Zack Brisson on Adapting Service Design for Big Social Impact

Zack Brisson from Reboot gave a presentation on taking design techniques from the private sector and applying them to the public sector.

He started with a provocation: Design has changed the private sector; but we have a way to go in the public sector. He identified four principles for improving this.

  • Address the public sector’s unique incentives. More complex than simple profit. It differs widely by location and by sector. That changes how we use the tools of service design to intervene.
  • Service designers must think and work politically. Even when it’s not always comfortable to think in that way.
  • Don’t just ship, but build capacity. Very different than product design.
  • Speak the public sector lingo. Budget cycles. Political considerations.

Zack shared a recent project from Nigeria that won a Core 77 service design award. They collaborated with the World Bank and the Nigerian government to focus on the delivery of public services. They focused on the feedback loop of service delivery in rural areas. After 18 months they developed My Voice, to enable discussion of service problems.

Reboot focused on addressing a broader range of stakeholders than a typical project. This process helped to identify new leverage points.

They had to understand the political context. Many stakeholders viewed the project as surveillance rather than as a support system. This was important to address in order to get buy-in from stakeholders.

How to build capacity? Added this as a parallel stream. Stakeholders were much more involved than strictly necessary for a typical design process. Reboot also implemented training as applied experience rather than in a classroom.

Finally, they translated design lingo into the local parlance. Process guidance documents for translating design terms into policy terms. Use the language of a World Bank document in collaboration with public policy specialists.

Empathy with public sector agencies. Respect the experience of our counterparts. Be humble about the scale of the problem and our capacity to make an impact in isolation.

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