Blog / The Role of Good Service Design in Healthcare

Rohan Gunatillake: July 23, 2019

One of the things that really made me want to join NDS was that it had a mandate to use the Scottish Approach to Service Design, as outlined in the Digital Health & Care Strategy of 2018. Led by the Scottish Government, the progressive and – to my mind – essential vision of the Approach is that the people of Scotland are supported and empowered to actively participate in the definition, design and delivery of their public services. The resources the Scottish Government are sharing about the what, the why and the how of designing and delivering public services are well worth a read – especially if you are new to the idea of service design itself.

I’m now 40 days into my role heading up the product team here. I was already pretty excited coming into the job, keen to play my part in making things which improve the lives of the people of Scotland and the lives of the health and social care professionals who care for them. And as we continue to map out our approach and processes with their emphasis on participation, kindness and efficiency, it has made me remember my first job out of university.

At first glance, it wasn’t a million miles away from what I do today. I had joined the public sector division of a large technology consulting company and was assigned to a project for what is now called the Ministry of Justice, implementing a new version of the software used in the day-to-day running of the over three hundred magistrates courts in England and Wales.

My particular role was in so-called ‘business change’, helping to set up training for court staff and making sure the transition from their previous system to the new one was as smooth as possible. The problem was that it never had a chance. While things are better nowadays, the all too common and all too sad truth of large public sector software delivery in those days was that the first time the actual people who use the software saw it was the moment they started using it for training. That’s exactly what happened and you can pretty much guess the result… At best the solution – which had cost tens of millions of pounds to make, struggled to fit into people’s existing workflows, and at worst, it just didn’t do some key things that people needed it to do.  

It sounds obvious. When making the software and services for clearly identifiable groups of people, such as magistrates courts staff or healthcare practitioners working in palliative care, or people wanting to quit smoking on the Isle of Bute, of course you should involve the target users of your service in the process. Historically, too many organisations have made the mistake of assuming what they want is the same as what people want. Products and services are built around organisational needs and views of the world, rather than those of the people who will actually use the things.

The good news is that many of those lessons have been learned – often the hard way - and the last decade has seen the rising recognition within the public sector that good design is just as important as good engineering when making new digital services for people. Since what the public sector delivers is services, to ensure that people’s needs are really being met, it by definition needs professional service designers – and it’s been very encouraging to see more and more governmental and public sector service design roles come up. Including here at NDS.

Put simply, service design is the design of services. And in our context of health and social care, from a citizen perspective a service is simple: it’s something that helps them to do something – a parent wanting to get their toddler checked out when they have a rash they don’t recognise, a paramedic wanting to make sure the person in front of them has their wishes around emergency resuscitation respected, someone with a long-term condition sharing information with their clinician on how they’re doing on a regular basis in a way that respects everyone’s time, but also allows for appropriates routes for escalation.

When we have a bad experience with a service, it is most probably because it’s either not been designed with us in mind, or it’s not been designed at all – just patched together over time, more Sellotape and string rather than clear strategy.

We all know what bad design feels like and as a public sector team spending public money, we at NDS want to make sure that money is spent well. That is why alongside our other core design functions such as User Experience (UX)/User Interface (UI), we are investing in service design professionals to ensure that the products we make can be as valuable to the people who use them as possible.

We’re looking for a Service Designer. 

Our first Service Designer role is currently live and will play a leading role in turning the ambition as outlined in the Scottish Approach to Service Design into reality and at scale.

The heart of the role will be embedding participatory design processes into our work so that a) we understand the problems that need solved, as much as possible and b) end-users are actively involved in defining and developing the solutions to those problems. It’s no longer good enough to merely consult users on the solution you’ve already decided to make. The opportunity is to play your part in how health/care technology is made and imagined in Scotland - this is a dream opportunity for the right person.

Closes August 5th, apply now.

If you are a service designer with significant industry or public sector experience, have worked on software projects, are a gifted communicator and able to work with everyone from care home workers to senior clinicians to software engineers to people who just want to get a GP appointment – and if you are up for a challenge -  then please do apply for the role. It closes on August 5th. And if you have any questions, do please just pop me an email.


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