As a joint data innovation facility of the Government of Indonesia and the United Nations, our work over the years has included developing information systems to map population movements after a disaster, analyse and categorise diplomatic communications, monitor air quality at the community level to mitigate health risks, amongst others. Besides ensuring that these tools are functional, equally important is designing them in a way that promotes effective adoption and uptake after they are handed over for implementation. To that end, we’ve been integrating service design principles as part of our approach, particularly in our work with development partners.
Understanding Service Design
What is service design? Lara Penin articulates it best in her book titled “An Introduction to Service Design: Designing the Invisible”, where she describes service design as a human-centred design approach that aims to improve the quality of interaction between services and their users. It takes a thorough look at the end-to-end processes and resources (including people, infrastructure and protocols) required for services to run and generate value.
Explaining the concept of service design through the frontstage, backstage and behind-the-scenes analogies might be useful. The frontstage is where users mostly interact with the service and what users use and see. Backstage is where the support needed to run the service exists, which usually includes the staff and the hardware (that sometimes can be seen by the users, but is invisible to the user in most instances). On the other hand, behind-the-scenes include the rules, regulations, policies and budgets needed to support the frontstage and backstage of the service.
Service design includes several methods that are derived from human-centred design approaches, for instance user interviews, user observations, and focus groups discussions. There are also tools such as service blueprint and system mapping that are able to provide insights beyond user-platform interactions. In our case at the Lab, the application of these methods and tools helps to inform the development of analytical services, for example with developing an analytical dashboard. In particular, these methods can be useful at three stages in an intervention development project cycle: i) problem exploration at the beginning; ii) testing phase; iii) and pre-handover refinement.
Informing Data Analytics Dashboard Design
At the Lab, our social systems team works in the problem assessment space, whereby qualitative analysis and user research is conducted using service design principles to examine issues. The insights that emerge from these processes are used to inform the design of interventions and in some instances complement data analytics insights.
At the beginning of our projects, applying service design’s method of systems mapping has helped the team to glean insights about relevant stakeholders, existing workflows, as well as the organizational dynamics in which the data analytics dashboards would be embedded. Additionally, conducting user research at this stage has been helpful in uncovering the actual needs and challenges of the dashboards’ users. This activity should be done in parallel with scoping to understand the availability of the data and analytical tools that will feed into the dashboards. This early approach enables the team to design dashboards that are contextualised and aligned with the needs of the users, whilst considering possibilities and limitations of available data.
At the testing stage, the application of service design can equip the team with various human-centred design testing methods, which are useful to get early insights on the challenges that users are facing with the dashboard design prototype. From a service point of view, the team would be able to test not only the users who directly use the dashboard, but also stakeholders that are involved in running the service. Altogether, this helps to ensure that the dashboard can run smoothly within the service ecosystem.
At the pre-handover refinement phase, a service blueprint method helps us to outline how the dashboard as a service operates. It also helps our team to communicate the technical aspects to project counterparts. As a project management artefact, the service blueprint has helped our counterparts understand the holistic elements of the service, which include frontstage, backstage, behind-the-scenes, and interaction elements that are important for sustaining a dashboard.
Designing a Service that will Actually be Used
Service design incorporates both user and system perspectives, allowing our team to gain multiple perspectives by zooming in and out on the interactions within the service. At the Lab, we typically combine these two perspectives to generate insights for dashboard development.
Systems mapping helps to uncover the ecosystems of actors within an organization where a dashboard will be hosted, including existing tools and avenues for decision making. Combining this approach with user research enables us to dig deeper into the interaction dynamics, which enables the team to understand pain points; the needs of users and custodians; perceptions of various actors; and finally, pathways in which these dashboards could influence decision-making.
Working alongside government and development partners, we found that the dashboards we designed were not only utilised by the users (such as data analysts who use them for daily operations), but they were also sometimes used to influence decision making at a higher level. For this reason, mapping potential stakeholders who could benefit from the dashboards, as well as identifying pathways to effectively deliver insights to them is important. We also conduct user research with these stakeholders to further understand their perceptions of the dashboards; the challenges experienced in interpreting and utilising insights from the dashboards; and the types of interactions that can be improved to improve the information flow.
With regard to the community-based air quality monitoring system we developed with Kopernik and Institut Teknologi Bandung, from our interviews with citizens affected by air pollution, we learned that the information needed to be context-specific, practical and actionable. In addition, the information provided needed to be repetitive to drive action. Using these insights, we designed a user-centred notification system that provides recommendations on what actions to take whenever the air quality reaches certain thresholds.
Another key feature of this air quality monitoring system is that it connects relevant stakeholders with their respective responsibilities pertaining to managing the system. Through our research, we found that some of the stakeholders involved had other responsibilities besides managing this system and this often affects their cognitive load and inhibits them from passing along critical and timely messages to affected communities. Considering these insights, we designed a one-click-away automated text sharing function that enabled responsible parties to seamlessly pass along messages from Kelurahan officers to RT/RW (community Leaders), and then to Posyandu (health post managed by the community) to ensure more effective dissemination of the messages throughout the community.
Learning Along the Way
Service design has helped us to think more holistically when developing a service, for instance about the stakeholders and the system needed for smooth adoption and adaptation as it goes through implementation. Service design may not always cover everything needed for ensuring smooth and efficient services, but our experiences working with our development partners tell us that it’s a good start to improving services.
We are still at an early stage of applying both the user and system perspectives of service design to our projects and plan on sharing more about our experiences and learnings along the way. We’d also like to hear about your experiences in applying service design in your organisations! Get in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org