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What do we mean when we describe our solutions as ‘citizen-centred’?

At SocietyWorks we describe our digital solutions as ‘citizen-centred’ – unusual wording in a world full of ‘user-centred’, ‘human-centred’ and other similarly phrased products that all essentially boil down to meaning “made with people in mind”. 

So why do we choose to call our solutions ‘citizen-centred’, and what does that mean in practice? We asked Bekki Leaver, our Head of Product, to explain.

What makes us and our products citizen-centred?

When talking about our citizen-centred digital solutions, it’s impossible to do so without acknowledging our history and connection to our parent charity mySociety, whose goal is to help people everywhere be active citizens by engaging in civic society. 

To us, a citizen is anyone who is, or wants to be engaged in that civic space. This mission to engage can be seen throughout mySociety’s tools and services: FixMyStreet makes it easier to report local street-based problems to the correct authority, while WhatDoTheyKnow helps citizens make Freedom of Information requests and consolidates responses. 

They, among the many, many others built by mySociety over the last 20 years, were designed to make the interaction between authority and citizen easier for the citizen. This drive to make things less of a burden on the individual is what underpins our citizen-centric design and we use all the tools in our arsenal to do it. 

As the wholly owned subsidiary of mySociety, SocietyWorks extends the impact of the charity, applying that citizen-centred approach to the development of products specifically for local government and the public sector.

We apply everything we’ve learnt through running our charitable civic tech services to help us advocate for citizens in the design of authorities’ own services, to help them provide the best possible experience for their users.

Citizen-centred service design in practice

Of course, we follow standard user-centred design practices, like uncovering needs and running usability studies, when we make improvements or design new things. This is part of our alignment with the GOV.UK Service Standard and is, in our opinion, the right way to do things. 

We also build and test our solutions with accessibility in mind. Again, these are standard practices in the design and development world these days.

Where we differ is our approach to deploying these solutions. We design our products with the flexibility authorities need in order to integrate into any combination of existing systems and processes. 

Unlike cookie cutter, off the shelf products, we recognise that different clients need different things, but balance this customisable approach with a commitment to ensuring the needs of the authority never clash with those of the citizen, creating what we hope is a positive outcome for both!

In essence, we’ll ask slightly more of you (the authority) as a client, but you want us to, because you’ll have better services and happy residents as a result.

What does the future hold?

As a society, our reliance on digital solutions will only continue to increase. New products and services are being created to reduce administrative burdens on authorities, which are driving more citizens to take a self-service approach. 

With this increase in responsibility on citizens, we, as creators, need to continue putting them at the centre of that creation and persist in collaborating with authorities to find what works best for everyone.

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Image: Centre For Ageing Better

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