Design and social services ~ Abaster

05 December 2008

Design and social services

Over at Participle, Hillary Cottam and colleagues are pondering the re-design of social services. The UK's Design Council is also looking at the public sector as a part of a major initiative of their entitled "Public Services by Design". (Also worth a look is the product of the Design Council's RED "do tank".) This public sector-focussed work is important, and relevant to any developed nation where the structure and delivery of social/public services tend to be a generation or two behind the other organizational design and services provision thinking. The Participle effort looks at re-humanizing and decentralizing social services - in other words getting the services back to those who truly need them and giving them a sense of ownership; a no-brainer you might say, but not where public authorities are concerned. The big challenge is that public services are not really for the public anymore. They usually suffer from the "check the box" syndrome which results in poorly structured and inadequately provisioned services that do little to enhance the well-being of the public (which is what public services were supposed to be all about in the first place). Public services are a foundational component of community, and one of the reasons that service provision is so abysmal is that we have lost any real notion of physical and human community, and our responsibility for and to them. Whether the discussion revolves around social or public services, the bigger challenge is how we re-architect community to encourage a renewed sense of ownership and empowerment - people are not going to take ownership for services that are poorly designed and delivered, and if the requirements of the individual and community (user-centricity) are not guiding service design then any new efforts are stymied from the start.