Design Thinking as a powerful tool to improve public service delivery

December 17, 2021

The Notary Office before remodulation, creating physical and mental barriers to a sufficient service provision.

“Design is one of the most important drivers of the quality of experience for users of services. For governments to remain credible to their citizens, they must treat the design quality of their services as seriously as the best businesses.” – Tim Brown, CEO and president, IDEO

And so, in June 2021, the UNDP Guinea Bissau Accelerator Lab embarked on a journey with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the High Commission for COVID-19, to explore how Design Thinking can be used as a tool to improve public service delivery. The Notary Office was chosen as a focus area, as it is the busiest service provider for the Ministry of Justice of Bissau.

Designing for Public Services, Nesta and IDEO guide 2017

Design Thinking is a design methodology that provides an innovative approach to problem solving and is characterized by focusing on solutions rather than the problems. The methodology has proven to be   useful in tackling complex problems that are difficult to define by themselves. Problems are re-framed in a human- centered approach by engaging with the people closest to the problem, using brainstorming sessions, iterations, prototyping and testing of possible solutions, to confront the challenges at hand.  

There are several reasons why Design Thinking is becoming a valuable methodology for governments. In fact, in recent times,  we are seeing an increase in the number of governments building design capabilities in their organizations when for years it has been more commonplace for the private sector to do so. 

In different parts of the world, the trend is showing a decline in citizens' trust in governments. Citizens feel that their needs and who they are, is not taken into consideration by the governments.  

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach, meaning that it starts with people’s needs (and considers both citizens and civil servants). The nature of this approach puts people back in balance with what they are doing at a time when both citizens and civil servants feel they are being led by processes and regulation, rather than enabled by them “.[1]  

Innovation is slowly being put on the agenda as the way governments deliver services is becoming more and more important and cost saving processes are no longer enough. 

Significant changes in service delivery and policy design have been made possible using innovative methods such as Design Thinking.   

The service experience for users is often incoherent as the gap between those who deliver services and those who make policies is often big. An approach led by design thinking can decrease this space and some governments are already experimenting in this area. 

“Irrespective of where a government is in the world and their local challenges, there is one common issue: a shift from ‘designing from the inside out’ to ‘designing from the outside in’. Governments drive the change they want to see and tend to focus on delivering in a way that is most efficient for them. As a result, the desired change often misses the mark with citizens. Using design approaches puts in balance the desired changes of a government with the desires of the citizens. It is ultimately about creating tangible and positive impact“[2]

Collective Intelligence workshop at the Ministry of Justice, identifying challenges, root causes and possible solutions.

The UNDP Accelerator Lab Guinea-Bissau used a Design Thinking process, interviewing 255 users and 40 staff.  Out of the respondents, 60 percent did not consider the space adequate for its use and 90 percent felt there were no measures in place to protect the spread of COVID-19.  Working closely with key stakeholders such as the High Commission for COVID-19 and the student association of Lusófona University, a common understanding was reached, and challenges and root causes were identified through a collective intelligence workshop. Once the main limitation was identified as: inadequate physical space and the barriers it caused to meeting the needs of the users and staff, possible solutions were co-created to address the limitation suggesting the re-modeling and re-organization of the space as a must. Additionally, there was significant pressure from users, with staff increasingly alienating them for lack of understanding and at times, even verbally abusing them.  There was no security in place, making staff fear for their personal safety and protecting themselves from violence was often a problem too.  

Synthesis for the Collective Intelligence workshop

Selected quotes from the workshops and the interviews.

Possible solutions were co-created alongside staff, users of the Ministry of Justice, representatives from the High Commission for COVID-19, UNICEF (United Nations Children Fund), the student Association of Lusófona University, among other stakeholders. 

After intervention: The queue leading to the Notary Office after, designed with Covid-19 measures

The space was then remodeled using prototyping and iteration, considering the needs and ideas of users and employees. The space was organized in a more efficient manner, providing glass protection separating staff and users. The Ministry hired two guards to control the flow and number of people in the space as well as for protecting the staff when needed. Additionally, the screen and queue number machine were re-installed properly, and a training was provided to the staff on their usage. 

The Notary Office in the Ministry of Justice after remodulation

The remodeling was carried out through a participatory process using prototyping and iteration promoted by the UNDP Accelerator Lab in partnership with technicians and users of the Ministry of Justice and the Covid-19 High Commission. The new space aims to improve public service delivery to the population, considering an effective service provision with measures in place that mitigates COVID-19. 

Resident Representative, Tjark Egenhoff is giving an opening speach at the inauguration of the newly remodeled Notary Office

On the 13th of December 2021, the Ministry of Justice and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) inaugurated the remodeled Notary Office, aimed at providing better services to the citizens of Bissau. The inauguration was held in the presence of the German Ambassador and the Director General of the Civil Registry and Notary. The ribbon-cutting event began with a visit to the remodeled space, followed by speeches made by the UNDP Resident Representative, Tjark Egenhoff, and the Minister of Justice, Iaia Djaló.  

“This space was renovated through a new methodology, centered on people and listening to the concerns of users. We are also committed to building a House of Justice in Buba using the same methodology,’ said the UNDP Resident Representative Tjark Egenhoff. 

The next steps of this learning cycle will consist of revisiting the Notary to carry out pre-post-interviews of staff and users, exploring the behavioral change and impacts of the remodeled space.  

“UNDP´s support has facilitated the Ministry's task of improving citizen access to justice,” said the Minister of Justice, Iaia Djaló. 

How can we confront the current trend of a decline in citizens' trust in governments? Human-centered approaches start and end with people’s needs and might have the ability to create a balance where civil servants and citizens are empowered by practices rather than led by them.  As more and more governments over the world embark on the journey of innovation, we might also see more of the use of Human-Centered approaches in public service and policy design in Guinea Bissau in the near future.