Strategy & Service Design with Steven Kyle

This week we caught up with Steven Kyle, Transformation Programme Manager at Dundee City Council about what their transformation model looks like in relation to service design, how they're approaching digital transformation as a whole, what challenges they're up against and which technology they're implementing to help combat some of these challenges.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your working history ...


I started out working in IT as a website developer for the NHS. Since then, I’ve worked in a variety of roles including for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Tesco and the European Chamber of Commerce in China. My roles have evolved from website development and management to project management and, ultimately, to digital transformation, which is what I am working in today. Working in both the public and private sector internationally and nationally has helped me by giving me a view of how different organisations are run and how they are set up. I have used that insight to be more questioning.

In my current role as programme manager for Dundee City Council’s transformation programme for 2022 I manage the programme office and I have responsibility for the programme itself. The programme itself contains 20 transformation projects, which are all focused on changing how the Council works and deliver their key objectives and city plan. The programme is designed to challenge the Council to change for the future, the future of our cities and our citizens.

There are four key themes: service design, partnership and commissioning, digital and resources. So, it covers a wide range of things. All of our projects follow a specific model alongside services and principles, relating every project back to our key themes. Our model has this question at its core: how can we design our services in partnership with others, making the best use of the technology and our people and resources? It brings us back to the core themes, one of them being digital and technology in all projects regardless of whether they are digital or not. By using this model in conjunction with our various plans, services and principles we can deliver the programme successfully for years to come, hopefully making a real difference to this city.

Could you give us an overview of the 20 transformation projects?

The projects come under the key themes I previously mentioned. They are looking a range of different things, but they share a core outcome: making outcomes better for our citizens via community hubs, for example. We are looking to do more with less, transformation also includes the financial element, so we need to be even more creative and clever about how we manage service delivery in the future.

Could you tell us more about the transformation model you use for service design?

To summarise how we got there with service design, we started experimenting with that around three years ago. We were introduced to it by V&A Dundee, who were bringing the design museum to Dundee, the first V&A museum outside of London. They were great and they brought in a local service design agency called Open Change, whom introduced us to a range of tools and techniques. They focused on the most important part of service design, which is the people. The sessions were small, but they had a big impact because our Chief Executive, David Martin, was involved in them. This really was the catalyst to take the sessions to the next level, from informative to transformative. David asked the agency to come back and run a one-day session with a hundred of our Council support leaders because he thought that it was important to disrupt their thinking and remind them what councils are here to do.

From there it was a bit of a whirlwind over the past few years. After that one-day session, we put our Council leaders on the streets talking to citizens about the most challenging issues facing the city today. This led to us trialling a design academy, taking one of those problems and running it through the service design process. One of those design academies developed insights on parent-teacher communication, which was great. 

Since those early experiments, we have tackled other challenges and trained numerous Council employees in service design through the service design academy at Dundee and Angus College, which has also developed over the past few years to address capacities in Scotland. We have also expanded our involvement in service design nationally. We have worked with the Scottish Government and Digital Office for Scotland, helping to develop the Scottish approach to service design.

Most recently we have been tackling the bigger challenge in Dundee of how to use service design on large transformational projects through our Changing for the Future programme. It is been a significant challenge to try to combine the service design principles with the complexities of governing structures around public sector projects, but we are constantly learning. We have developed a model where all projects start off using the service design process so we can really take each project back to the real question: what is the problem we are trying to solve and who are we trying to solve it for? We remove the assumptions that we would normally bring to a project, so we bring it back a step and work through a clear set of stages from agreeing the project to signing off then at the end its delivery so throughout we have a user-centred approach. It is a constant learning process, but it is exciting.


When your team went out and spoke to constituents what was the feedback about the challenges they faced? Was there a common theme?

We started with an event, which has some topics associated with it. The purpose of the service design methods is to keep the topics initially vague, so they were poverty, education, the environment, homelessness and drugs and alcohol abuse. It was interesting to be able to get our leaders, who are often not speaking to the members of the public on a daily basis face-to-face. They were, of course, outside of their comfort zone asking such challenging questions on a rainy day in Dundee but we have really embraced this kind of thing with service design. Whenever you go out and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes the information you get from those open and honest conversations helps build insight much quicker than surveys or other standard consultation methods that we could use. It gives you the heart and the feeling of the citizen and their experience.

