Promoklip The consequences of gas extraction

Billy bureaucracy

Yesterday I attended a session on Health in Groningen: a special government for vulnerable citizens. The afternoon was organized on behalf of the Province of Groningen, and I got to kick off the conversation with a short speech together with Albert Jan Kruiter. Albert Jan began and talked about the breakthrough method and why it was needed for the roughly 20% of our population who, despite (or perhaps because of) interference from many institutions, are no longer getting out of trouble.

You can read my speech below; I am posting it in full.

Don’t miss a blog? Sign up for my newsletter.

‘Build the right thing, build the thing right,’ is a well-known saying in the design world (Buxton, 2010).

But what is the right thing, and how can we make it right?

Besides the regular patchwork of social security benefits, which Albert Jan just spoke excellently about, Groningen has another coarsely knitted plaid on top: the earthquake problems.

Recently, the Cabinet announced 50 measures to address these problems. In which I like that they see, now more than before, what is going wrong. But even in these 50 measures, what we also heard in Albert Jan’s story continues to shine through: no integrated approach to the whole problem, rather: something here, and something there. The problems are taken apart in the analysis, and then solved separately, but what they forget is that with residents it can never be taken apart.

What is still missing is an overall picture of what, for example, a household in an average Groningen locality can now expect, especially for the group that has the most damage. I won’t go into detail about the various components of schemes, or the issues themselves: I look around and see that the public here is extremely knowledgeable about what is going on in our region.

What gives me hope is that those measures do include a Social and Economic Agenda, which hopefully we do start to set up in an integrated way. That could be a start for building the right thing.

But even when we build the right thing, I still worry. For will the right thing also be rightly build? That concern about “building the thing right” is something I want to explore with you today.

Is the right thing rightly build?

I think of a lady in Appingedam whom I visited two years ago. She bought an extra bookcase for all her administration.

Imagine it.

A billy bookcase especially for all your earthquake stuff.

Screenshot from showing the billy bookcase

Let’s look at 1 paper from such a closet I take a letter I received myself.

I want to start by saying that this is a fine arrangement that many people in Groningen are grateful for. Apart from that lack of integrality, this is really a bit of “build the right thing”: the €4000 grant for sustainability at the SNN. I applied for it myself last year for the windows at the back of my house.

A few weeks ago, I received an email that I fell into the sample. I had not heard anything about it for over a year by then. I had to show that the windows were actually installed. No problem, I looked out through them, proof enough.

Screenshot of email that my project fell into the sample for review.

But here is the thing… I had asked my contractor at the time to do a new quote for the windows because the quote I had, which was actually an invoice and it said all kinds of things more that he had done to our house, that quote was not accepted by the system. It did not have the right things on it, including the right date for the application period, nor the exact description of the job. So I got a nice new quote that met all the conditions perfectly and arranged the application with that. Nothing wrong, I thought.

But now with that sample I also had to send the invoice, of which I had no separate one at all. The invoice was even a few months in the past in terms of date. The proof of payment, a statement from my bank, was also months before the offer date and belonged to that earlier invoice. By the way, it was also a different amount than was on that new quote. Had I faked it now?

Well, I uploaded everything. By the way, there was no way to upload before and after pictures, it was purely for administration. Fortunately, there was a field near it where I could put something of a note and well, here’s to hoping.

I worried

I was talking to friends about it. I whined to my husband about it. I got angry. Because I had modified that whole quote in the first place because the reality that was there did not fit the application system. I thought up – obviously with my eyes peering at the ceiling in the dark – an angry speech for how none of this could be my fault and I wouldn’t have to pay back that grant. I cannot deny that some of that angry speech is now in this speech.

And then I got an email that the application had been completed.

Screenshot of email with notification that the grant has been “established.

Okay … completed what?

Good or bad? Can I keep it, should I give it back?

I could not see it clearly in the portal except that the case was “fixed”. I was hoping for a who’s-the-mole green or red screen, or something of a sign, but after some clicking through, I found this letter and read that I was indeed getting a grant. After which I drew the conclusion that this was the end of it.

Screenshot of SNN portal showing the overview page of my file.

Now you may be thinking this is not a good example.

Because it all worked out. It turned out to be a storm in a teacup; besides, I’m not a vulnerable citizen at all, right? I am smart, I have studied, I have a partner who listens patiently to my whining, I have a house, in the city of all places, so I shouldn’t say anything, and I can even cope financially if I had to pay it back.

But still… this feeling I had, like I was stupid and didn’t get it. That instant stress that I was being peeved anyway, and that I was thinking all the time ‘what would they want to hear’ and trying to write the application towards that…

As if there are two realities

A paper one that I had to mold myself to and put in the application so I checked the right boxes and got the grant. And the real reality, that of my windows that I can look at while uploading the documents. And which are actually now of double instead of single glass. But whose administration – as it had gone – did not fit perfectly into the application process, even though the arrangement was intended for exactly these windows.

That feeling is what philosopher David Graeber (2015) calls the “stupidity of bureaucracy. That feeling that bureaucracy makes you stupid. That you think “this is on me.

As a designer, I have learned, “it’s never the user’s fault. It is never down to the user, processes and systems must serve the human, the user, and never the other way around! Build the right thing, and build the thing right

Back to the folder. This is 1 paper.

I could have taken a much harder example from residents in Groningen. I could have chosen defense papers. Intimidating letters from the country’s attorney. Lingering email exchanges with the NCG about house reinforcement. Or with the municipality about the community center. Or the icing on the cake: everyone remembers those lines for the €10000 grant on Jan. 2, 2021.

