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How Government CIOs Can Adopt Human-Centered Design Into Their Operating Model

Understand the benefits, limitations and capabilities to inform successful adoption.

Human-centered design (HCD) started as a way to enhance the user experience of hardware, but is now most commonly used to refer to the design approach that focuses on the user. In a government setting, it signals a relentless focus on the user or stakeholder at the center of the government service, from citizens (commuters, drivers, pedestrians, patients, caregivers, students, etc.) to the government workforce itself. HCD encourages the involvement of these stakeholders through the design process of government services.

By 2023, 60% of governments will integrate HCD techniques into their digital service design process.

“The use of agile and HCD processes for service design will become a standard combination of techniques for governments to improve service delivery,” says Gartner Senior Director Analyst Dean Lacheca.

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HCD adoption takes time — in the 2021 Gartner Digital Transformation Divergence Across Government Sectors Survey, 54% of respondents indicated deploying HCD and another 30% put their timelines within three years. With this in mind, focus on proper training of key business and IT leaders to build a base knowledge of HCD and associated techniques.
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Key action steps for government CIOs to incorporate HCD into their operating model 

While the concept of design thinking is at the heart of HCD, it is important to note that HCD does not necessarily advocate a specific design process. Instead, it’s best applied in the involvement of key stakeholders throughout the process so as to consider all perspectives when identifying or clarifying the problem that must be solved, and designing a solution to address the problem and meet the needs of all stakeholders. To encourage the adoption of human-centered design for digital services:

  • Build the base knowledge of HCD and the associated techniques for key business and IT leaders through training, workshops and access to experienced practitioners. 
  • Use a proof-of-concept project on a relevant problem/opportunity to immerse key businesses and IT leaders in the technique and help reinforce a focus on empathy and solving relevant problems.
  • Showcase HCD and the associated techniques to your executive leadership group via workshops. Use examples from across the government to illustrate the positive impact HCD has on citizen engagement and digital service uptake. 
  • Create cross-functional HCD teams so that key resources from throughout the organization can experience HCD in action.

Watch now: How Government CIOs Can Drive Scale & Resilience

Long-term action steps for government CIOs

  • Progress your organization’s HCD capabilities by establishing a center of excellence (COE) tasked with building capabilities. 
  • Determine whether IT or another organizational function should lead the COE. Your support is essential, but the leadership of an HCD COE does not need to come from IT.
  • Clarify the scope and governance required to ensure there is clarity on the roles and responsibilities of the COE when supporting projects or initiatives.
  • Clarify the funding model that will support the COE. This includes resourcing, which should be scaled to match the pace of adoption, and the funding of third parties to help build capabilities.
  • Facilitate external support from proven practitioners who understand the nuances of operating within a government environment for the COE.

Different HCD adoption strategies government organizations use

The most advanced customer-experience-focused government organizations are incorporating the concepts of total experience into their designs. They have established frameworks and formal processes that govern how they apply HCD to their design process.

Less advanced government organizations adopt an unstructured or ad hoc approach, including some aspects of citizen research, into their processes. Here, CIOs need to take a proactive role in the successful adoption of HCD.

Some governments complement HCD with a phased approach to digital solution delivery to support the “verification” concept. This includes the use of alpha and/or beta releases of new approaches to government services as part of the standard process. Depending on the nature of the solution, citizens and stakeholders can opt into the trial or be included in this phase as part of an A/B testing approach.
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