Tell us more about when Dundee hosted GovJam, where public sector workers undertook an intensive 48-hour problem-solving challenge …

The GovJam has been around for a number of years now and is an evolution of another event which is called ServiceJam, which has been running for even longer. Both of these events are similar but the GovJam focuses on public sector and central government challenges, it is not just about providing services. Dundee has joined in with two GovJams now, we were the global hosts last year because the first year we joined we had 80-100 people at Dundee joining in and we were the largest city taking part. It is a fantastic opportunity to work with a group of people who you have not met before, throwing you right in at the deep end. I have been a mentor at both GovJams and we have another one coming up in October this year. What you really see here in Dundee is a lot of people embracing it and getting involved. Last year one of our councillors came along on the first evening to learn about it then she cleared out her diary for the next two days and joined in all of the events to see it through to the end. There is so much service design in Dundee going on other the City Council like the College. It is a good community to be a part of.

The Scottish Government has developed a certain approach to service design and Dundee is working with the Digital Office for Scotland, could you tell us more about that programme?

The Scottish Government can take all the credit for the Scottish approach to service design. It is a term coined by Cat Macaulay, who is the Chief Design Officer for the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government is passionate about service design and a shared, collaborative approach to designing public services. The Scottish Government are actively using that approach internally looking at their own processes, which is great. There is an ideal opportunity to combine their efforts and the work of the Digital Office for Scotland. The Digital Office for Scotland is a collaboration between all 32 local authorities, who have teamed up together to tackle the collective challenges within digital transformation. It has been run for three years so far and I have led the service design element through the collaboration. By using the Digital Office as a platform, which is full of enthusiastic civil servants collaborating on digital projects and challenges, we aim to bring the Scottish approach to service design right to the heart of digital partnership. That way we have all the local authorities in Scotland using service design methods for digital projects in Scotland.

The Scottish public sector really is a fantastic area to work in at the moment because we are putting designing services differently at the heart of what we do. It will be interesting to see what we can achieve with that. What we want to do with a combination of the Scottish Government and Digital Office is take those pockets of excellence and enthusiasm and lift that up to a national level, putting in training structures, playbooks of best practice and networks across Scotland connecting the experts so they have support. It is really about doing what is done in isolation at the moment and ramping that up through the Digital Office. It is all really exciting and interesting!

Do you think that Scottish councils encounter challenges that are unique to Scotland or do you think that the local authorities across the UK experience similar challenges?

Absolutely not, I do not think we are unique in any respect. Scottish local authorities and English local authorities are all facing very similar challenges. The Digital Office is a good example of where we are recognising that these 32 local authorities all have similar challenges and we are collaborating to solve that. I think that is the same throughout the UK.

I would say that, in the UK, Scottish local authorities are at an advantage, rather than having unique challenges we have unique opportunities in Scotland. We have a very close relationship with central government, which is something that English local authorities can be quite envious of when we discuss it with them. The community in Scotland is also a lot closer, I think, and we share and collaborate more. I have links with almost all the local authorities for one reason or another. Our challenges are not unique, but we are well-placed to tackle these challenges collaboratively with the support of the Scottish government to design the best public sector services over the next few years.

Would you say that digital transformation is an essential pillar of the 21st century workforce?

Digital is definitely the key pillar and is a huge part of our lives in every single way. We are going to see that technology use in the workforce grow exponentially in the next few years. Automation, mobile working, reducing manual input and repetition are all essential next steps for the public sector. Councils are at various levels of digital maturity at the moment. but we are all working on digital projects that will have an impact on the workforce.

I think the important thing is that the workforce is prepared for these digital developments. We need to be preparing now to understand what skillsets we will need, so that service delivery can evolve and adapt to help our citizens. Digital transformation cannot just be about saving money, it should be about technology helping us to be more efficient so we can adapt our service and give more care and attention to those who are not necessarily engaged digitally. If we can self-serve many people online then we can focus on the ones that do need our one-to-one approach, putting that time and energy towards the ones that really need it. It will be really valuable for the 21st century public workforce but we need to make sure that the technological pace of change keeps up with our institutional pace of change.

Can you walk us through how you approach a digital transformation process? How do you cope with roadblocks along the way? How do you include your workforce even if they are not from a technical background?

The digital transformation at Dundee City Council has evolved over the past few years. The cornerstone project of our digital journey started with our ambition to design a new website for the Council. When that project started it quickly moved from a website redesign to the development of a citizen portal, digitising council services and shifting channels online.