Apart from the fact that all these separate arrangements are not the right thing, they are also poorly made

Letters that are not clear. Portals where you have to search for what you need to know. Application forms where you feel stupid and have to empathize with what they would want to hear. Or that are just clumsy because you read while filling out the form that your attachment should not be larger than 5MB and you don’t know how to convert that right away so you then get kicked out because you have not been active in the portal for too long.

In addition to new individual pots of money, the cabinet response announces a new digital portal and communication ways. There is also investment in earthquake coaches at the same time to stand beside people, Stut-and-support gets an additional grant.

Today we are going to talk about the health of people in Groningen, and the relationship between the government and citizens in this. Special government for vulnerable citizens. I think it’s commendable, I sincerely believe, that the province, and the Groningen National Program are thinking about this. But I can’t help but see the irony in this as well. “The government” – it doesn’t exist, of course, but let’s pretend for a moment that there is such a 1 government – wants to create a nice, good treatment plan to increase the health capacity of vulnerable people.

But let’s also take a look at the patient’s diagnosis.

Imagine how many papers fit in 1 folder. And then how many folders in a Billy bookcase? Then tell me what people in Groningen are getting sick from now?

It’s from this – mostly government-generated, poorly made – billy bureaucracy.

References and reading tips

Buxton, B. (2010). Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design. Morgan Kaufmann.

Graeber, D. (2015). The utopia of rules: On technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of bureaucracy. Melville House.

Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, 2023. Nij Begun, on the road to recognition, recovery and perspective.


Mapping the field of design in government

Design in government is gaining momentum in the Netherlands. At implementing organizations, there are more and more design teams and at ministries, service and policy designers are increasingly being hired; the Ministry of Justice and Safety has even started a Makers Collective. External agencies have been setting up design projects with and in public organizations for decades, and the Ministry of Education will soon launch a multi-year program to involve designers in social challenges. Finally, let’s not forget how hot “design thinking” is becoming among managers.

Design in government is hot. But what is what really?

What role do designers have in government? Where in the process do you need what type of design? What does the context of government look like and how does a design approach fit into it? In this blog, a start to form my point of view. To give some insight into what the area looks like, a map to help us have a conversation and explain when we make what contribution. But also maybe as a bit of a provocation, because nothing is more fun than discussing design with designers, ha!

Evolution of the map

The map I see before me does not come out of the blue. In the archives of my blog are all kinds of building blocks and thinking steps I made over the years that led to this map. I’ll explain.

I started an experiment in 2018 in Rotterdam with a yellow rope. I stood on one side, as the government, and asked passersby how they wanted to be connected to me. A simple relationship between two parties.

Me as a public servant seeking connection with citizens.

I built this into a multi-party role-play. I asked students to take position with their classmates, teacher and staff of the Executive Agency of Education (DUO): what role do they themselves, their friends, parents, school, DUO and politics have in the way they deal with student loans. The relationship was no longer a simple dyad.

DUO employees who participated in the experiments all took different positions. That confused me, which made me want to know what role empathy for citizens had for them, in the path from law to counter. I started with this blog and photo-interviewed colleagues to map out the steps. The result: the law-to-counter relay on I placed the relay in the context of the democratic cycle.

The law-to-counter relay at the Executive Agency of Education

I elaborated further by surveying a month of my own relationship and figuring out how the side of the government was organized, including the making of policies, laws and the collective values underneath. I began my doctoral research with this timeline in this blog.

On that timeline, I often got feedback that the bottom and the top were also connected. And that I missed the whole civil society. When I worked at the National Ombudsman, I learned more about the part where citizens have a say and (want to) influence how we organize society from the view point of their lifeworld. For example, by looking into participation in Groningen for the reinforcement of houses.

The maps and experiments weren’t quite it yet.

So I made a new map

Over the past few weeks, I talked to several people about it including Prof. Mark Bovens of Utrecht University’s Faculty of Public Administration to check if I was on the right path. With the feedback, I adjusted the map.

The map consists of two axes. The horizontal axis has the collective on the left and the individual on the right. The vertical axis has above the system world versus below the lifeworld.

This gives us 4 quadrants, and I’ll go through them with you one by one.

System world / collective

Parlement, together with the Cabinet, devises how society should be. Collective values are enshrined in laws and translated into interventions to realize the collective values (enshrined in policies).

A drawing of the quadrant collective / system world

System world / Individual

Those interventions are implemented and embedded in existing processes and services, by government executive organizations and/or private service providers. For example: the student finance is transferred, the hybrid heat pump installed, as well as the trains that are running. Much of this goes automated or is supported by digital processes, hence the softly buzzing data center.

A drawing of the quadrant system world/ individual

Living world / Individual

Such a service does not stand alone but happens in context. I am applying for a grant for a heat pump for my house where I live with Jasper on a street with neighbors. I have family, friends, I am in a certain stage of life. This all affects the interaction and what else I need, in this case, to make my home more sustainable.

A drawing of the quadrant individual/living world

Living world / collective

Individuals unite. In a sports club or neighborhood association to make your neighborhood finer. People seek each other out around an issue and work together to influence and have a say in how we live together as a collective. Civil society, as well as political parties that run for election to represent the people in democracy.

A drawing of the quadrant lifeworld/ collective

Those are the four quadrants.

The whole map looks like this. Pay particular attention to when it moves from one quadrant to another. Interesting things usually happen there.

