I’m in Rostock. We have lots of very cool, innovative looking developments in Rostock. We did well in the pandemic so far, with consistently the lowest infection numbers nationwide. We have a new mayor who is Danish so is mixing things up at the top (so far I’ve heard of stand-up meetings, my god he has balls), we have new energy in one school, a local private catholic school where one of the parents runs a podcast on the future of work which has resulted in the principal getting excited and hosting a podcast about transformation, Don(ners)talk.
The lineup of the podcast is a great and very current illustration on the state of the discussion around digital here, or the future of work, or everything, or innovation, or whatever you may want to call it.
We see what the producers think “digital transformation” means. My favourite nebulous concept New Work is there, Scrum gets a mention (without the rest of the agile practices), Working Out Loud features and words like simply and courage get repeated a lot. Constructive thinking (seeing opportunities instead of problems), start-ups, how to give feedback without making enemies, and Tiktok all compete for attention. I mean all the contributions are great, absolutely. Very many people, also very many women very earnestly explain why just their approach is very sensible and very important, just like I would be.
The basics that any good, actually working organisation is built on, Service Design, or a German equivalent, doesn’t show up for this race. Terms like user needs, iteration, feedback loop etc — the foundation on which “public service digital” works in, for example, the UK — does not feature in the lineup and is equally absent from the German discussion on innovation. Nobody’s ever heard of it. We’ve all seen the problems — things are stuck, nothing works — and we all want to sell our own solutions. Not necessarily for profit, but when you think you have the ultimate answer, you want to tell others about it.
So, like in Rostock, when something does move, it’s because we have someone charismatic driving the change. Like our lovely mayor, long may he reign. Not, what would be healthy, a general acceptance of the new things. Not a growing awareness among all public sector leaders of something like the Public Service in the Digital Age competencies.
And that’s exactly what doesn’t work. Like this, anyone who picks up on one of the little solutions can only end up in conflict with the others in the room. And we don’t like conflict, it’s bad for our nice careers.
Sure, I could ask to be on the podcast, but I don’t think that would be it. Because we won’t solve the problem by bringing Service Design in to compete for limited amounts of attention. Digital agencies are already throwing their clout behind so many of these new digital movements, with all the energy of a new convert, that adding service design at that level wouldn’t add anything. That’s exactly what service design is not. It’s not a suggestion for something you can try. I don’t want to give “an impulse” that can then be safely ignored.
It has been proven to work elsewhere. It’s science.
Some of these movements are more cult-like than others — Working Out Loud, big in German automotive industry cycles, gets Buddhist, if you go deep enough. But not all of the movements are that organised. New Work got, without even trying, to a minister of works, who then deferentially called up Frithjof Bergmann, who had already moved on from the idea, and introduced it as a foundation to build all discussions on the future of work on. Still now at events they bring him in, it feels really strange. Here he is mentioned by our local Digital Innovation Centre. It’s only a question of time before the Purpose thing starts over here. Oh look, it has started, slowed down only by Covid.
I’m usually fairly optimistic about these things but I don’t know how to solve this. We need to make service design thinking visible and give it credibility, show it where public sector leaders see it and take it seriously. This shouldn’t be such a big deal, but I’ve asked questions and I can’t get anywhere, because nobody else here talks about it. Sounds like the hobby of some irrelevant person with the wrong gender, the wrong age, the wrong address and the wrong life situation to influence anything. A carer! Hah. Loser.
Getting politicians on board isn’t an option either, because you’re competing with so many lobbyists investing real money in getting their attention (a problem in German politics, as it turns out.) I’ve tried getting service design mentioned on the Health Innovation Hub, I’ve tried bringing it on the agenda on state level, if we can’t do it centrally. I got phone calls in reply, so it’s not like I can’t make myself heard at all. But the answer is always “we cannot do that and you mustn’t ask why.”
This is how we in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania book vaccination appointments by calling a hotline an unspecified number of times because it hangs up when busy instead of keeping you in a queue, while the UK has a National Booking Service that clearly states how it works and does what it says. I’ve just been to the GP to get my certificate that I am entitled to the vaccine in group 2. The GP said “Good luck with it. I have no idea how you’ll actually get it now, I can’t get through on that number either.”
Maybe I’ll do a podcast, inviting the target audience to speak about how they experience this mess. Both on the user side and on the side of someone trying to make sense of digital.