5by5: Service Design for Government, Sarah Drummond

Interview with Sarah Drummond, Co-founder & Managing Director at Snook

By Thomas Brandenburg


“We should be looking at the systems and convening the right people around the table to ask ‘What can we deliver that will meet these citizen needs, now and in the future?’ We should do this across a system not just for one organisation.” — Sarah Drummond


What components of service design are most interesting and relevant when working with government and public institutions?

I am interested in the system of relationships, politics, department silos, the dark matter of orgs particularly in Government. What we need to recognise is that Government is both capital g and small g and it is a complex inter-related tangle of public, private and third sector organisations delivering multiple areas of the journey people will go on, both as service users and more widely as citizens.

What fascinates me the most, is the material of service design we need to learn to bend and shape to really bring people together with a united language on what will really work for people in the context were are trying to deliver value.

When we can get our heads all aligned across institutions on how we join up our efforts, that is the exciting bit. The most interesting part, is the journey to get there.


Has the relevance or acceptance of service design changed in government over the last 2-3 years within Ireland?

I work across the UK. Base in  London we were joining the already exploding offers the UK capital had to offer. In Scotland, it is an incredible time. Our first.minister included the Scottish approach to service design and a variety of AS led principles in the major programme for Gov. Adding in wider civil service events focusing on One Team Government (#oneteamgov) I am helping organise the future and it is exciting to see folks get behind us and work in smarter and collaborative ways.

In Ireland with the launch of Service Republic they are at an exciting point. There were bubbles for years in pockets across the country but there seems to be a tipping point they are now moving into which is building on some successful work in the Irish bank, Cork institute for technology and Musgraves so the public sector is getting behind it.


Do you think there are specific aspects that make it more difficult for government institutions to adopt a human-centered perspective?

There are many issues not only relevant to public services and government but here are two that I think that stand out.

#1. Policy is often removed from delivery. We need to work on bringing that closer together to ensure we develop policy that supports a design led approach. We’ve worked with the likes of Policy Lab the UK who are helping policy-makers understand how design led methods can help inform better written  policy.

#2. The digital divide. We have a major problem on our hands for the future in designing what is possible. Outside of government orgs like Government Digital Service and the major cities we have a lag in digital literacy. This is harmful for the future of how we might build smart, efficient and secure services.


Given that government institutions can be very large and complex, are there specific business units/parts of the organization that you find typically embrace service design first?

Most times,  CEO gets it, and in the government context a director gets it, but it gets difficult lower within the organization as you think about middle management et all.

I like working at the heart of delivery with digital teams, corporate services and, operational departments. We usually help connect them strategically with the senior team and get buy in. This usually means that we are working to do teh work and gain alignment but given that we have outside perspective we gain more traction to help organizations move forward.

Lastly. I believe that the frontline staff understand service design. Their tacit knowledge is crucial and much needed for positively innovating services as an organisation. As you work in large organization find ways to engage and empower them!


How would you like to see the practice of service design evolve in the public sector?

Devolve it to frontline. As a discipline we should be making ourselves redundant and building the tools of tomorrow to allow others to iteratively  improve services based on feedback and data.

We should  be looking at the systems and convening the right people around the table to ask ‘What can we deliver that will meet these citizen needs, now and in the future?’ We should do this across a system not just for one organisation. If our work is good in building capacity and training people within organizations should be empowered to be ok by themselves to carry forward the service design torch.


Be sure to see Sarah’s presentation, ““Ireland’s first Service Design centre | Building design capabilities across local government” at the upcoming 2017 SDN Global Conference


Check out other conversations at 5by5.blog