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Service design: That’s our jam

On June 21, the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) hosted its very first Design Jam with 30 participants from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) & Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). With help from design mentors, participants brainstormed ideas to tackle current service challenges in the Government of Canada.

What is a Design Jam?

Design Jams typically bring together multi-sector groups to work on real service challenges, and sometimes even prototype solutions. For our first jam, we decided to keep it small by working with two government departments. Our focus was on using service design methods for discovery research (the initial exploration at the very beginning of a project) and idea generation (ideation).

CRA and ESDC presented three challenge statements on gender diversity, accessibility, and user experience (UX). The 30 participants selected the challenge they wanted to work on. In mixed groups they used service design methods to brainstorm and pitch ideas that would give Canadians a better experience than is currently offered.

We framed the day around a few key principles:

  • Jammers would not solve the service challenge in one day - and that’s okay.
  • Users and their experiences were front and centre. The day was not about figuring out feasibility for internal government processes.
  • All ideas were welcome! There would be no right or wrong answers, nor ideas too ambitious.
  • This was not to be used in place of speaking to real users, but rather a first step to begin to understand their needs.

The Method Toolkit

We provided a toolkit of five methods that CDS uses to help with our own ideation during delivery work.

During the five-hour jam session, a constant stream of design mentors from the Government of Canada UX community floated in to help the groups use the methods. These mentors included members from the design, policy, development, partnerships, and communications teams at CDS, as well as designers from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Policy Horizons. In total, 20 mentors were there to answer and ask questions, and ensure groups weren’t being bogged down by things that ultimately doesn’t put users first.

The five methods in the toolkit were:

SWOT Analysis

  • Participants scanned the department where their chosen service challenge currently lives
  • They outlined what the existing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) were to the service

Value Proposition Canvas

  • Participants started by identifying all the users involved with their service challenge
  • They outlined all their users’ pain points and positive experiences and brainstormed ideas to further enhance the positive and lessen the negative experiences

Empathy Map

  • This tool enabled participants to put themselves in the shoes of one particular user group
  • They worked to identify the different things these users see, feel, hear, and say as they use the service

Affinity Diagram

  • Participants worked through all the ideas they’d generated using previous tools, by discussing, adding to them, and organizing the ideas by themes and similarities.
  • As a final step, each person voted on the ideas they considered the highest priority

Service Blueprint (optional)

  • If they had time, groups were encouraged to map out how their new ideas were situated within the existing service landscape
  • This included considering the different touch points a user experienced, both external and internal, to better understand all the stakeholders who would be involved in this service

They came, they jammed, they ideated

At the end of the day, the groups came together to share their ideas with the CRA and ESDC challenge owners as well as their peers. One thing was clear, each group showed incredible empathy as they pitched their service ideas and improvements.

Even better, these ideas didn’t necessarily come from people with a design background. Attendees were public servants with different job functions, but they all had the same goal: to do better for Canadians. Design Jams can help show how easy it is for people who don’t work in the design space to use user-centric methods in a way that doesn’t feel totally overwhelming.

You can access all of the group presentations and ideas on GCCollab. We also put together a condensed 90 minute video of the day, including the intro, toolkit walkthrough, and two group presentations.

An appetite for more jam

It would seem public servants have a particular sweet tooth for more digital literacy training and service design capacity building.

100% of respondents from our feedback survey said they’d come back for another CDS collaborative training event. (90% of which indicated either a four or five on a scale of five).

94% of respondents said they’d be able to use the tools, processes, or information in their daily work, which is something we’re really pumped to see!

However, there were a few barriers. Some indicated that they found the methods very useful, but would want more practice before implementing them with their teams. Others said that, while these are great tools for brainstorming, too often within current government structures the ideas don’t go anywhere.

And that’s why we are here. Because there’s still lots of work to do. The ideas that these passionate public servants came up with are too important to live in isolation from delivery. There’s no shortage of ways we can work together to make service design methods more accessible for public servants. Design methods that put users first can complement policy-making and program delivery, and shouldn’t be seen as an obstacle for either.

We’re looking forward to taking the feedback, iterating on this model, and perfecting the recipe to make services across all of government simple and easy to use.

Interested in jamming with us in the future? Let us know!