Guest blog post by Glen Thurston, Service Innovation Lab design lead.
I would like to share some insights about how the life events based approach creates value for end users and for the broader system of service providers in New Zealand.
This post talks at length about how the life event lens could contribute to an ongoing value stream (pipeline) of work that is co-developed across organisational boundaries for the benefits of end users. The post proposes some ideas for your feedback and consideration for us to develop guidance for all of government in our Service Innovation Toolkit
We would welcome any feedback and ideas about this approach and, where possible, examples of how the life events lens has helped or hindered your work in digital service design, delivery and transformation and where this lens could take us.
Life events internationally
I was lucky enough to attend the Digital Nations conference held in Wellington (Digital Nations was in Auckland, Digital Government Showcase was in Wellington) in March. This included a thematic session on life events and revealed how all the countries were interested in aligning their digital services around user journeys. Several countries found the proliferation of digital services did not necessarily lead to greater uptake because people still found the digital services difficult to locate and navigate.
Most countries are at the beginning of their journey to focus services around life events, with many consolidating services under the life event. South Korea has created a single platform for citizens to use and access life event services there. Estonia and South Korea also have a comprehensive information sharing network that will allow their agencies to share information easily about a citizen to help streamline their services.
Here in New Zealand we have also been on the life event journey. SmartStart and Te Hokinga ā Wairua End of Life are the start of our user facing integrated public services and these will have new functionality delivered over time that draws from other related services - increasing their value to users.
Most of the conversation at the Digital Nations was based on the current services delivered by government or were limited to products. Here at the Service Innovation Lab (the Lab) we’ve been thinking about the long term value that a life event lens could offer both from an end user perspective and from government perspective beyond the consolidated delivery of transactional services. Considering the full life event removes a single product or agency lens, and allows natural partnerships to form across team and organisational boundaries when serving the holistic needs of people.
We have been considering how might we create a value stream associated with a life event that agencies, end users and third parties could all participate in that creates positive outcomes that reflect the complexity and intricacies of a life event.
What is a value stream?
Inspired by Agile, Design Thinking and Lean methodology practices, a value stream in the context of a life event is a series of backlogs of work that when delivered over time offer value to all parties associated with the life event ecosystem. This value stream could also be called a strategic product value management with the product being the life event or a value chain. Naturally this value stream will be driven by user needs and this will inherently drive out waste from the system of things that don’t offer value therefore reducing costs for agencies.
How could a value stream work?
- Each life event would need to have a group of willing agencies/ parties that have a vested interest in the user journey – they effectively become the Kaitiaki or guardians of the event, looking out for its welfare and identifying how it interacts with other events. Along with government they would help determine the shift we are looking for the event. They would also identify the end users, service delivery entities and possible machine “users” relevant to the life event. Based on existing strategic and insight work completed with end users, a backlog of work in the form of opportunities would be created. These opportunities would be aspirational and be in the form of a design statement – not too broad as in not knowing where to start and not too specific to describe a solution. This backlog of work could be measured at a high level to ascertain the potential benefits of the portfolio.
- The backlog of strategic opportunities is prioritised by the Kaitiaki and one is selected for a development team to investigate in more detail. A multidisciplinary team would be created to look at the problems associated with the opportunity, what are root causes behind it, brainstorm and conceptually prototype what could be interventions that help end users and describe these potential interventions or changes that assist end users. These interventions could range from operational fixes, to new services and legislation or policies. High level benefits could be measured and identified based on the features of each intervention. This effectively creates a second backlog of work but it’s exclusively for that opportunity. The Kaitiaki would prioritise the list and development of one or more of the recommended changes would begin.
- For each intervention, additional design work would be required to find out the impact of the change from an end user perspective, feasibility from a technical perspective and viable from both a business and political perspective. A range of methods could be applied to identify the features of the change and test using functional prototypes to validate the design. Typically for digital product and service delivery, this stage is where minimum viable products are created that can be tested in the market or with stakeholders. A Minimal Viable Product (MVP, also known as an Alpha) presents an ideal way of learning what is needed within a low cost and limited way. Although useful for digital delivery, there is no reason why the MVP approach can’t be considered for other services and policy.
