‘Digital’ vs ‘service design’ vs ‘BPR’ vs ‘TOMs’, versus designing services, in organisations, for people (and the role of GDS)

Benjamin P. Taylor
3 min readApr 1, 2023

Great comments from John Mortimer here. https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn%3Ali%3Aactivity%3A7047891163189493760/

In response to https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/roadmap-for-digital-and-data-2022-to-2025/transforming-for-a-digital-future-2022-to-2025-roadmap-for-digital-and-data

They make me reflect how sad it is that GDS originally had to cherry pick their ‘top 25’ ‘services’ for the transformation dashboard based on them being entirely transactional and optimally suitable for online self-service. (History here: https://gds.blog.gov.uk/story-2013/)

In doing so they launched digital in UK central government (and made a very real contribution to what ‘digital’ means in large parts of the world), but they fully separated transactional ‘service design’ for digital from the design of services fully engaged with place and people.

What’s more they couldn’t talk about it for many years, at risk of undermining their own myth and power. A real ‘West Wing’ tough decision (perhaps I should say ‘devil’s bargain’), I would love to know the story of that decision and how knowing and explicit this consideration was.

We had a long period where service design outside of digital defaulted to face-to-face contact point design (and, preferably, signposting) — because that was the physical world, something that designers who weren’t ‘digital’ were comfortable with, trained in.

And we lost track of ‘BPR’, business process analysis, etc — previously dominated anyway by process work to implement large IT systems. A few dedicated weirdos — many inspired by or working in Vanguard Consulting — trudged on, attempting to actually design service processes that met demand (and in the case of a few, aspiring to meet needs or enable capability).

Meanwhile, in public services, tenders came out for one of these flavours with nary a recognition that any other possibility existed. Clients and consultants (internal and external) tended to be locked in their paradigms, unaware or dismissive of other possibilities.

John is one of those who has been carrying a torch for actual design of services — which forces you into the messy, sticky swamp of contending with citizens, organisations, managers, politicians and the like.

I do, now, see glimmers of hope that there might be a synthesis coming — a couple of recent tenders (driven by savings) that didn’t distinguish but seemed to cover the territory between actual citizen-involved services and digital (and even connecting to ‘Target Operating Models’ — previous shorthand for ‘make a cheaper organisation, then let the details of provision to citizens work themselves out’).

It’s what we at RedQuadrant have been trying to do all along — and a hard message to communicate. Fingers crossed…

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