Then the design field

Although designers have a shared way of working and mindset, we do not all work on the same things and our approaches are often different. Where you are on the map, the issues are different, your design outcome is different, and so your role and approach may be too.

I sketch my own position on the map…

My own design practice plotted on the map

You see: I spent most of my time in the system-world/individual quadrant.

I first was as a user researcher on the overlap between system world and lifeworld, with the individual. I observed as students used Later, on the project The Compassionate Civil Servant, I walked deep into the caverns of the system world. And at the Legitimate I dove into that buzzing computer.

Richard Buchanan (1992) in his “four orders of design” describes the difference between, for example, user interface design and service design. The latter is much more holistic. So now, with my current research on government services, I am going to zoom out and want to touch more of the other quadrants as well.

And then the provocate bit: maybe you can plot other design disciplines this way as well.

A map of design disciplines in government

Social design on the lower left, policy design of course at the policy side, with an additional zoom in for legal design. On the right, of course, UI design. And that doesn’t even include all kinds of other types .. content design, design thinking, systems design, graphic design, organization design, product design … what else do you have?

Are you a designer, in government? How do you plot yourself? And why? I’d love to hear about it so we can learn together what design in government can look like and what you have to deal with in what place.

References and reading tips

The four orders of design come from Buchanan, Richard. “Wicked problems in design thinking.” Design issues 8.2 (1992): 5-21.

A fine book for understanding the roles of all the players in this cycle is Willink, Tjeenk. “Herman, Thinking Bigger, Doing Smaller.” (2018). Publisher Prometheus, Amsterdam

The poetic “softly buzzing data center” comes from Zouridis, Stavros. “Digital discipline: on ICT, organization, legislation and the automation of dispositions.” (2000).

This page lists all the books and articles I use in my research.


The value is in the classroom

The Social Security Bank in the Netherlands once came up with the term ‘working from purpose’. You are faced with a complicated situation and think “what was ever the purpose behind this?”

Legislation is made from such a social purpose to organize and shape society in a certain way. We make policies for that, such as interventions of something that may or may not be allowed (manifested in permits for example a driver’s license), certain incentives (money you recieve or have to pay) or certain information that may or may not be recorded (in the Netherlands gender may be changed in a passport). Next, implementing organizations are in charge of implementing the policy, and thus are service providers.

In this blog you will find an exploration of what we (should) be talking about when we talk about services in the public sector.

I lean on the literature on service dominant logic (Vargo & Lusch, 2004). I learned about this at Karlstad University and wrote this blog. I also draw on practical experience over the past few years, as you can read in the archives of this blog, and on existing literature on service standards and service design.

As I delved into the literature on service-dominant logic, I frequently thought of that term “purpose”. SD-logic calls it: offering products or services to users so they can create value for themselves. That overarching value is essentially the service. I will explain this with an example that fits the Executive Agency of Education, where I work now.

Value is created in the classroom

I have long thought that in the case of the Law on Student Finance, the goal was met when a student could apply for student finance flawlessly. But it doesn’t.

The goal is to develop yourself. To a large extent, the student must do this themselves, but we can help. I see that ‘we’ very broadly: government, society, we. To learn well and to make something of yourself, you need all kinds of things. I’ll mention a few:

  • good teachers and thus teacher education, grants for professionals who want to retrain as teachers,
  • a safe and comfortable classroom and thus a school board that can work with the municipality to achieve fine school locations, and can pay for it,
  • good teaching materials, which is organized by the school, as well as private parties who write textbooks,
  • traveling to school, using a student travel product or pupil transportation,
  • validation of your learning in the form of exams and certified diplomas.

It looks something like this in my head.

Providing these resources so that a student can use them to develop themselves, that is the service.

You already notice: some of these resources are sub-services. For example, an accounting application (a product) that helps a school keep student records (a service) that allows the school to schedule funding from the government (a service) to pay the salaries (another service) of the teachers (also can be seen as a service) who teach (a service) to the students who, if they do their best, learn as a result (hey, we’re here). A sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-service.

Policy should be about value in the classroom, and so should the implementation of it. What does value mean in the classroom: is everyone allowed in that classroom? Can you learn without having breakfast? Does everyone have the financial resources to access the school? Are thinking skills worth as much as doing skills?

I’m making it very big now, sorry.

But I think it’s that big. All those (sub)resources eventually contribute step by step to those big questions. At the Executive Agency of Education, I’ve often heard that those questions “get political very quickly,” and of course we, the implementation should not be involved in politics. Fortunately, that is beginning to change a bit.

Not so easy

Much is known about how to create and deliver services. There are all kinds of standards, principles and processes for it. But they cannot yet be applied 1 to 1 in government.

For example, the government is there for everyone, but can everyone create value for themselves? We know from the well-received WRR-report Knowing is not yet doing (Bovens, 2017) that we tend as a government to overestimate citizens and thus overwhelm them with resources, letters and things to do but lose track of.

In addition, there is tension on value for the collective and for the individual. The student loan system is a good example. Conceived as a cut to keep education affordable, but it led to a mountain of debt among young people in the Netherlands. Perhaps this actually made higher education less accessible. As a service provider, how do you offer such a service? So that students can develop themselves but do not run into sideways problems with their livelihood or future prospects? Should you make the application process for such a loan super easy and accessible, or difficult? I actually don’t know.

Executor or service provider?

The ISO standard on service excellence (ISO, 2021) states as its first principle that “the organization should be managed from the outside in”. Read: user feedback should guide how you create and offer services. That feedback is crucial, and should also be the basis for the policies you make.

