IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Putting Human-Centered Design to Work in IT

Public-sector panelists at the recent California Digital Government Summit in Sacramento examined what worked well in government technology during the pandemic and how that might continue.

From left, panelists Morgan Reed, executive government adviser for Amazon Web Services; Daniel Scribner, product chief for Child Welfare Digital Services; and Jason Piccione, deputy secretary for the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, discuss “Designing the Future of the Constituent Experience” at the California Digital Government Summit in Sacramento.
Theo Douglas/Industry Insider — California
This story is limited to Industry Insider — California members.
This story is limited to Industry Insider — California members. Login below to read this story or learn about membership.
So-called “design thinking” is crucial for public-sector IT teams if they’re to work agile and tailor solutions that are meaningful for staffers and constituents alike, technology leaders said recently.

Human-centered design is a high priority for local governments, often second behind cybersecurity, Steve Towns, deputy chief content officer for Government Technology magazine* and e.Republic’s Content Studio, said during a discussion of “Designing the Future of the Constituent Experience” Sept. 29 at the California Digital Government Summit in Sacramento.

“I know there’s really been this awakening or emphasis around how easy to use, how easy to access are the services that we’re providing through government and more and more digitally, both to employees and to the public,” Towns said. “That’s the issue we want to talk about today: How do you put that into practice? What does that look like? Where are you going to run into challenges?”

Public-sector panelists Jason Piccione, deputy secretary for the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, and Daniel Scribner, product chief for Child Welfare Digital Services, offered ideas on what government has done right since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and how to create highly usable tools and solutions. Among the takeaways:

  • Government moved fast during the pandemic; that needs to continue. Piccione contrasted government with Chipotle, makers of his favorite, easy-to-use food app, and pointed out that some see the former as “stodgy, as designed to have so many checks and balances that it takes us a long time to do just about anything.” The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, forced “a little bit of a shift away from that,” with movement speeding up and doors opening to accomplish new tasks that had to happen quickly.
    “Those things, healthcare, those things that we bring to all of our California residents have to be streamlined, and it has to be on a cycle where we can get feedback and implement and feedback and implement,” Piccione said. “And that just hasn’t been the definition of state government forever. Could it be going forward? Yes, it could. Will it? I’m not sure.”
  • On balance, human-centered design is faster. This design approach may make it harder initially for developers and designers to identify and connect with the people whom they want to engage, Scribner said. Fliers, the old standard, and digital tools may make the connection process easier, though. “Once you have, basically, a Rolodex of people that you can reach out to, to start doing the research and the design interactions that you need for human-centered design, with the pandemic, it actually becomes a lot easier. Because you've taken away this assumption that it has to be done face to face,” Scribner said. And elsewhere in the process, he said human-centered design is faster, through complementing agile software delivery and functionality, to delivery and to value.
  • Reuse, not reinvention. Being agile is difficult, Piccione said, but “a reuse idea has to be at the center of it. He used case management as an example and said, “Your similarities in your case management are going far outweigh your differences. Yes, you do this differently. Yes, you do that differently, but guess what? You’re managing a case. So let's get to that and not reinvent that thing 74,000 times.”
  • Let the outcome guide the design. The system your team creates will impact your practice and your service delivery, Scribner said, adding, “So that should be guided by the kinds of outcomes you want to see.” Establish your organization’s goals, the top pain points you’re trying to solve for workers, and your aims for constituents as well. Decide how you’ll measure your success achieving your goals — and ensure that you’ll have the data to know when you’re there.
    “This is an opportunity for technology and for policy and practice to come together at the table to find those kinds of solutions and to do human-centered design of the service that you're trying to deliver,” Scribner said. “What are some of the small pain points that you can solve with a relatively small project? ... That will help you to sort of get your sea legs, in terms of the partnering between the technology organization and the program organization.”
*The California Digital Government Summit was hosted by Government Technology magazine, a publication of e.Republic, which also produces Industry Insider — California.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.