Week #81 at the Digital Service: Notes for 13–17 November 2023

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Activate to view larger image, Three people, 2 white women and 1 white man in semi-formal clothes and standing closely next to each other, all smiling, touching each other’s backs in a workshop space with a big TV set behind them

It’s vital that I burst my bubble regularly. For over 6 years, since 2017, KatrinSimone and I have been running public service design conferences in Germany. On Friday, we ran another Public Service Lab Day – this time in close partnership with the City of Cologne’s Innovation Office.

Before returning to Germany in 2022, it was my primary way to connect with people in German government and promote user-centred design approaches across the public sector. Now, it complements my work at DigitalService and allows me to leave my Berlin federal government bubble and see what’s happening at the local and state levels.

Our conference day format is well-iterated by now. It offers a packed day of inspirational talks, workshops, space for exchange, and – maybe most importantly – includes the ceremony for the award for good public administration, ‘Preis für gute Verwaltung’. For the 5th time, the award made 3 local government projects visible that would be undiscoverable and undocumented otherwise.

Germany’s public sector still lacks the capability and structures to connect across organisations easily, exchange knowledge effectively, and share experiences efficiently. Public Service Lab, with its many supporters and partners, makes a vital contribution. We have recorded the good work of others through video recordings, articles, and case studies that inspire people, challenge them, and push the discourse forward on the quality of public services.

Once again, Katrin and Simone have been terrific partners in crime who won’t get tired of running this as a side activity. Maik Dick, head of the Innovation Office of the City of Cologne, and his brilliant team of service designers and innovation managers helped put the event together with us and made the day possible. I have deep respect and gratitude for the work of the small award team and their jury for making the ceremony happen. I am also grateful to the 11 workshop creators who made the day actionable and practical. I am incredibly thankful for my colleague Marlene, who delivered an impressive keynote on redesigning justice services and travelling to Cologne by bus. We will publish the slides, videos, photos, and articles in the coming days. And I should rest briefly before all the next events happen.

Meeting other public sector community organisers

Despite a country-wide train strike, partnership & ecosystem manager Anna, Head of Engineering Christian, and I travelled across Germany on Thursday. We attended the annual autumn conference of the public sector community of practice network NExT in the state capital of Hesse, Wiesbaden.

As part of the event, I represented our user-centred design community of practice in a gallery walk. For that, every community had to prepare a poster with key facts about it. In front of it, I had valuable conversations with other community leads. There are now 15 different communities of practice. That is a plus of 6 within 1 year.

Two people in formal clothes standing in front of a poster with lots of text and a few small pictures – the poster’s headline says in German ‘user-centred design’

In our poster, my co-lead Maria and I reflected on the purpose of our community, the first achievements and goals for the coming year. We have about 50 participants per community meeting from all parts of the German public sector: local, state, and federal government, plus government-owned digital and IT providers. In the future, we aim for 1 meetup each quarter. After kicking things off in July and running a meetup in late September, we’ll get together again in early December. We mentioned our UCD maturity survey from July, the monthly user research exchange spin-off and which organisations have been contributing with content so far.

We also made and communicated some plans for the community for 2024:

  • Experimenting with new community formats
  • Collectively co-creating guidance on various user-centred design topics
  • Sharing material well structured on OpenCode.de
  • Repeating our community UCD maturity survey in the summer for comparison
  • Doing an in-person community event as an interactive conference day

Talking about service design to public sector colleagues

On Tuesday, I gave a talk to Swiss colleagues in the City of Zürich. Their Smart City Zürich team invited me to a new talk series on service design. They have hired several service designers who work on projects like efficient public transport management. To support their work, they wanted to hear why service design is essential for the public sector and what good looks like. Lou Down will cover the latter in another session at the end of the month. I mostly talked about the what and why.

Some 180 people signed up. I did a general introduction to the topic and went through 2 case studies – 1 from the UK and 1 from Digital Service. In the following 20 minutes, I tried to cover as many questions as possible – from funding to capability to accessibility processes. The slides of the talk are available on GitHub.

While en route to the NExT autumn conference, I was spontaneously asked to cover an opening keynote – after the original speaker got sick. So, I adopted the talk slightly and delivered it to 30 other public sector colleagues from all over Germany, including some state CIOs and executive directors of Federal agencies. It led to some discussions and future invitations to public sector organisations.

What’s next

On Tuesday, we are running our next local public sector innovation meetup. We’ll return to CityLAB’s fabulous space for talks and discussions about ‘Reshaping urban mobility’.

We’ll have at least 2, possibly even 3 talks and speakers. The Senate Department for Mobility, Transport, Climate Protection and the Environment will discuss the use of parking spaces in Berlin. The co-founder of the startup FixMyCity will explain how they are working with the local government to plan better cycle infrastructure. And, if we are lucky, we will also hear from Berlin’s public transport provider about an integration service they have been developing.

Öffentliches Gestalten: Shaping public sector’s future – Reshaping urban mobility

I’m working on a bigger website update for the 24-hour remote conference. The page will then display the different countries and presentation order according to the user’s local time. We have most countries confirmed and will use the remaining 1.5 weeks to sort out the last ones as well as the tech setup. For Germany’s slot, I have 3 talks confirmed: 2 from Digital Service and 1 from the City of Cologne.

We’ll publish and promote our first-ever content design role early next week. I finished the job description and interview kit this week.

Post scriptum

On Sunday afternoon, I had the opportunity to see the final presentation of the GovJam Berlin. It’s been 10 years since I co-ran the first GovJam in Berlin. This time, I was a commenting juror together with 3 other folks.

A selfie of group of 4 white people – 3 men and 1 woman, sitting on sofa, smiling into the camera, holding small signs showing emojis: a heart, a rocket, an ok hand, and a zany face

8 teams made a terrific effort to prototype safer public transport, better use of communal spaces, and easier service access. It showed young people’s passion and interest in designing better public services.

The GovJam organising team was doing an excellent job putting together an engaging hands-on design workshop. Even a service designer from UK local government came to Berlin to join and was impressed.