People at the heart of innovation
Government agencies working together and really listening to people – from the vulnerable to the tech-savvy – to redesign their services to better meet the needs of all New Zealanders.
From 2017 to mid-2020, the Service Innovation Team had a crack at something quite unique: it explored working across Government agencies, setting out to discover what it would take to get agencies to work more collaboratively.
Digital change was presenting more efficient ways of working - both challenging and providing opportunities - to Government agencies to deliver more joined-up services. The Team comprised service designers, software developers and skilled support staff, whose diverse work was overseen by senior officials across Government. It collaborated with other agencies, private partners and community groups. Together they made a point of listening to citizens to understand their ‘pain points’ when using, or trying to use, government’s often overly-complex services.
Work took place in a neutral space no single agency owned, known simply as ‘the Lab’. Here, agencies could step away from business-as-usual mindsets and were encouraged to work and think differently. The hope was they would share what they’d learnt and build capability within their own agencies.
Guests were provided specialist skills and support to build tools such as financial calculators, develop award-winning open-source code and reusable componentry, a VR tool for policy-makers, and to streamline and digitise services so they were easier to access and deliver.
The Lab team ran hui that invited ‘different voices to the table’. They tested and refined ways to make it easier for people to get financial benefits they were entitled to, such as a Rates Rebate and Community Services Card.
Internationally significant work on Legislation as Code and Better Rules was undertaken early in the Lab.
The Team sought to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Many took weekly te reo lessons, learnt their pepeha, several waiata and became more familiar with Tikanga Māori. Visitors or manuhiri, were welcomed with a whakatau.
One Discovery that explored renting a property spun into a second - examining the concept of kainga: ‘property’ for Māori is a significantly different cultural concept. While whānau pani, integral to the Māori approach to death and grief, laid a powerful foundation for the Whetūrangitia infant death support service to build upon.
The work was innovative and experimental. That meant sometimes it went up blind alleys and other times discovered precious nuggets it wasn’t even searching for.
When the physical facility closed, some work ended and others transitioned to lead agencies to progress. The team packaged up its body of work into this Toolkit. Guides and templates were created, along with an attempt to articulate the valuable ‘Lab Approach’ that had developed over time.
This approach drew international interest, attracting visitors from Asia, Canada, the UK, USA, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Often valuable research undertaken by government (and beyond) is archived or not easily discoverable and therefore investment in such work is not available to build on or inform others who could benefit. Valuable work has been undertaken in the Lab. Some of this has been large and impactful; some small, yet incremental in contributing to a bigger change that benefits New Zealanders. As such, the Toolkit represents a repository of immense value.
In the end, the team says its biggest lesson from everything that went well, was that this happened when effort was focused right at the start on establishing enduring relationships and then building trust – something Māori would capture in the saying he tangata he tangata he tangata; it is about the people, the people, the people.
Thank You, Haere rā
To the many who shared their mahi and wisdom - past team members, passionate individuals committed to supporting their agency colleagues and other New Zealanders, visitors, blog post readers, followers and friends - a heart-felt thank you and farewell.
Everything in the Service Innovation Toolkit is available under a Creative Commons licence. Feel free to read and run with the ideas, adapt the tools, learn from the successes, lessons and mistakes. If you are interested in starting similar work, here is a head-start.
Māku te ra e tō ana; Kei a koe te urunga ake o te rā
Let mine be the setting sun; yours is the dawning of a new day