The Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) Lab is one of the few Government of Canada innovation labs with a dedicated space for collaborative work. The layout of space and furnishings reinforce the collaborative approach, with expansive writable wall surfaces, open meeting space, a variety of tools and templates reflecting design thinking techniques, and available staff for project consultation and facilitation. Running lean with one director, two innovation officers and a Lab coordinator, the team works closely with client stakeholders to understand their challenges, contributes to planning and co-leads design projects.
The Service Lab Process
Across Canada, innovation labs and service design labs are rapidly moving the idea of service beyond quality improvement to transformation. As there is no single best process for “design thinking,” we can observe that every lab employs the design practices and engagement methods that adapt well to their client needs and range of outcomes.
Similarly, no design thinking or co-creation project is the same. Each project is customized to the needs of a client and their challenge. A four-step process engages participants in a design thinking and co-creation approach for service projects: (1) Discovery; (2) Ideation; (3) Prototyping; and (4) Testing & Evaluating.
Depending on the project, only one or perhaps all stages may be employed. The discovery stage identifies new opportunities and can by itself frame better approaches to service delivery. All four stages are used when a functioning prototype or mockup might be desired as an end product from Service Lab process. The “bursts” of work which can occur in each of the four steps. The first burst of design thinking and ideation may lead to a set of new service ideas or functions that are co-designed in another burst or workshop. Another burst of implementation may lead to the deployment of service as a new or improved client service in delivery.
The success of a given project depends on the level of collaboration, trust, mutual respect and level of effort by all parties to arrive at a solution that can be testable, measurable, and scalable.
The Regulatory Guidance Case
A recent design case with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), the Community of Federal Regulators (CFR) and Health Canada is revealing of how Service Lab innovates both design and delivery. The CFR’s goal in working with Service Lab on a Regulatory Guidance design project was to find a common approach to how government defines, structures and delivers regulatory information for Canadians online. TBS is working with federal departments and agencies to develop Canada.ca, the federal government’s client-centric window to all of its services and information. Canada.ca is presenting government information in new ways and testing with clients to optimize the service experience.
The Community of Federal Regulators (CFR), a partnership of 27 regulatory organizations that exchange expertise, support professional development and collaborate to explore innovative approaches in the regulatory field, approached TBS to take a novel “outside-in” approach to designing regulatory guidance information to reflect the needs, uses and experiences of the CFR’s internal and external clients. CFR partnered with Health Canada and worked with Service Lab to apply a design thinking approach to co-create a client-centred online service experience. From launch to completion, the process took six months. Collaborating with the CFR and relying on their process design and coordination expertise, Service Lab provided design advice, collaborative tools and processes, an expanded design team and contractor and offsite space for innovation, a critical component of success. The team’s work also benefitted from close collaboration with designers, usability experts and testers from Health Canada, CFRs members and their clients.
After the first “discovery burst,” the team recognized potential gaps in the representativeness of the co-designers they had engaged and chose to use a few extra days to engage directly with external additional stakeholders, both in-person and through video and teleconference.
“That kind of project flexibility, coupled with the trust of our clients and the confidence of our management team, let us adapt to what we learned along the way and pivot plans and processes quickly to stay on schedule and enhance the results,” said Trajan Schulzke, Service Lab’s founding director.
The team used the discovery-stage data to inform the ensuing co-design process. Clickable prototypes of the new process design and client-centered experience were built by collaborators based on the ideas generated. User testing of the web-based Canada.ca prototypes was completed in November 2015 and rollout of the new standard is scheduled for summer 2016.
Team Collaboration in Service Lab image
This first end-to-end project for Service Lab yielded a new client-centred standard for how the Government of Canada will present regulatory guidance online. It also demonstrated several lessons about the design process for public sector regulators, policy makers and service designers. The Lab’s work is beginning to get the attention of public sector leaders and managers wanting to experiment and find solutions to policy, program and regulatory problems. A wide variety of challenges in the government service to business space are represented in the Lab’s active and pipeline projects. These include digital inclusion, pre-commercial program scaling, expedited business start, compositional food standards and infectious diseases, among others. The Lab has created a central and “neutral” physical space to enable conversations crossing organization and sectoral boundaries. The result helps to uncover insights and evidence used in collaborative processes with clients, stakeholders and partners, that lead to often innovative results that reshaping policy, programs and regulations.
The Lab now has 18 active projects underway in a variety of stages in the design thinking/co-creation process, along with eight currently in the pipeline. Since opening in March 2015, over 4000 people have visited, worked in or toured the Lab facilities.
ISED Canada launched its Service Lab a year ago to respond to a recognized need for better government service experiences for business. During her tenure as Clerk of the Privy Council, Janice Charette advocated strongly for Canada’s public service to become more innovative, collaborative and agile in its approaches to serving its many clients. ISED Deputy Minister John Knubley also expressed strong support for the Lab and its innovative, user-driven initiatives.
While its first design projects are only just starting to enhance client experiences, perhaps the Lab’s greatest contribution to date is the cultural shift that it and other federal labs and innovation teams are enabling. They are creating opportunities for public servants to collaborate, adopt new ways of thinking and working, and adopt client-oriented, systems-level approaches to enhancing policy thinking and program delivery.
My Thanks to Trajan Schulzke, Christian Laverdure, and Chrystia Chudczak.
Peter Jones is an associate professor at OCAD University in the MDes Strategic Foresight and Innovation program and guides research in the Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab.ocadu.ca).