In commercial businesses, you see that continuously listening to the target audience leads to new ideas of what resources they can offer so that customers will enjoy a purchase even more. For example: a friend of mine has an electric car with a built-in app that calculates exactly how long you can drive and where on the route you can recharge most conveniently (with good coffee). The company behind it is a car manufacturer, but knows that with apps like this as an extra service, you help the user in his goal: getting from a to b pleasantly and on time. The latter is the actual service.

In government, we don’t think that way yet. We are focused on the commissioning policy departments, and obediently implement what they come up with. Transferring student loans? Okay. Managing diplomas? Sure. Distribute funding to schools? We’re on it.

So we are executors. Being service providers requires something else.

What if: we turn around and look at the classroom. Together with pupils, students and schools, and others in that service eco-system, we figure out what it takes for people to be able to develop themselves, how can we offer that to them in the smartest and finest way collectively so that the intent turns out in the classroom the way we wanted?

I am not a fan of Shell, but they do understand that for a fine car mobility experience, you need to offer services bundled and layered. The fast-charging locations connect to navigation services, there are fresh croissants, they outsource the coffee to Starbucks, all kinds of brands that together form an eco-system around car mobility and interact with each other.

Why not offer services bundled more often when we see and hear from users that they need them together? For example, why can’t you apply for student finance while enrolling in college? Research on the life event “Going to college” shows it belongs together. With both Studielink and MyDUO you log in with DigiD, in fact, the Executive Agency of Education uses the data from Studielink to decide whether you are entitled to student finance. But they are different organizations, with different clients, and we don’t perform under the same orchestrator. Unfortunately.

From arrow to lemniscate

See, with examples like this, it already feels a little less big and a lot more concrete how you can think of, design and offer services with purpose.

“But,” I hear you thinking, “you can’t sit in the policy department’s chair as an executor, can you? If the Executive Agency of Education comes up with the student finance law, wow wow… What about Parliament, which also represents citizens, right?”

True. There is a big difference there between the public sector and the commercial sector. Government organizations need to look both ways, both at the citizen in the classroom and the citizen represented in politics. I still find this quite difficult and am doing considerable reading in the literature as to what this means for service design and delivery.

But I suspect that this strict separation between policy and implementation that we have very strongly in the Netherlands does not help. We should make the process of law to execution from a straight arrow from left to right to a lemniscate, an always continuous 8. Policy and implementation then are not so far apart, because devising and offering resources cannot be thought of in isolation, and certainly not without an understanding of how it plays out “in the classroom”.

I’ve tried it out with the education domain, which is nice and familiar to me. What would this look like around a topic like livelihood security? Around perspective on work, or care and health? And how do these domains overlap? That looks like a fun exercise for public service providers in the near future.

Follow my research and this series of blogs? Then subscribe to my monthly newsletter.

References and reading tips

The report on act-ability: Bovens, M., Keizer, A. G., & Tiemeijer, W. (2017). Knowing is not yet doing: a realistic perspective on resilience (No. 97). Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR).

ISO standard on service excellence: ISO. (2021). ISO 23592 – Service excellence – Principles and model. Geneva, Switzerland, International Organization for Standardization.

Article on SD-logic with almost cult status: Vargo, S. L., & Lusch, R. F. (2004). Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing. Journal of marketing, 68(1), 1-17.

On this page you will see a list of books and articles I use in my research.


Welcome to the academic world of public services

At the entrance to the coffee room was a large sign “Welcome Maike from Delft! I was given my own key to a wonderfully quiet study and everyone made time for me. I am talking about my week at Karlstad University, where I visited the Service Research Center.

In this blog, a travel report. Just don’t expect exciting stories of mountain climbing and picturesque restaurants at this point: it’s a first step into the academic world of public services. Although, of course, mental mountains are also climbed here and the Swedish coffee rolls are delicious.

Center för Tjänsteforskning

I visited Karlstad University for two reasons. My supervisor Jasper van Kuijk is living in Karlstad since last year, so we were able to work a week together in a focused way. We created a table of contents for the dissertation which should be on the shelf in a few years. Each chapter can become a paper that we will be writing in the coming years.

Are you curious about this table of contents and do you want to provide feedback on it? In my monthly newsletter, coming out next week, I will share it.

The other reason for the visit was CTF, the university’s research center that conducts multi-disciplinary research on service delivery and everything around it. It also employs a number of researchers focused on the public sector. Perfect!

Several of them made time to introduce me to the theoretical world behind services, what they are and how we can look at them from different perspectives.

So practical

My strength is that I come from practice, have a large network and that you all are going to help me (right?). A big disadvantage is that I come from practice and therefore I still am very much stuck in practice. This adventure started out of practical frustrations, but in the end it is also about contributing to the theory. But which theory? And how do I do that?

During fika on Friday, I told the department about my research.

Fortunately, I was able to ask all those ‘dumb’ questions in Karlstad. For example, to Per Skålen who told me at length about what services are and service-dominant logic. And that I should definitely read Stephan Osborne’s book Public service logic (ordered immediately!).

The most common characteristics for services are abbreviated IHIP: Intangibility, Heterogeneity, Inseparability, and Perishability. In Dutch: diensten zijn niet tastbaar, ongelijksoortig, onafscheidelijk en vergankelijk.

The student finance, for example. There is certainly a tangible aspect to it, money, but the whole service is not necessarily tangible. It can take a different form for everyone, some have longer travel rights, others not. You can’t pull parts of the service apart, one affects the other. And it is perishabil: you cannot ‘save’ your visit to MijnDUO, so to speak.

