Home to roost: Leisa Reichelt, the woman replicating overseas success here at home
After almost a decade living and working in London – most recently as head of User Research at Government Digital Services – Leisa Reichelt couldn’t resist the pull home any longer.
Perhaps it was the promise of warmer weather and superior coffee. A more likely factor is Leisa’s new gig… head of Service Design at the Digital Transformation Office. Her mission? Replicate her pioneering work in the UK and usher in a new era of government service delivery here in Australia.
According to Leisa, it’s desperately needed. By her reckoning, 1 in 8 Australians jump online for government information and services in any given month, with 55% reporting problems when they do.
It’s clear Leisa and team have their work cut out… doubly so when you consider their timeframe. The DTO have been tasked with delivering an alpha build in just eight weeks. So we were lucky to have Leisa join ‘Skills for the future: Digital Government’, an IPAA 2015 session sponsored by Bienalto.
She began telling delegates by her starting point for tackling such a huge project.
Above all else, Leisa argues functionality – the nuts and bolts of how a site works – will always trump form. “You have to bring it all together to make it function and work for people before you engage and delight them.”
And to do that, Leisa argues digital leaders need to knuckle down and build public services designed around an explicit understanding of what users are really trying to do.
“People don’t go to get a passport because they want to get a passport. They’re getting a passport because they want to travel abroad or simply prove their identity. It’s about understanding the actual experience people are having at the time they come to engage with government. It’s easy for us to think it’s all about government. But for the vast majority of people, they couldn’t care less.”
Think of elephants
It’s this holistic, user-first approach Leisa believes governmental departments neglect at their peril. To emphasise her point, Leisa invokes the parable of the blind men of Hindustan and their attempt to describe an elephant.
“They [the blind men] are describing the bit they’ve got completely accurately. What they’re saying is absolutely true. But none of them could describe an elephant. And I think that’s what its like when we talk about users and user needs. We often approach a problem from different sides, only to experience a small part of it.”
A healthy line of thinking
That said, there are people getting it right. Leisa cites a project done for the Department of Health in the UK as a prime example of the kind of thinking required.
Researching the experiences of women during pregnancy and early childhood, lines of questioning extended well beyond just health to cover housing, finance, benefits and employment… vital areas that have an equal bearing on the health and wellbeing of a mother and child.
“What was really innovative about that project was that they didn’t exclude any information. They considered everything that people said to be in scope. They didn’t filter in just the stuff that was only to do with health and ignore everything else.”
It’s an approach that makes sense. When you exclude vital, contextual information, it’s hard to assemble a true picture of the environment you’re trying to deliver a service into. It’s an approach she’s keen to apply to her new projects at the DTO.
The hit list
So what are the projects at the top of her hit list? The list is long, but there are a few prime candidates to tackle first.
“We’re looking at things to make getting businesses up and running much easier. We’re looking at the international movement of goods. We’re working with the Department of Human Services on Medicare enrolment. And with the ACT Government, we’re doing some work around appointment booking. How can we make it that when people come in for non-urgent medical bookings, they don’t have to wait for vast amounts of time?”
Boring isn’t an insult, it’s an accolade
Just don’t expect any flashy web builds from the get go. True to Leisa’s mantra, it’s all about functionality first.
“You can expect it to look fairly boring and functional. We’re not going to be focussing too much on feelings and engagement, but that’s really deliberate. The UK version was also deliberately really functional.”
And Leisa’s completely fine in having had a hand in the creation of a boring utility. From a starting point – one in which users are frustrated, anxious or actually scared of dealing with government online at all – boring is almost an accolade. Because for Leisa, boring means not only are people are using the service, they’ve grown comfortable doing so.