Business and government interactions – prototyping a way to ensure better service

[Originally published on Australian Government DesignGov under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

How can you ensure consistent and good service across multiple organisations with different agendas and differing ways of engaging with stakeholders? How can you set the preconditions for good service when there are very different expectations of what the ‘service’ is?

According to our research as part of the business and government interactions project, a frustration for businesses dealing with government is that the experience of service is very mixed, sometimes being viewed with doubt. Equally public servants can feel that their role is not understood by the businesses they deal with and that sometimes they have to balance the roles of ‘police’ and ‘partner’.

Through the ‘Service by Design’ concept, we’re exploring how the service experience can be made more consistent for all parties, and one that sets the conditions for interactions to occur with mutual respect.

We are seeking your help and participation in prototyping. This post gives a quick overview of the ‘Service by Design’ concept, asks for your help with the prototyping, and provides an expanded explanation of what Service by Design might involve and why something like it is needed (in addition to the description provided in the Lost in Translation report and the associated prototyping prospectus).


What are the basics of good service for and the public service? How can public servants best balance their role of delivering on the government’s policy agenda and community expectations, and that of providing a good service to businesses interacting with government?

Currently the service ‘infrastructure’ (training, explicit standards, complaint handling, skills, resources, frameworks and systems) varies significantly across the many and diverse organisations of the Australian Public Service. Internal processes as well as conflicting and competing priorities can mean that the service experience becomes a second order consideration. Sometimes agencies may see themselves as not offering a service in their interactions with businesses. There are challenges, and sometimes deliberate limits, to tracking and monitoring interactions with business between agencies.

The concept of Service by Design accepts that there will remain differing agendas and ways of interacting with businesses, but trusts there is the potential to introduce greater consistency to the service experience. By identifying a common framework for service infrastructure as well as common service (design) principles, public servants will be give the tools and capabilities necessary to ensure their interactions with businesses run smoothly, no matter whether they are providing a grant or pursuing regulatory compliance.

How can I become involved in the prototyping process?

We are looking for help from individual business people, business intermediaries and public servants.1 Effective prototyping needs the involvement of the people who share in the problem, both public servants and those in industry.

If you are interested in the concept of ‘Service by Design’ then the first thing we’d like to ask is that you sign up to our Service by Design mailing list. We’ll be using the list to provide updates on the prototyping and to seek your input and involvement.

The second thing we’d like to ask is for you to help us with some real world examples or anecdotes of where a Service by Design common framework for service provision would have helped you if it had existed. Where might common service standards/service infrastructure/service experience have been useful for you?

Some more specific examples of what Service by Design should involve would be extremely useful for us in scoping the need, and if/how it might/could work. Please email through any examples you might have.

We are also interested in hearing from businesses, industry groups or public sector agencies who might be interested in partnering to work on the prototyping of the Service by Design concept.

Some additional information about the concept follows, including a basic visual depiction of what would be the ideal (but impossible) state, what happens now, and what, hopefully, might be possible if Service by Design was realised.

Service by Design Synopsis

Background Information

What is the context for Service by Design?

If a business has a difficult problem, they will likely have to interact with multiple government agencies. This can be a difficult enough process at the best of times, let alone if there is a significant issue that the business needs to resolve.

In an ideal world, any public servant at any agency would be able to quickly identify the core concerns of the business, check the previous interactions the business might have had with which government agencies, and ascertain the best course of action. They would be able to let the business know who they need to talk to and what they need to do, or even better be able to get the process under way for them. Where the business had an unusual situation, there would be the ability to tailor the service appropriately.

In reality individual public servants may not even be able to track interactions with a single business within their own organisation, let alone across other agencies. They may need to comply with internal processes that are seemingly in direct conflict with providing a good service – though the agency may not even have a clear and explicit understanding of what good service will look like. The public servant may need to pursue compliance and feel that that leaves little room for flexibility or consideration of the businesses particular circumstances.

In a changing world, the nature and form of business and government interactions will also keep changing. What is regarded as good service will keep changing, as will the underpinning infrastructure and supporting systems for providing that good service.

If the public sector is to ensure that it does not unduly impede the conduct of business, then it needs to embed a bias for service within the public sector, one that can respond to new conditions and expectations and ensure that there is mutual respect for the occasions when interactions do not proceed smoothly.

So the problem is?

The problem is that the preconditions for good service are not consistent across the public service. Individual elements of the service experience do not always have regard to or connect with the overall experience for the business interacting with government. Tensions between serving the broader community and the government, and serving businesses, are not always well managed.

Good service is a vital component of the overall state of business and government interactions. It provides the capability to ensure that the unexpected and the unusual can be dealt with as smoothly as possible, and it allows for both sides to do their job with the minimal of friction.

We look forward to working with those of you interested in this topic to explore how Service by Design might work.

  1. Participation may mean involvement in workshops, contributing to a survey, providing feedback, or other forms of contribution. The scope of the prototyping process will depend a lot on the level and spread of interest.