The Innovation Guide – supporting public sector development based on user needs
The Innovation Guide is an innovation lab for learning and doing within SALAR (the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions) a national members and employers’ organisation for local government in Sweden. The mission is to support public organisations who want to strengthen their employees' innovation skills and create new and better public services based on user needs. Through our unique support model with coaches all around the country we build capacity within the public sector to work user-centered through service design.
The mission of the Innovation Guide is to support public organisations who want to strengthen their employees' innovation skills and create new and better public services based on user needs. We started as a pilot in the fall of 2015, and has since become a permanent lab for learning within SALAR. As demand for our services has increased drastically we continuously adapt and adjust our offer to better answer to SALAR’s member’s needs. At the beginning of 2015 we had three important conditions to consider when developing our support:
1. be easily scalable and not involve excessive costs in the form of process support etc.
2. lead to concrete results within a reasonable period of time.
3. encourage a more innovative culture within participating organisations.
In order to develop a model and methods for service design processes adapted to the Swedish public sector we carried out a pre-study. We did an overview of existing knowledge and experiences regarding the mechanisms of development, improvement work and how innovation work can be supported. We also looked at different ways of teaching design thinking, as well as different practices for spreading knowledge to a larger audience. Through the pre-study we identified an increasing demand for practical tools and guidance, so we decided to launch a prototype pilot programme to test a model and setup hands-on.
In the pilot we could work iteratively and continue to develop processes and tools, together with the participating teams. The pilot was run with ten innovation teams, each consisting of 4-7 people from different municipalities/county councils, that signed up to test the model and outline of the development programme by working with their own chosen challenge during 8 months. Before, during and after the programme, project managers were interviewed about what type of support they needed in order to work independently with their projects. We then tested a web-based support platform complemented by training through workshops and coaching.
The support model is centred around a step-by-step guide through a development process consisting of six step - Define, Explore, Focus, Ideate, Prototype, Realise - based on user-driven innovation and service design.
Our offer today consists of:
1. A digital platform with step-by-step instructions, templates and films, freely available for all participants in our programme and courses, as well as anyone else who wishes to use it.
2. Development programmes. Participating teams work with their own challenge during 8 months and receive our support throughout the entire process. Each team is assigned a coach with knowledge of the service design methodology that can guide them and be used as a sounding board.
3. Crash courses in service design (2 days) designed for public servants/employees wishing to learn more about service design as a means to work with user-centred development in their organisation. Participants go through all 6 steps in the process with a fictive case.
4. Service Design for Politicians and Leaders. A brief introductory course that works as an eye opener. The course came to fruition after we saw the difficulties our teams have when their leaders/politicians lack an understanding of the process they were going through and the methods they were using.
Our development programme also entails a need for a network of coaches with service design experience. We have therefore conducted a number of coach training courses, to ensure coach capacity and quality. The network today consists of 55 coaches working within the public sector around the country who are able to coach teams throughout our model, either inside a development programme or in independently run projects.
The possibility for our members to learn the service design process by tackling a real life challenge has been a widely successful method to inspire a more long term change in the participants’ mindset, to make them want to keep developing the services together with their users. This spreading of design thinking in the development and delivery of public services is perhaps what we see as the greatest benefit for the customer and their users. Even though the solutions that are developed are of great value to the users, the learning process of the teams can make an even greater impact in the long run. Since the support is designed as training and education, as well as a comprehensive digital support, members can use it in the way that suits them best. Through us, our members get access to a working method that creates value and engagement for their organisation, their employees AND their users. Our development programme, courses and easily accessible materials and concrete tools make it easy to involve employees at various levels in development work to start working together with citizens to create better services.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
Previously, SALAR has tested support for service design by purchasing consulting services. Despite very good results, this was considered too expensive and did not contribute to organizational learning. With the Innovation Guide we have created a sought-after support that addresses those issues, and we see examples everyday of how it helps to develop better public services around the country. It also helps to spread service design as a go-to approach for development work. Today around 130 teams (700 people) have participated in our development program, from close to 100 different municipalities, regions, and national organisations from the public sector. The combination of a network of coaches/experts, digital support and physical meetings has led to a unique model that reaches out to many of SALAR's 310 member organizations (municipalities and regions) in the public sector.
What is the current status of your innovation?
To understand what support our users (mainly public sector servants) need, we work in an iterative process, repeating the steps understand – test – evaluate. By doing so we make sure that our support continues to work and be relevant in a public sector context and that it fosters the results and mindset we are aiming for. Our focus going forward is how to best scale and deliver our support. By making more of our services available through digital channels we can grow beyond our own physical limitations, as well as support members who are limited by geography and/or financial means to participate in IRL programmes and courses. We also see a need to make our support more accessible and easy to use and spread in our users' own organisations. This scaling and spreading is crucial for us to reach our long term goal – to make service design a natural part of public sector development work, and we need to approach this on different levels.
