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Service Design for Smarter Planning – The Enduring Importance of Putting the User First

Informed Solutions has written a blog on the importance of user-centred design for smarter planning – an increasingly important issue in Scotland.

Over the years, our UCD teams have tackled the innovative transformation of citizen-facing services that have met a wide variety of needs; from understanding and reduction of NO2 pollution through national clean air zones, to reducing the risk of fires through a national fire incident reporting system, modern digital policing platform development, and enhanced democracy through advanced, effective digital engagement. Now more than ever, we are seeing a complex mix of user requirements and needs applied to smarter environmental planning initiatives through our national and international work in both the UK and Australia with New South Wales Government, The Crown Estate, and NatureScot.

Through all our rich experience in this space, we understand the value in capturing and understanding user needs to inform service design. Who are the users? What problems must a service tackle as a priority? How do we validate if the service is meeting user need?

Keeping the user at the heart of the service is the ingredient for success. Empathy lies at the heart of quality design. Ultimately, there is only one user need, which is to achieve their end goal.

For example: Someone wants to develop on sensitive land, or they want to receive compensation or a grant payment to support their business, or to make changes to land surrounding a property. Badly designed services can be a barrier to a user achieving success. Services that are designed around users’ needs allow them to achieve their end goals with minimal disruption. This ultimately will result in higher overall customer satisfaction and increased user engagement.

That being said – all too often business needs can play second fiddle, or indeed be overlooked when designing a service. How a business functions, and what it needs from the service, plays a critical role in effectively delivering to end users. By working closely with organisations and their internal users we are able to develop services that satisfy everyone’s needs, thereby reducing the time, effort, and resource to implement service design. From our experience, one of our key takeaways, and a cornerstone of our user-centred design approach, is the importance of understanding organisations’ drivers and needs to ultimately help external users achieve their own goals.

Take for example our work with NatureScot in support of Scottish Government’s aims to protect Scottish land and be a global leader in sustainable land management. At present, citizens wishing to develop or change land use must submit planning applications via their local authority, whose team then pass to NatureScot to consult the relevant data sources on land quality, protection measures, and associated risks to take a decision on whether permission can be granted. Through taking a holistic user-centred design approach, we are honing-in on the data needed to help NatureScot’s team of experts make fast and accurate decisions, thus better meeting the citizens’ needs.

Additionally, through the improvement and transformation of NatureScot’s internal processes around data collection, analysis, and local authority and citizen engagement, enhancements can be made to external facing services. This will help citizens gain faster, more effective, and accurate answers to their application, whilst helping meet Scottish Government’s aims to sustainably manage land.

By leveraging UCD principles, service designers can stay focused on creating optimal, user-friendly services that embraces the true art of service designs – balancing the needs of end user of a service (e.g., citizens) with an organisations’ needs (the requirement and drive to serve end users effectively).

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