- The output of this work would either confirm the original design, a variation of the design that still meets the original intent, or completely invalidates the design. Either way a significant amount is learnt about the benefits, pros and cons which can be applied to the design as it's scaled and integrated into delivery systems or applied as lessons learnt into other end user and government driven initiatives. If a MVP meets the necessary requirements, the process of integrating it into delivery systems begins. For digital products and services this would be achieved using an Agile methodology that starts delivering a MVP first and then adds useful functionality over time. For other services and policy a delivery mechanism that best suits end users and delivery agents would need to be investigated and enacted.
- Monitoring the eco-system and its products and services plus the performance delivery agents would occur throughout the life event. We need to know how well it's performing. Is it achieving the desired shift we are looking for within the life event? What needs to change or have we achieved everything we set out to do and the benefits are realised? Monitoring and measurement essentially creates a closed-loop which informs future work in the life event.
- The Kaitiaki would have collective oversight of the whole programme of work from start to finish and they would delegate a Product Owner to work with each team to help guide the work. The teams involved would likely change from stage to stage as different expertise is required to complete each one. Teams who specialise in investigating opportunities to concepts would likely start on the next opportunity after they have made their recommendations. The same would go for the MVP and integration teams. Teams would also have new members brought in who have specialised knowledge about agencies or end users which helps share resources across all organisations involved in the life event. Keeping teams together allows them to build up expertise plus deliver at pace.
The entire process would continue until the backlogs of work are completed and the shift required for the life event has been achieved. Effectively this is strategy through delivery.
Arranging government around life events with our current structures presents challenges especially as it will require people to look beyond their own agency boundaries to facilitate and support the life event teams. The recommendations from the teams and decisions of the Kaitiaki may cause challenges for agencies if they need to implement changes to existing services or stand up data and infrastructure that supports delivery by another agency.
Funding the value stream would also be a challenge as the current usual model of programme funding is based around waterfall project methods and may not take into account Agile methodology. Funding is also agency specific and it is difficult to secure cross-agency ‘seed’ funding through to pilot/prototype and there is no funding for Business As Usual (BAU) of life events post pilot/prototype. In a fiscally restricted environment, a funded value stream could also take funding away from agencies, which could cause short term stress until the benefits of the value stream are realised. We would need to use different models to assess and measure the benefits of the opportunities for discovery, concepts and prototypes and MVP’s developed in the earlier stages of the value stream.
Although these are big challenges in the current environment we believe they are not insurmountable.
Our Lab team and the wider Service Innovation team have been thinking about this concept and have started looking at how these value streams could practically work and how benefits could be assessed and measured for this way of working.
Our work with the Transition to Tertiary life event with Tertiary Education Commission looked to see what opportunities could be investigated further for the period in which an end user starts to think about study through to enrolment. Collectively we made a decision not to look at the whole life event in its entirety in the short time we had together, but nor did we ignore other parts of the user journey as everything is connected. Our work confirmed that indeed the life event is complex and intricate and would be well suited to the value stream approach.
The outcome was the identification of seven opportunities that could form the basis of a backlog of work for future teams to investigate in more detail. Although our team has a digital focus on making it easier for people to access government services, the opportunities were based on what would offer the end user value, regardless of the how they might access current or future services – those decisions will come later when each opportunity is investigated further. Next up will be the prioritisation of those opportunities with those Kaitiaki who have a stake in the life event and work will begin.
SmartStart (read about the story of SmartStart) and Te Hokinga ā Wairua End of Life are examples of agencies already coming together to help support the creation and development of these services, and use Agile methods to do this. The Service Innovation work programme is also governed by a group of agencies who set and support the programme because they see the work helping all their agencies and citizens. These examples show that government can support this way of working, the trick will be scaling up to support a life event in its entirety and delivering a series of useful life events.
How can you help?
I’m interested in your thoughts about this way of organising life events beyond the consolidation of services. Is this feasible in the government environment and what other challenges would need to be overcome to make it a reality? Should we try and push to trial this approach on one of the life events to see if it works and offer long term value? Has this approach been implemented in another system and what have been the outcomes associated with that?
Finally, I’d like to acknowledge Daniel Blank at Inland Revenue for inspiration and the many discussions we’ve had about this concept – it’s been lots of fun.
Please comment below or get in touch with me and the team as we’d love to hear from you about this concept and share with you the other work we are involved with.