Collaborations & Partnerships
In the development process we have involved co-creators from municipalities, county councils and regions, they have in turn involved citizens in pilots and subsequent projects. We have also cooperated with the Industrial Design Foundation (SVID) for their expertise in service design. For digital support, communication, films and templates, we have collaborated with several smaller companies. Funding in the startup phase has been provided by Ministry of Social Affairs and the agency Vinnova.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The growing interest for service design in general has gone hand in hand with our way of supporting user-driven innovation. This is also happening outside our member base, within government agencies and private actors. This shows the potential for our support tools to be used by a wider audience. Our project is definitely contributing to a growing buzz around service design and service development based on user needs in Sweden.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Since 2016, around 130 teams (700 people) have participated in our development programme, from close to 100 different municipalities, regions, and national organisations from the public sector. 220 people have participated in our crash course in service design. We have created a sought-after service for our our members, and we see examples everyday of how it helps develop better public services around the country as well as spreading service design as a go-to approach for development work. By making more of our services available through digital channels we can grow beyond our own physical limitations. By developing a “train the trainer”-course we empower our more mature users (this group is growing rapidly) to implement user driven innovation within their existing structures, and to some extent to lobby for changes needed in those structures.
Challenges and Failures
The public sector often has bad experiences of consultants who speak "design" and use foreign private sector examples that are difficult to relate to. Therefore we make sure all material is in Swedish, adjust and simplify vocabulary, use metaphors that are relatable and present real examples from the public sector. Development work almost always take place parallel to other work and the participants may not have much time to set aside for it. Therefore we present a simple process to follow and hold on to, with "bridges" so the groups easily know if they can move on to the next step or not. By including simple templates for each step, you can always start where you left off. Many people find it difficult to "bring home" theory and put it into practice. Therefore we include training days with a lot of learning by doing, where you can try methods and exercises before you do it “at home”. The groups also get practical templates that are engaging and easy to use.
Conditions for Success
By acquiring a deep understanding of what our members/users need and want we have given ourselves a high degree of freedom to test different ways of offering our service and support. In the startup phase, we were lucky to find a financier willing to invest in this “risky” development process of trial and error. At the same time, it was necessary to seek expertise in other sectors that could contribute to development. Throughout the process, communication with customers and clients has been important, especially when working with methods and concepts that are relatively unknown to senior management. The location of the project within SALAR has provided legitimacy during the fragile development process. Through SALAR's network and communication channels, awareness and interest in the project has been strengthened. Another key success factor is the strong belief within our team that public services can be so much better if they are built on the knowledge and demands from citizens.
Some member organisations have started to use our support tools independently, creating their own courses and development programmes around it. Some have even introduced policies to always use our model or a service design perspective in all development projects. We are even being contacted for advice from members who wish to begin public procurement processes with service design agencies. There are also several examples of government agencies that either build their user-driven innovation methods on our model or request support in their own development work. In our own organisation, collaborative projects are run with other business areas that apply the Innovation Guide in their development work, for example in the field of cultural education, childbirth care and local business development.
With regards to the development of our support in the Innovation Guide, these are some of our insights:
1. Many of the teams were not only new to development work, but also to working within projects, team work, scheduling etc. Therefore we added a team block during training day, with associated method templates and tools: “stinky fish-happy turtle” (to acknowledge fears/hopes), team rules, planning templates etc.
2. Our users have very different backgrounds and experiences, many are beginner an need for support varies. Therefore we developed various types of support. Our digital platform can be used independently by those with more experience. Beginners are offered “hand holding”, training and coaching throughout the development process.
3. Many teams experienced a lack of mandate and assigned time to work with their challenge. Therefore leadership training was included during training days, as a parallel “track”, focusing on getting the leaders to pave the way for the teams in their own organisations.
4. Initial directives from management can hamper innovation efforts, making it difficult for the group to challenge themselves. Management sometimes expects quick results within a certain area and are not open to changing the initial brief/problem formulation. Therefore we work with the leaders so they feel safe to encourage and support a culture of exploring and testing. It is now mandatory for management to follow the project team’s journey so they understand what they discover and the choices they make during the process.
Our main takeaway from the project is that the public sector needs service design to meet the demands of the future. By establishing a culture of trust, where it is allowed to try and sometimes fail, it becomes easier to see citizens as resources and begin to co-create services. We are confident that we have only seen the beginning of the ripple effects from that kind of change in mindset. In the long run this has the possibility to change the whole approach to development work in the public sector. Also, one should not underestimate the power of having fun while doing the work!