Our main takeaways from SDinGov Conference 2021

As a team, we’ve been reflecting on this year’s brilliant Service Design in Government Conference. For those that haven’t been before, SDinGov is a two-day conference dedicated to exploring the critical themes and progress in the field of service design within public services. Whilst it’s headed up in the UK it attracts participants and speakers from all over the world. 

We were also fortunate to be part of the event this year with a session from Julie Sun, Senior UX Consultant, and Amy Bracewell, Senior Project Manager, on the theme of conducting research with people in vulnerable situations

Below is a collection of thoughts from our service design colleagues in the government team at cxpartners who attended the conference and captured their favourite sessions and takeaways. 

What inspired us

George Aye,Design ethics: what happens when we reach peak craft?

Designers are often put into situations on projects where they encounter ethical dilemmas. When the project’s direction feels off, do we risk being seen as difficult, ruining future opportunities and client relationships? It’s a challenge when we’re also under pressure to hit the bottom line. 

‘George's talk beautifully explained how and why these ethical dilemmas might come up and how we as designers can ready ourselves to exert our judgement and shift the craft focused design space to one that is truly human-centered for human good and reduce harm.’

Julie, Senior UX Consultant

The talk inspired us to work with clients closely, challenging us to exert our judgement more and push back when project directions feel off or goals no longer seem aligned. 

Key slide from George's talk whichh questions 'Which questions have you dealt with recently?' and 'Which questions do you expect to deal with soon?'

The 10 ethical questions George introduced (see image above) were also interesting to consider when working on projects. Even though there might not be a 'right' answer, there are ways we can be more ready to tackle these challenges head on.

Martin Wright,  Consequence scanning - an exercise you can use when designing new services

Consequence scanning as a formal method for decision making was really interesting to the team. It encourages us to take a wide lens view of the assumptions we make about what our actions will lead to, paying specific attention to what we don't intend to happen.

‘It often feels quite tempting to get the blinkers on and think with a glass half full about what products and services will achieve. Consequence scanning gives us a simple framework for taking a step back from the immediate results to think about wider implications.’ 

Nicola, Senior user researcher

It was also amazing to see the richness of this sort of exercise when 135 people are contributing at once (that’s a lot of post-its!). The sheer volume of insight made us question who should ideally be involved when running this exercise on new projects. We often conduct assumptions exercises as a core project team, but would it be more effective, and expansive, to invite wider groups of stakeholders into those early discussions?

Bassam Jabry & Karin Aue, How to achieve a Hi-Tech and Hi-Touch Public Healthcare Experience 

One of our UX Consultants, a former architect, was excited to see UX and architecture come together to form a streamlined, user-centred service across physical and digital platforms. 

‘It was fascinating to see physical prototypes supporting the healthcare service design experience and also very grounded in iteration. It often takes a few times to get it right but it's so important in order to continue to improve.’ 

Megan, UX Consultant

What we learned

1) Human centred design is not inherently good

Without deliberate intervention, design rarely serves society. And not every question warrants an answer. Some answers could be to satisfy vanity or are simply inappropriate. We need to uncover the why behind questions being asked in the first place, and determine if they're valid, before we try to tackle them.

2) Personas are indeed not dead!

A brilliant session ‘Personas are dead! Long live personas!’, run by Carolina Pizatto and Amber Westerholm-Smyth, described a thorough method for doing persona development work. Two factors stood out:

  • The team took an interactive approach and pivoted when they needed to. When the volume of insights got the better of them in Miro, a chance encounter with a colleague (a business analyst) helped the team to develop an algorithm for making sense of the insights. 
  • It is critical to ensure personas don’t do more damage than good by reinforcing stereotypes. The team described methods such as neutral naming, or in their case, using Greek mythology to bring the archetypes to life and tell a meaningful story. 

‘I will be rethinking how I create personas and how to remove any unconscious bias from the process and build in narrative stories, quotes, and experiences. I like how they reframed the experience to create unique user stories that were still robust without giving specific demographic information.’ 

Megan, UX Consultant

The session also raised questions around whether it should be best practice for the people informing the personas to have a hand in reviewing them. In the project described in this session, they felt this wasn’t appropriate, but in many cases it most likely is.

3) Getting usable results from surveys is harder than it looks

A session ‘How to improve the inevitable survey’ by Caroline Jarrett, was packed full of practical tips on good survey design. It highlighted the importance of asking two simple but critical questions; 'what decision will you make as a result of this survey' and 'what number do you want to get out of this survey?', which stalled most of us in the workshop. These two questions give us a very accessible way to gain consensus as a team around what a survey will, and will not, answer for you. We learnt about cogability testing (a hybrid approach of cognitive and usability testing), making sure you pilot with a small sample of your user group, and taking time to work out exactly how you will calculate your survey results before you press ‘send’.

Final thoughts

The value of a conference like SDinGov stretches beyond the day to day workings of service designers. It challenges us to broaden our perspectives and see the interconnectedness of our disciplines and approaches. However it also gives us so much that is practical and actionable. Many of the talks were rooted in learning new methodologies and using case studies to show how they could be applied. 

‘From SDinGov this year, I'm finding new ways to prototype and proactively understand the consequences and opportunities of our work in order to tackle our clients' complex challenges.

Megan, UX Consultant

“I’ve been attending SDinGov for several years, and I always find it to be a great mixture of real-world content and practical advice, and horizon-scanning. This year I was so proud that two of our own presented on a topic that we’re committed to across the organisation - and to see how well it resonated with attendees from across the Service Design community. Moreover, many of cxpartners’ Public Sector team have only recently joined us and it’s so valuable to give them exposure to their peers and foster personal and professional growth. Can’t wait until it’s back in-person!”

Amanda, Experience Strategy Director 

Until next time!

Nicola is a senior user researcher in our government team with 10 years of experience in a range of roles. She's passionate about making things that work for people through meaningful and proportionate research. She brings experience in systems thinking, mapping methodologies and qualitative research practices that centre on achieving positive social impact.