Choosing a lens

I also spoke with Johan Quist who primarily does research with and for Swedish government organizations. And I talked to Jakob Trischler who later sent me two articles on design for experience that I like very much. He advocates examining government services from three lenses: the macro, meso and micro lens. Which fits very well with my timeline experiment, which I shared in the blog about the big plan, of looking at the inside of government organizations from both collective values and individual experiences.

Back in the Netherlands, packages of new books were already delivered. As I put them on the shelf to take out one by one later, I also noticed the books I read before. ‘Hey, this book also refers to that SD logic. I just read over that last time!’ So you understand that I am already rereading, haha.

In short: plenty to do.

In the next blog, I talk about public service logic. In fact, I just finished that book and it fits very well with how I want to approach this research.

Read along?

Then you might like these reading tips:

  • Osborne, S. (2020). Public Service Logic: Creating Value for Public Service Users, Citizens, and Society Through Public Service Delivery (1st ed.). Routledge.
  • Trischler, J., & Charles, M. (2019). The Application of a Service Ecosystems Lens to Public Policy Analysis and Design: Exploring the Frontiers. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 38(1), 19-35.
  • Jakob Trischler & Jessica Westman Trischler (2022) Design for experience – a public service design approach in the age of digitalization, Public Management Review, 24:8, 1251-1270.
  • Downe, L. (2020). Good services: how to design services that work. Bis Publishing.
  • Stickdorn, (M), Schneider, (J), et al (2016). This is service design thinking: basics, tools, cases. Bis Publisher.

What helps and hinders?

Every research, including action research, starts with a good foundation. In previous blogs I shared the big plan and approach for the coming years. This first year is a preparation year and I mainly work on the foundation: what will I research and a plan how.

In this blog I will tell you about this first step: how I dive into the literature and thus lay a foundation for the research years that follow.

This blog is a summary of this more extensive literature review design. literature review design (in Dutch). This is my working document and changes from time to time. Do you want to follow the research closely? Sign up for my monthly newsletter.

Momentum for good services

Since the benefits affair came into the news around 2019, the human dimension has been high on the government’s agenda. In February 2021, the Temporary Committee for Implementing Organizations (TCU) made recommendations to bring back this human dimension to the government. Together with the child care benefit affair as a trigger, this resulted in the great government improvement program, Werk aan Uitvoering (Work to Execute).

Last week, for example, their the State of Execution came out with a thorough analysis of what is going wrong and could be better in services for citizens and business owners.

And I like it that they now increasingly call themselves public service providers – focused on the citizen – instead of as before implementing organizations – focused on the ministry. I need to update that on this blog as well :).

Landscape of public service providers from State of the Execution 2023

So for several years now, there has been political and administrative momentum to improve government services.

This is good news because in previous years, several organisations were already actively advocating to put services higher on the agenda. The National Ombudsman continuously appealed to the government with his reports. Gebruiker Centraal (User Central) found ground within the government and is increasingly growing as a collaborative effort for and by professionals within the (executive) government.

The report “Knowing is not yet doing” by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) also created quite a stir in the government. The WRR warns the government that it often overestimates the mental capabilities of citizens. They introduce the term act-ability, as a counterpart to ‘thinking’ abilities.

In this video, researcher Anne-Greet Keizer explains what is meant by that:

As a follow-up to Knowing is Not Yet Doing, the WRR came up with the guidebook From Test to Tools to conduct an act-ability test. WRR member Mark Bovens was questioned by the TCU about the report. In his questioning, and later in the Scheltema Lecture 2021, he suggested that the government should become proficient in service design and UX.

Haa! That’s my area of expertise.

Service design and UX design are certainly not new fields, and government, especially at the operational level, has also made strides over the past decade. In some organizations, there are UX teams, CX officers, customer journey managers, user researchers, etc. There is even an ISO standard for human centered design!

New dilemmas

At the same time, not only the call for more humanity has become stronger, but also that for customization. Both terms are regularly used interchangeably and are not yet defined, according to the Dutch School of Public Administration (NSOB).

Government services are highly automated at most organizations and “going back” to manual handling combined with individual customization on a large scale is not obvious. It also, as the NSOB describes, brings with it all sorts of new dilemmas (including legal ones such as the legality of government decisions). Directors fear that the pendulum will swing the other way.

We seem to be skipping in the momentum that there can also be good (digital) services that are user-friendly and connect to citizens’ lives. I elaborated on this thought earlier in the blog This is not about customization.

A sketch of how not to do it. From the blog: This is not about customization.

What I want to know: how can the government create and offer services to citizens while maintaining both the efficient nature of automation and legal legitimacy but also assuming a realistic perspective of citizen resilience?

The field of user centered service design has already proven itself in the non-public sector and seems to have potential for government as an organization as well. What will it take for this to mature? What are the reasons why this is not working and what needs to change for this to happen? What does this mean for the design and management of our government as an organization?

In short, my main question for this year:

What helps and hinders the realization of user-centric services in governments?

With this (literature) research, I aim to increase knowledge about applying user centered service design in government with the goal of making government services “doable” for citizens.

This will be the basis for getting started in the following years. I naturally devide this main question into a number of sub-questions.

The three most important are:

  1. What is “the state of the art” when it comes to user-oriented design of services? For this, I also need to look at what services actually are.
  2. How do governments create services and how have they organized themselves for this purpose? How does one affect the other?
  3. How mature is the government in realizing (at both strategic and operational levels) user-centered service delivery?

