Business and government: A proposed framework for improving interactions and our prototyping approach

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

As noted by my CEO Jane Treadwell, over the next few days we will take a look at each of the proposed ‘concept areas’ that we are seeking to prototype with our colleagues across the APS, and with other interested partners.

But prior to that, I’d like to give a little bit of background to them – why have we come to these concept areas, and how might we prototype a ‘concept’?

The framework

Before putting forward answers to the question of ‘how might we dramatically improve business and government interactions?’ (the general problem) we need to understand what makes for good interactions. Based on our interviews with business people, representatives of business intermediaries, and public servants, and on our analysis of the needs for each group in the interaction, we have proposed a framework for what makes for good interactions.

This framework identifies five facets that should be considered (ideally by both sides) in an interaction. Each facet supports the following facet, and whichever facet is weakest will likely determine the perception of the overall experience of the interaction.

Five coloured interlinked sections in a circle. The first is labelled 'Finding answers' and contains the text 'Help me find out what I need to know'; the second 'Engage' and 'Before making decisions, recognise my experience, my skills and my needs'; the third 'Problem solving' and 'work with me to unravel problems'; the fourth 'Respect' and 'Treat me with respect and consideration'; and the fifth 'Context' and 'Understand me and my context'

The five inter-linked facets identified include:

Context – Understand me and my context

Knowing who the parties are, what they want, what they do and how these things might be changing. Once this context is understood it allows both parties to better communicate with one another

Finding answers – Help me find out what I need to know

Having the right information in a form that each party can easily use to determine what is relevant to them. Having strong communication will facilitate better engagement

Engage – Before making decisions, recognize my experience, my skills and my needs

Consulting and engaging well enough to understand the experiences, expertise and capability, drivers, motivations and needs of the relevant parties so as to ensure effective decision-making. Good decision-making will help to avoid potential problems arising

Problem Solving – Work with me to unravel problems

Understanding problems and issues and if (or how) we contribute to them, and having mechanisms by which to transparently resolve the problems. Effective problem solving capabilities leads to better outcomes and a better service experience

Respect – Treat me with respect and consideration

Having a strong and adaptable service culture, and listening and responding with respect. This in turn assists in better understanding the parties and their context.

Based on our interviews and work with business people, representatives of business intermediaries, and public servants, we think this provides a good basis for thinking about interactions, and for considering where there might be opportunities to improve, or just to assess how current practices measure up against these areas.

These facets might seem simple. They might also seem like they could apply to any interaction between government and others, not just those between business and government. But we also hope they seem like an easy way to think about, and assess, interactions, and that can be used by individual public servants (or those interacting with public servants), by teams and divisions, by public sector agencies, and by program or service areas.

So what?

In the Lost in Translation report  we outline some possible ideas that individuals and agencies respectively might want to consider for improving their interactions with businesses.

But our remit was to look at the cross-agency issues – the issues that are experienced by the citizen/business when they interact with the government system as a whole, rather than with any one part of government.

Using that lens we have identified five specific problem areas to explore further, each correlating to one of the facets in the framework. And for each of these problem areas, we have identified a ‘concept’ that will be the means by which we explore further.

In this way the first stage of the project can be seen as a means of reframing the general problem (‘how might we…’) into five specific problems. The second stage of the project will be about reshaping the experiences of those involved in the interactions through the prototyping process.

Two conjoined diamonds overlaid with five semi circles containing words. The first contains 'seeking', the second 'analysing', the third 'synthesising', the fourth 'prototyping', the fifth 'scaling'. The first diamond is bracketed on the top by the words prospectus at either side and 'report of findings' along the top. On the bottom, the first half of the first diamond is labelled 'General Problems', the middle section of the whole picture labelled 'Specific problems', and the second half of the second diamond 'specific solutions'. The first diamond is also referred to as 'Stage 1 First diamond - the Reframing: research undertaken to discover new insights and reasons for the general problem'. The second diamond 'Stage 2 Second diamond - the reshaping: focusing on more defined problems for further development of concepts and prototyping of practical ideas to address these problems'

It is important to clarify that these concepts for prototyping are not the ‘answer’ for each of the problems. Nor are they recommendations to be implemented. Rather they are vehicles by which to explore the issues further – to understand what might be possible, what could be done and how, and what might work (or not). They are suggested approaches for collectively and collaboratively exploring whether our understanding of the problem is correct, and to help discover whether there are better ideas or concepts that might better address the respective problem areas.

The Prototyping Prospectus  outlines some of the steps and acts as an invitation for others to help us explore these concepts further through a prototyping process that will help get us closer to what an answer might be for each of the problem areas experienced by businesses (and potentially other groups) when they interact with those of us in the government system.

Over the next few days, we will post about each of the specific prototypes and seek the participation of those interested in helping us get closer to the specific answers to the question ‘how might we dramatically improve business and government interactions?’