User-centred design is vital to inspiring innovation within government projects.

The ‘innovation’ buzzword has been embraced by government bodies across the world. However, as the hype around major announcements such as the federal government’s $19 million business and innovation initiative begins to soften, the measurability and tangible outcomes of innovation investments are coming under scrutiny.

Mistakes have been made — consider last year’s online Census disaster or NSW’s learning management and business reform issues.

While government is by no means the only sector prone to expensive IT implementation or delivery errors, the stakes are somewhat higher. Complex procurement processes mean that most projects are behind before they’ve even begun, and transparency about taxpayers’ dollars spend means that failures make the news.

But how do you ensure genuine innovation is being fostered instead of costly, high-risk technology investments?

In our experience, innovation isn’t a job title or a department. It has to be embedded as a cultural value across the organisation — particularly in government. Technology should meet the needs of the users, not the needs of the procurement department. It has to be user-centred. In our work with various government departments across Australia, the end user has always been the priority and as such we’ve been able to innovate freely.

Transporting the community

The Western Australia Public Transport Authority (PTA) approached us with a unique problem. Similar to an airport, its new $217m Perth Busport features a state-of-the-art dynamic stand management system that allocates buses to different stands every minute. Passengers take a seat and large departure screens display the time and the stand from which their bus will be leaving, between two to five minutes before its arrival or departure. A first of its kind in Australia, this new system delivers a 50% increase in the number of buses that go through the station each day.

But the PTA realised that the technology was not inclusive of those who couldn’t see the changing screens, and that this new system had therefore caused a serious problem.

Our challenge was to make it easier for passengers with visual impairment to know which bus stand to go to, within a two- to five-minute window.

The process began with speaking with the people who’d use it. We needed to understand their travelling experience from start to finish, the problems they face and whether they felt our ideas would bring relief. They told us about their transit challenges and how the various solutions available to them either helped or fell short.

Armed with these insights, research and user testing, we had a clear understanding of what we needed to do. Vision-impaired passengers needed simple, direct information that could be with them at all times and give them live updates as the bus stands changed.

After working with the PTA marketing and technical teams, we determined that a mobile app was the best method of delivery.

A graphic of the Transperth Assist mobile app screens.

The native accessibility functionalities of Android and iOS were the perfect fit; married with location awareness technology, creating an app enabled us to deliver timely, relevant information right when passengers would need it. Furthermore, it would always be with them, in their pocket or bag.

We worked with Adapptor to develop an app where users can choose to switch on the features they need, such as specific gestures or voiceover to have the device read bus departure details in real time.

Sourcing the best talent

The Department of Communities, Child Protection and Family Support relies on its skilled and passionate workforce to continue its valuable work within the community — which means attracting and retaining the right people is vital.

The Department found it was struggling to attract and retain skilled people in regional Western Australia. The talent pool was relatively small, given the qualifications needed, and a number of people were unprepared for the realities of working in remote areas.

We identified two ways that we could make a long-term impact on recruitment. The first was to create a central information hub to educate people on the realities of the job, while the second was to simplify the application process.

We used insights, interviews and video diaries from real child protection workers in country WA to inspire potential applicants and highlight a career in the Department as ‘more than just a job’.

A photograph of a hand hold a mobile phone which is displaying the Child Protection Careers microsite.

Simultaneously, we designed a user-friendly platform that permitted interested candidates to apply or register their interest to work for the Department.

The Department’s new user-friendly recruitment system got to work quickly: within just two weeks of launch, 15% of users had already clicked through to apply for a role, with yet more signing up to receive vacancy updates and join the Aboriginal Employment Register.

Traditionally, government has struggled to be truly innovative because it is risk-averse. This makes it difficult to tackle the dynamic and evolving issues that Australians face every day. However, there is a groundswell of government bodies searching for solutions that centre on people rather than technology. If they continue to do this, there is a real chance that they will actually be able to help those people.

Originally written by Hatchd Director Anna Lee-Renwick for Gov Tech Review.

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