This month I tackle that first question. So prepare for a deep dive into the world of service delivery and user-centered design.

Not part of a category How do you do research? Promoklip

Open action research

This month I write about my new research on government services that are good for people. I wrote the big plan and the journey so far. In this blog you can read about the approach and an initial planning for the coming years.

You can sign up for my newsletter. Once a month you will receive a summary of the research in your mailbox. This way you won’t miss anything and you can easily respond and participate in the research.

Choosing the approach

A number of personal considerations quickly helped me decide how to approach this research. For several years now I have enjoyed working across government, from the perspective of citizens who have to deal with the entire government. During my master’s, I really enjoyed the critical sparring with an external institute. I therefore contacted TUDelft to find such a construction again. In the form of a PhD research I was able to find both an excuse to work government-wide and to collaborate with a university.

But… I am not concerned with ‘just’ producing new knowledge. No, I want us to learn how to work from a human perspective in practice at the government. And of course I have developed my own design and research skills in a certain direction in recent years, which you have been able to read on this blog since 2017.

An approach that fits well with all of this is action research. To me that is open action research because I blog about every step. Not only the result is open, but the process while we are working. So you have every chance to adjust the process!

Combining practice and theory

Action research is not your average scientific research. It is a much more practical approach, which is why I will not be working at the university in the coming years, but at the government’s implementing organizations itself. To research from the inside in practice together with colleagues.

Research that starts from the problems generated by organizational contexts and focuses on change requires a radical reappraisal of the relationship between knowledge and action, and of the related image of the ‘academic researcher in an armchair’.

Van Marrewijk, A., Veenswijk, M., & Clegg, S. (2010) ‘The organizing reflexivity in designed change: The ethnoventionist approach’, Journal of Organizational Change Management, 23(3): 212‹29

Action research has a number of properties that suit me and the issue well. Action research is:

  • in the situation: it requires direct involvement with real and complex problems in the natural context
  • relationship-based: we learn through relationships with stakeholders who all have different perspectives and contribute in their own ways to understanding and solving problems
  • focused on change: together we look for ways to initiate, promote and manage change
  • reflexive: we continuously (in action) critically consider our own practice; I as a researcher and together with all participants. We learn together and an open and explicit learning process is created.

From: Giuseppe Scaratti, Mara Gorli, Laura Galuppo and Silvio Ripamonti. Action research: knowing and changing (in) organizational contexts. In: The SAGE handbook of qualitative business and management research methods: history and traditions, 2019.

Reading tips

In the near future I will learn more about this way of doing research. During my master’s I learned a lot of practical skills and now I’m also immersing myself in the methodological background. In addition to the article from the previous section, the following books are very helpful to me:

  • Introduction to action research, social research for social change by Davydd Greenwood en Morten Levin. This book provides a good overview of the background of action research and a number of examples of different trends and approaches.
  • The reflective practitioner by David Schön. I already read this while making the photo interviews from The compassionate civil servant. Very good book about reflecting while you are in the middle of it all, about reflection-in-action.
  • Doing action research in your own organization by David Coghlan. I’m reading this one at the moment. Much corresponds to the approach I also used with The compassionate civil servant, but it is much more extensive and explains action research in a more fundamental way.

Role of this blog

If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you might find it super logical that I’m going to write about this research. That’s how it feels to me too. But in the near future this blog (and the newsletter) will have an important function.

I once started writing as my own archive, for myself and the handful of colleagues who might also find it useful. Later it became a place to document my research results and after that a place to participate in the social discourse about the human dimension in government.

Since October I speak to my supervisors Maaike Kleinsmann and Jasper van Kuijk every month. They noticed that I often quickly determine how something should be interpreted when it comes to government. “Yes, that’s just how the government works,” I say. I have been a civil servant for 10 years and, through this blog, I hear so many stories from you about how your organization is doing, that many things are so self-evident to me. That’s all tacit knowledge that I myself sometimes don’t even know I know.

By writing I make my own thoughts and choices explicit. And by sharing you can react to it and add knowledge and new questions. This is how we reflect together in action.

Then the schedule

This is a long-term project. It will certainly take several years. Overall, I look at it something like this:

Year 1, we are in the middle of this, is a year of preparation. Important is:

  • setting up the project and connecting with you and other stakeholders
  • dive into the literature and build a foundation for the years to come
  • make a concrete research plan for the following years, including agreements with organizations, make a data management plan, pass the ethics committee, and probably more that I can’t yet oversee
  • working on my own skills, because it’s quite a different story doing PhD research

Year 2 and 3 I will work in practice together with public service organizations. For example, I might come to work in your organization and together we create a service from A to Z from the perspective of the citizen. Together we reflect and learn. In the coming year I will develop this further and I will also share which criteria such a case preferably meets.

Year 4 consists of finishing. Insights become shareable and beautiful end products are produced. This will be very practical and applicable for everyone who helped and theoretically in the form of a dissertation.

In the next blog, which will be online soon, I will share more about the first year, especially about diving into literature.


The journey so far

Last week I shared my new big plan: working with government colleagues to figure out how to create and deliver services that are good for people. What does this mean for how the government as an organization is or should be?

In this blog I tell about the journey so far. It started exactly one year ago, in January 2022 and took many cups of coffee, video calls, thinking, reading and pondering. Many of you have already helped. I like to make this journey transparent, for accountability and for your interest. Who knows, if one of you has research plans of your own, I have some tips for you below.

I blog about this research: about the content, the approach and the process ‘behind the scenes’. Every month I summarize everything in my newsletter. Subscribe and don’t miss a thing.

