Service design in London, and everything else that happened

Last week was the Service Design in Government conference 2016 in London.

I had been building up to the conference for the last few months, writing my keynote talk, and looking forward to all the conversations that were likely to happen throughout the 3 days.

This conference has so many people I respect and admire doing work across the world in government and delivering public services – I couldn’t wait for it to get started.

The talk I was planning was all about designing services for what could happen next. Understanding that we design for the experience that happens. That great unpredictable thing that is our everyday lives.

Then I got sick.

I missed most of the conference and have spent the last week recovering at home.

I spent most of Thursday afternoon (the day before the talk) at an NHS walk-in centre in central London. They were brilliant and looked after me on what turned out to be a difficult day for them – the national UK junior doctors strike.

National Health Service

I got to experience the NHS at work firsthand.

After going online to answer questions about my symptoms the NHS website recommended that I went to a walk in medical centre. I then needed to find the nearest centre to the hotel where I was staying.

I had to find a pen and paper to write down the address and nearest tube station before google maps got me the rest of the way there.

When I arrived the receptionist found all my details on a computer system. Then, after a long wait I was checked over really carefully by a brilliant practice nurse.

I was then able to go and immediately pick up a prescription from the pharmacy next door, as prescribed by the nurse that I’d seen.

Designing for the experience

This was my experience. It was all part of the ‘service’ of needing access to healthcare in the United Kingdom. It’s how it works in reality. Not perfect, yes. Room for improvement, yes. But it works.

Some of this was made better with technology, but most of it was about people. The biggest need I had last Thursday was reassurance that everything was going to be okay. That I was going to be okay.

I did notice what could be improved. It stuck me that most of the possible improvements were things that could better join together the ‘digital’ parts of the service with everything else.

It struck me that people have better feedback loops than technology. I’m guessing, NHS websites see little day-to-day improvement but doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff improve every day.

These people want to improve, they’re driven to improve because they care. It’s why they do the job. They work around everything else.

Not knowing what will happen next

In the end I nearly missed the keynote of Friday but managed to battle through. It still seemed to go okay – if anything, everything that I’ve written over the last few months saved me.

I can remember thinking I won’t mention what’s happened in the talk but found my self talking about the experience within 2 minutes of getting on stage.

Eventually there will be a film of the talk. I’m not sure I’ll ever watch it back – the presentation slides are here.

The truth is we never know when we will need help. The thing that struck me most last week is that, in government, we’re all designing for ourselves at some point. Whether it’s healthcare, welfare, or everything else.

There’s never a point when we’re only designing for other people. We’re designing for people just like us – people who don’t know what’s going to happen next.

We all have days, weeks, years, or longer when public services just need to work.

I’m doing okay now. Maybe I’m even better for the experience.

Thank you to the NHS, and to Mark, Jacquie and the conference team for all looking after me.

Hello, I’m Ben Holliday. This is my blog where I’ve been writing for 15 years. You can follow all of my blog posts by subscribing to this RSS feed. You can also follow my regular updates on Twitter.