpose of a local council or government body being its residents and their needs.

So why wouldn't the solution be to hire a bunch of designers and introduce design thinking processes on every department and service? This approach would make the solutions they are part of resident-driven but would struggle to transform the institution as a whole. It would also be extremely ineffective to reorganize a whole institutions' workforce when a user-centric mindset isn't in place. 

Demonstrating value and educating local councils towards a more human-centred culture is a bumpy journey. This culture revolves around three aspects: 

  1. knowing your residents
  2. smartly hypothesizing
  3. quick validation. 

Applying these globally across departments leads to effective and lean local councils who care about their residents particularly when resources are limited. Below are some strategies to help spread the load across organizations and make this fundamental cultural change towards a more 'residents obsessed' organization:

1. Know your residents

Understanding residents is all about defining who they are, what they need and their issues. With a mix of qualitative and quantitative research, research specialists explore all aspects of research subjects until patterns arise and insights are found. They tend to be tasked and own all and every aspect of this process. This makes institutions handicapped and often reliant on a single owner of truth. 

All teams should be responsible and empowered to gather and collate insights, the more information there is, the more the picture is complete about the people we're servicing. It generates discussion and allows people to debate commonalities and discrepant findings.

Researchers become coachers coordinating initiatives and ensuring all findings are of quality and relevant. And team members become resident advocates passionate about solving their problems and fulfilling their needs.

2. Smartly hypothesizing 

It is a common mistake to separate ‘creative’ people from everyone else. Creativity arises in the combination of different perspectives and not necessarily in a particular person or skillset. That’s why it is fundamental to allow everyone the space to contribute to solutions.

This can be done through facilitated design thinking activities where participants are encouraged to come up and discuss ideas through activities such as design sprints, design studio workshops or brainstorming sessions. They combine structured activities that allow participants to not only openly generate solutions but also prioritize the solutions that are discussed and evolved. 

smartly hypothesizing
Design sprint workshop

These fast-paced sessions are effective at not only allowing everyone to contribute but also generate several assumptions and hypotheses that can be quickly selected (or discarded) with the right expertise mix around the table. They also generate many sketches and prototypes that help people better communicate and discuss solutions with teams, council stakeholders and residents. These assets are also particularly useful for the final part of a user-centric culture – validating solutions.

3. Quick validation

Local governments often strategically plan years of work but fail to derisk initiatives before launching them. A lot of investment goes into projects and those are based on multiple assumptions and hypotheses that aren’t validated properly or quick enough. Investments fall flat or the return of investment is negative for many months and sometimes years down the line.

The objective of any solution should always be an opportunity to learn, on top of the end goal of delivering value. If all projects are initiated with this premise, by clearly visualizing a matrix with everything that needs to be proven to achieve success, you will reach better results and create more opportunities to gain insight.

Validating solutions can be daunting though: where to start, what to test, how to do it, who to test it with. The truth is that any validation is better than none. And the more teams do it, the more successful they are. So it is fundamental that everyone experiences it and teams make it part of their process to validate all assumptions.

Quick ways to validate assumptions and hypothesis include:

  • Discussing assumptions with residents either by presenting artefacts or prototypes to test concepts and solution fit, 
  • time-boxed proof of concept idea implementations to test technical constraints
  • bootstrapped services without any or low code.

And by quick I mean days, not weeks or months.

Local councils need to adopt new strategies for achieving a ‘resident-centric’ mindset. Even though it helps, introducing designers and researchers to such organisations doesn’t necessarily mean a culture transformation will happen on its own. It is critical to coach teams and every individual to be more empathetic with residents, give them the right toolkit to empower them to contribute with solutions and smart decision making and ultimately allow teams to fail fast, learn and succeed. 


Trying to make your organisation more user-centric?

We would love to hear about your transformation journey and the challenges you're facing.

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