A vague idea

I had had a vague idea for some time to continue with the topics fromThe compassionate civil servant, a study that I completed in 2020. I wanted to find out how we as digital government can have an understanding connection with citizens. It resulted in a portrait series of colleagues who talked about how difficult it is to make good services for citizens – very interesting – but I didn’t yet have an answer to that big question, I thought.

I learned a lot about myself in those two years. I like to study. I like doing something difficult and having a big goal. I want freedom and space to work creatively and connectively. And I had the dream to, one day, continue studying, maybe even get a PhD?

In the winter of 2020/2021 I noticed more and more that the job I did then didn’t suit me. I walked with my soul under my arm, because what was I supposed to do?

I actually called Jasper van Kuijk for something else, but suddenly I blurted it out. “By the way, I’ve had a vague idea for a fun study for a while.” I told him about it. And Jasper said: “But you have to come and do this with us, in Delft!”

At the beginning of January, a year ago, we agreed to spend an entire morning discussing the vague idea and seeing if there was anything in it. And it turned out: there was. ✅

Industrial design at TUDelft

At that time I had already looked here and there at other faculties in the Netherlands, usually at Public Administration. But when Jasper told about Delft, it felt very familiar.

Combining service design (my field) and public administration (my context) often means speaking two different languages. I noticed later in conversations that I had to use different words with other conversation partners. That a pitch in administrative language fell dead with fellow designers and vice versa: that a pitch with too much design-mumbo-jumbo did not appeal to a director.

I decided to organize the academic accountability of the research in Delft, where the language is familiar to me. Because I don’t want to find out what user-oriented services are – a world is already known about that – I want to know how we can do this in the government.

Jasper van Kuijk is my supervisor from Delft. He is an assistant professor and researches how organizations deal with user-oriented design and innovation in practice. Since this summer he is also affiliated with the University of Karlstad in Sweden. ✅

Together we looked for a professor who fits the issue and we almost immediately ended up with Maaike Kleinsmann. She is professor of Design for digital transformation in organizations, and my promotor. She is also head of the Design, Organization and Strategy (DOS) department, the department where I have been working since October 1. ✅

How to get a PhD?

I read books about getting a PhD, these helped me the most:

  • Handboek buitenpromoveren by Floor Basten and Kerstin van Tichelen, with all the practical steps you need to take before, during and after your PhD.
  • Promoveren als bijbaan by Meike Bokhorst and others with all honest stories about what it’s like to get a PhD. (Horrible, you’ll love it!)
  • The craft of research by Wayne Booth and others about doing scientific research.

In February I wrote a first draft (Dutch) of the vague idea. Warning: it was still very vague. I sent it around to some people for feedback. I got that, and how! ✅

In April I decided to stop early with my job the Ombudsman. From May until the summer I gave myself the chance to realize the plan with the aim of starting sometime in 2022. Sink or swim, and if it doesn’t work out, I’ll look for another nice job.

Gallons of coffee and hours of pitching

When you come up with an idea for a PhD yourself, and don’t apply for a PhD in the traditional way, you have to arrange everything yourself. I needed a few things:

  • validation of my idea in my domain: what did directors of organizations think about the research idea?
  • participants, a research context, places where I can collect data
  • a sponsor, because you also have to pay for it yourself

One of the first conversations was with a director of the Central Judicial Collection Agency who discussed the plan thorougly with me and gave me a lot of tips. She arranged for me to give a pitch at the Social Security Bank. I combined this with an afternoon of discussions at Novum, their innovation lab. Later, my sister, who recently started working at the Employees Insurance Agency, arranged for me to give a pitch there as well. There I also got a look behind the scenes of their new service plans. And of course I spoke to my own directors at the Executive Agency of Education, who offered to facilitate the first year 🧡✅.

I spoke to many more nice colleagues in the government. With all the feedback I kept adjusting the draft until so much had to be changed and I wrote a second draft (also Dutch). Last week I summarized this in this blog.

Pitch to a group of designers at IxDNL in Utrecht

In addition to the draft, I made a cost overview, a schedule and a global plan. When pitching, I also asked directors to consider participating in the research at a later time. (In future blogs I will share more about how you can collaborate.)

I officially started October 1. ✅

Ready set go

The first three months were pretty chaotic. I got to know TUDelft, had a team outing (curling with scientists!) and started with the first monthly fun conversations with Maaike and Jasper, after which I really didn’t think every time ‘holy shit, what have I begun?’.

I did a first course in Qualitative Research Methods for PhD candidates at Erasmus University in preparation for my own research approach. I made a plan for the first year of doing research. And I got to know my new team at the Executive Agency of Education that I’m joining this year.

But that’s what the next blogs are about, which will be online soon.

Promoklip Visual working

The big plan

It’s always exciting to start something new. Even more exciting to write a first blog about it. So here it is.

In the fall I started a new major study that will keep me entertained for years to come. I will do this research in the open, I hope we will do this together.

This month I will be sharing a few blogs about this big plan, how I got here, how you can get involved, and more. You can also sign up for my newsletter. This way you don’t miss anything and you don’t have to check this blog or Linkedin yourself to see if there’s something new.

In this first blog I will tell you what I want to research in the coming years.

A month of spaghetti

It’s been a while, but in November 2020 I kept track of what I experienced with the Dutch government for a month. On a timeline you could see which things I did at government counters, whether these counters were automated or manned and which implementing organizations and policy departments were involved. I also looked at what legislation and social value was above it.

