Government Service Innovation through Design Thinking

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Life is about events, not agencies. When people interact with the Government they do so in order to have a personal need met. Governments are working towards building the services around citizen needs rather than around mandates for compliances, administration or data collection.


New Zealand launched a predictive service for new and expectant parents in 2016. The service is called SmartStart. The service pools all relevant government services for new parents, informs them of the transactions to do with government, helps them find their eligibility for financial assistance, and allows parents to register for the birth of their child. The digital identity of the child is established early to use throughout their life. The integration of services reduces unnecessary interaction between different departments.

Parents can update their records with the Ministry of Social Development, enabling them to claim benefits. Then there are associated services with parenting such as parenting classes, child immunization services, and applications for child passports. Parents can also consent to reuse information provided to one agency with another.


SmartStart is a multi-agency initiative delivered by Department of Internal Affairs, Inland Revenue, Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Health with advice from Plunket NZ and New Zealand College of Midwives

“SmartStart is the first in a series of ‘life event’ portals spearheaded by The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). It brings together information and services from different government agencies, so everything users need is in one place.”

Key to Success in product rollout

The project had many new insights and learnings in developing, implementing and delivering the service. The product development approach is an excellent example of stewardship model of governance.


  1. Customer Insight is transformational: Customer experience driven design is the most effective tool for building a formidable product that addresses known customer pain points and provides value. It is important to have a market engagement approach before, during and after the product development in any form. Some learnings in developing customer insight are:
    1. Showcase product ideas
    2. Host customer experience workshops
    3. Undertake customer user testing early and throughout product development
    4. It takes time to engage with customers and get great inputs.
    5. Commit to putting customer at center and do right things
    6. Learn from private sector
    7. Optimally use channels of engagement – social media, face-to-face interaction etc.
  2. Building the MVP is OK. Product development can accelerate when end users have a prototype to interact with.
    1. Deliver first what majority of your customers most want
    2. What you build next is based on how your customers respond to your MVP.
    3. Feedback on MVP helps defining product roadmap
  3. Be Agile, Don’t just do Agile: Being agile means to be comfortable with uncertainty, responsive to change and always accepting feedback.
    1. You can manage what you work on; your partners may have different way of working
    2. Maintain an explicit feature backlog to manage scope, provide clarity on task breakdowns and discussions
    3. Give people autonomy over how they do their work
    4. Have cross-agency representation when prioritising tasks
    5. Reflect on the value and outcome that is being delivered in each sprint.
    6. Co-location and collaboration tools help in delivery
    7. Have an ambitious timeline and make it publicly known
  4. Build strong and authentic relationships: Having information silos and barriers is not helpful. Talk, share progress and plan together to make things easier.
    1. Build in social time to connect people together.
    2. Share a brief but compelling vision for your product.
    3. Build a project dashboard and communication pack.
    4. Keep your agency and delivery partners close.
  5. Be bold; create new way of working: Define roles, cross-functional agencies and decision making bodies
    1. Appoint a lead agency to coordinate the program from governance, compliance and procurement perspective. Make EPMO (Enterprise Programme Management Office) a good friend.
    2. Tailor governance as per needs of your project. There is no perfect model.
    3. People who are:
      1. Closer to business
      2. Emotionally intelligent, pragmatic operational and delivery specialist
      3. Surrounded with pool of informed people
  6. Get Started with just enough strategy & architecture: Perfection is not possible, pragmatism is
    1. Tackle system and data integration requirements with partners early.
    2. Keep a record of technical decisions made and the rationale
    3. Don’t try to club too many things, or make generic products. Begin by attempting to make the product specific to the problem identified.

SmartStart has already been replicated within New Zealand with the launch of End Of Life service. The service is aimed at preparing for and managing bereavement. Much of the development and learnings from SmartStart was reused in building this service.

Further Readings

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