Since then, we have taken that project and created a digital transformation agenda through the creation of the digital strategy a few years ago. This aimed to make the Council a digital council by 2020. Over the past few years, there has been some fantastic work carried out as part of this strategy but what stands out as one of our biggest achievements is the development of our “Digital Champions’ initiative. This initiative gathers together enthusiastic digital agents throughout the Council to train and help our staff learn new digital skills. That has been a fantastic opportunity to work with keen individuals and understand what we know what we need to do for our staff to make sure they come with us on this digital journey. The digital strategy includes five projects at the moment like mobile and digitally enabled workforce, open data and smart cities. Over the next few years, these projects will underpin digital transformation and innovation within the Council.

The biggest challenge we face unfortunately is probably financial, so we have to balance innovation with the need to balance the budget. Inevitably transformation projects of a certain size and scale require investment and the time to see the payback, so we have to be quite creative about how we balance those conflicting priorities. I do not think there is any issue with ambition and innovation and desire to change, the challenge is doing it within a difficult financial environment like the one we are working in at the moment.

In addition to the financial challenges, would you say there are any other prominent challenges?

I think we are quite an enthusiastic Council with a great desire to change and think about doing things differently. Challenging some of those more traditional outlooks on office space and mobile working and how our councils operate in the future it takes a little bit of getting used to. It is a little bit of a journey to move from one-to-one desks to seven desks to every ten workers. There are cultural roadblocks in that sense but there is nothing we are not overcoming on that journey to a digital workforce.

What technologies are you most excited about?

I think I am most excited about automation, artificial intelligence, robotic processing and what these technologies can free us up to do in the context of a council. I am also interested in the smart projects we have going on in Dundee, using sensors and data to change the way we deliver services. If we can lead digital innovation, then it will open up a whole range of digital opportunities for the Council. A few of these projects are definitely on track to make that change. We need to make sure that smart examples are scaled up from the small trials that are currently occurring. There are some exciting areas we are working on.

How do you see smart technologies being used country-wide?

One of the projects within the smart cities project is sensors for bins, implemented in the waterfront area, and has already seen a drastic reduction in the number of times we need to go out and empty bins. We need to make sure we are thinking widely. Instead of applying it to a small area in Dundee, it would be interesting to see how we could integrate it into residential waste with every home across Dundee having a sensor for their bins.

Other things such as lighting on our water-front- we have wifi-enabled and self-dimming streetlights. Some of these things are really interesting and we want to see how we can apply them across the city especially Dundee is quite small, only 20 miles across. We have an opportunity to roll these things out quite widely and we should not shy away from that – we just have to keep the momentum up.

How do you see technology such as AI, machine learning, chatbots, voice technology and data capture changing the ways in which councils operate in the coming years?

I think these technologies are essential to streamlining our ways of working. They are becoming less and less niche and increasingly they are becoming the focus of council projects throughout Scotland. I remember a few years ago having some presentations from companies explaining how these systems work, with bots entering data into the system without humans, and there was some trepidation about that. Now data capture and AI are more popular and part of our service delivery. It is only going to grow over the coming years, and I am looking forward to it becoming the norm, particularly as it will free us up to focus on the areas that we need to work on. We have to be creative with how we use our limited resources so anything that we can put in that aids us is really valuable.

How do you think councils will have evolved by 2025?

We will of course see a much more digital workforce but most importantly that workforce will have evolved to embrace new ways of thinking and working so it will not just be reliant on digital technologies. Councils will be built around co-production and collaboration, with a more empowered workforce who can work more closely with citizens to design and deliver our services, that is important to stress. The future of public service will be place-based and digitally enabled, focussed on building those relationships because digital technology will free us up to be more emotionally intelligent. Hopefully the public sector of 2025 will be even more cooperative as we need to move away from the silent approach to a whole systems approach. At least that is what I hope will happen!

Which app could you not live without?

The app I use the most is email, which I certainly could live without, it is more of a productivity killer than anything! Digital transformation for me is played out through conversations and relationships. The best work I do is face to face where possible. I guess it is again all about collaboration and, therefore, tools like Slack are useful especially when working with the Digital Office where we are a collaboration with 32 local authorities working at great distances. Video-conferencing and Skype have meant we do not have to go all over the country to speak to one another. Those collaborative tools are definitely crucial to digital transformation in Dundee.