In this third blog by FutureGov, David looks at the principles of designing organisations for the 21st Century and how this can influence our service design approach. 

We’ve already spoken about what it means to go beyond digital and how we’ve prototyped a new end to end journey for Stockport Council. This final blog post sets this in the context of organisational design, and how this is essential for creating the conditions for success so that Stockport can consistently deliver high impact services. 

What is organisational design?

It’s unsexy, but important. Organisation design strikes at the heart of what gives organisations the ability to reimagine themselves for the 21st century. The design of an organisation is more than just an aggregation of well designed services. It’s underpinned by similar principles to service design, but applied to different areas and at a great scale. 

Organisation design is the strategy, business model and operating model that gives the clarity of vision for these services to flourish. By designing an organisation, we can create the conditions needed to embed radically improved ways of working and achieve a bigger impact. Dan Hill has described it as ‘the dark matter’ that takes place above service design. 

What’s the difference between a 20th and 21st century organisation?

Organisations must understand their role in the local ecosystem. This is true of every organisation, public or private, big or small. This is especially important for local authorities when viewed alongside the austerity of the last 10 years. Marginal gains are no longer an option. We need to ask more fundamental questions about the shape of our organisations and the impacts they achieve. 

The example of Blockbuster vs. Netflix is one that really resonates. In the 20th century, Blockbuster were the big hitters. When the DVD market was booming they monopolised the market and became the first port of call for people all over the world. But the advancement of technology changed everything. We experienced a shift in the preferences of how people access content, where we access it and the culture of the relationship between customer and business. Blockbuster couldn’t react. Startups like Netflix, with on demand content, no late fees and personalised recommendations, started to shift people’s behaviours. Blockbuster even had the chance to buy Netflix at one point when they were looking for extra investment, but turned down the opportunity because it didn’t fit with their business model. 

I think we all know how this story ends. Blockbuster is a thing of the past, where Netflix are a regular lifestyle amenity. They don’t just curate but now create some of the leading entertainment content, based on what they understand about the habits and preferences of their users. Their data driven approach to driving growth and success has made them a 21st-century success. 

What this has meant for our work in Stockport

It’s not always been a conscious decision to ‘design’ an organisation – they have often evolved quite organically as new services or functions have emerged and needed management. Structures often focus around this – they can be hierarchical and focus on grip and control – but are a response rather than a deeply thought through process about how to organise around what you want to achieve. This is as true in Stockport as it is on other organisations. 

We can’t bring radical change to the services we deliver without bringing radical change to the organisations that deliver them. While we have focussed on the end to end design of services across Finance and Place departments, our work with Stockport Council has surfaced bigger, pressing questions about what sort of council Stockport want to be: 

  • How can design support us to deliver the five organisation level goals of the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP)? (Image below)
  • How can we use design to prioritise what the council focusses effort on, and in what order?
  • Do we want to focus on impact, efficiency, or ways of working as the primary driver for transformation?

MTFP Organisation level goals

Identifying these questions helps us frame and decide what style of leadership is needed to guide the organisation to this future and how adopting a design-led approach consistently could help to address the big issues and opportunities Stockport faces. 

We’ve broken this down across three main areas: people, process and platforms. We’ve asked:

  1. What kind of people do you need for your future organisation?
  2. What processes need to be in place?
  3. What platforms need to exist to support this?

This has given us a framework to understand culture, behaviours, rewards and incentives, governance and technology, in a way that works for Stockport. 

Organisation design is about the future: the future of work, the future of tech, and the future of relationships between organisations, their employees, and the people they serve. To embed this in Stockport, we have also been running learning sessions to equip the team at the Council with the skills and knowledge they need to continue with an agile, design-led approach after the project is over. This means they can continue to ask the right questions and approach problems in the right way. 

What next?

We’re now building a business case that sets out the improvement to resident experience that our new user journey will deliver, the technology needed to enable this future state to be brought to life, the savings that this generates, and what shape teams need to be to deliver this.

In the words of Mike Bracken: 

“Be radical in changing how an organisation works; be incremental in changing what it delivers.”

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