Archive for May, 2007

May 15, 2007

Design of public services

Design for public administration

The theme of planning public administration services becomes more and more crucial in
Europe because of the stringent financial conditions imposed in this area, which is severely reducing the time horizon for the organization of services. The short term planning deriving from this condition often reduces the possibility to optimize the results and the available resources.
The ongoing informatisation of public services adds further complexity to the radical changes in this area. If not adequately designed, the informatisation process risks to increase the distance between public administration and its customers. On the other hand, an adequate design and development process for public service can emphasise broad innovation opportunity around the new services (that means at the local level). A new approach to health services, for instance, may generate opportunities for innovation for all the companies that are able to provide products and services to support the new solutions.The need to an adequate design process for public services is becoming more and more critical. Research in this area is growing, though there is still large scope for the creation of new knowledge, whereas the academic education is starting to introduce some programs on design for public services. Both the research and teaching activities, though, are mainly located in the disciplinary area of management and organization. Little contribution has been offered by the design discipline, although this discipline is slowly moving its focus from material products to immaterial values (service, experience, interaction) and is increasingly contributing to the design of new services.A strategic design process, that can really increase the qualitative level of public services must be based on wide time horizons and propose long term scenarios that can drive planning and political decisions. Another fundamental aspect to consider is the systemic perspective in service design. A tight cost reduction tends to separate each single functions in public administration, whereas an integrated vision of the service provided and the available resources would emphasise the opportunities for economies of scale and economies of scope.Service informatisation is the second crucial element that influences the interaction between customers and the organization in the back office. Several cases demonstrated that neglecting human aspects when configuring technological system may in fact inhibit the huge potential improvements made possible by technology.

The design discipline and the focus on services

Only in the last few years the design discipline has started a critical analysis of those themes. It has extended and moved its focus from material products to services, from manufacturing industries to all kind of public and private organization that can produce innovation. Furthermore a systemic approach to design supported the development of methodologies to manage complex systems in which new organizational logics that are replacing the traditional vertical and hierarchical structures. The new logics are based on horizontal forms of cooperation between heterogeneous actors who bring about their culture, knowledge, economic, social and cultural interests. Such forms of cooperation generate innovation that produce economic prosperity, but also increase the level of knowledge in local communities and create the condition for economies of scope.The design discipline has also been studying the interaction between new technologies and people when designing products and services, thus proposing different views and approaches to design the interaction between actors involved in services.While the most traditional approach to the design of public services keeps a rigid distinction between service providers and users, other studies on service design propose that both providers’ and customers’ roles are integrated in a process of value co-production, thus encouraging the active participation of customers in the definition of the solution. This is the condition for a better quality in public service and a better capability to provide solutions for individual needs. This perspective is particularly important in view of the increasing demand for a better use of resources. At present such demand has caused continuous and massive cuts to public services, whereas a perspective in which customers are actively involved in the production of solutions that meet their own individual needs suggests that public administrations can substantially improve the quality of their services, while specifying the target groups up to the level of individual segments.