It turned out to be a big spaghetti and I wrote this blog about it. Later, together with colleague Maureen Hermeling, I did this exercise with an employee of the Money Affairs desk of the Municipality of The Hague with one of their cases.

I learned a couple things:

  • For the government, laws and services are always bulk. It has these kinds of timelines with all citizens at the same time, but for the citizen it is always tailor-made and personal. It’s my life, my bank account, my house.
  • Stress adds up and citizens easily lose the overview, if they already have it. It was a pain in the ass to make this map anyway. Organizations do not take into account each other’s services and the burden this brings to citizens.
  • There is no joint responsibility with the government. Everything comes together with the citizen, but the government is compartmentalised. Everyone has their own counter. Sometimes even per department, mind you! Each has its own processes, organizational structures and its own funding stream.

On this board you can zoom in on the timeline and view it (in Dutch).

Which perspective do we choose?

In this INNovember 2022,Jasper van Kuijk talks about the four perspectives from which you work as a designer (based on the three lenses of IDEO).

‘Start with the human lens’, of course, but real innovation only takes place when you look from all four lenses.

Collective values are coordinated in a political process and elaborated in laws and policy. When we bring this legislation to the public at the government, we usually first make a business case and then choose the most efficient technical implementation. The usability (the lens ‘human’) is often tested at the end, if we are lucky.

When I place these lenses on my timeline you see them coming back in different layers. In this presentation at CSSDay 2022 I elaborated this with the help of a case from the gas extraction in the Netherlands.

In my previous studies (such as The Compassionate Civil Servant) I came to the conclusion that the government has designed itself as a relay race from law to counter. In doing so, it easily forgets the social purpose (the yellow layer) and finds it difficult to take into account the living environment of citizens (the blue layer).

The green and pink layers become a world in itself, a system world that becomes leading for what and how the relationship between government and citizens is.

In recent years, there has been an increasing call for government policy and services that does take into account the perspective of citizens, how legislation works out for them in their lifeworld (human lens) and whether this will lead to the society we envisioned ( social lens).

At the same time, implementing organizations experience that this is a problem. They are not designed to take this into account. They are driven (and financed) from silos and have to deal with sometimes volatile political wishes and technical debt from the past.

How can this be done? That is what I want to find out in the coming years.

Together with TU Delft and the government’s implementing organizations, I will work on this issue step by step in practice. That means together with you.

How we’re going to do that, I don’t know exactly yet. But it is certain that I want to do it openly and from practice. From now on you can follow every step on this blog and find ways how you can participate, yourself and/or with your organization.

The easiest way to follow this adventure is through my newsletter (Dutch). Here I share updates, summaries, jokes, questions to you every month and I will make sure you don’t miss anything. I will write the first at the end of this month. Subscribe here.

In the next blog I will share my journey so far. A look behind the scenes at how (and with whom) I developed this idea last year.

(Un)understood citizens

Good intention: listening in on the telly

Good resolution for 2023: visit your help desk for a day.

This fall, I visited colleagues at DUO’s Customer Contact Center twice. At the invitation of my colleague Maureen, whom I happened to run into somewhere. I have resolved to do this every two months because really, I am amazed every time at how much you learn from listening in for a few hours.

In this blog what I am learning at these moments and – hopefully – an encouragement for you to also listen in next year at your own contact centre, workplace, help desk, phone unit, ah, whatever you call it in your organization.

9 a.m., report to reception

DUO’s contact centre is in another building that I don’t have a pass for. Lisa picks me up, I am joining her today. We get coffee and she starts up all the applications on the computer. When you call a help desk and the employee ‘takes a quick look in the system’… Well, that system turns out to be a bit more elaborate than the image I always had of it.

I get a headset so I can listen in on the conversation. I can’t participate though, I’m on mute. Lisa logs on to the call system and the phone starts flashing.

“I had heard that I can get an allowance because of Covid. I am eligible but have not received it yet. I am doing mbo, level 4 and could not do an internship so my studies are taking longer.”

Caller 1

Lisa looks at and compares the terms with the caller’s details she has on the screen. Unfortunately, the caller does not meet all the conditions after all. For example, she should have completed her degree by August 2021 but is now only in year 3. The caller is dissapointed, “Isn’t there anything else possible?”

A second caller

“I have a question about my tuition. If I unenroll before February, do I have to pay the whole fee? After all, I want to transfer to another study, I think.”

Caller 2

Lisa does the identity check with the caller so she can see his information as known to DUO. She sees that he has already been enrolled in a few different studies but also that he does not receive a supplemental scholarship. First, the tuition question.

“Would you like to go with me to and then click on ‘register and pay for school’? Quitting because you don’t like a study is not a reason to reduce tuition. And if you go on to do another study, you have to keep paying tuition for that as well.”


After the conversation, Lisa tells me that she got the idea that he himself didn’t really know what he wanted either. “Based on my answers, he’s going to make his choice.” That seems pretty tricky in how you give advice. Lisa says she regularly talks with colleagues about how to deal with this and give objective advice.

“I also see that you don’t get a supplemental scholarship from us. Did you know this? This is because we don’t have the income of one of your parents.”


Lisa explains to the caller what he needs to do to arrange this and then completes the call.

On to caller number 3

“I heard from a friend that you can get an allowance from Corona. Does it apply to me as well?”

Caller 3

This is the second question about corona. Which is crazy, Lisa tells me, because that arrangement was actually very popular last year. Most people entitled to that allowance have already applied for it. While listening in, a few more people call about this arrangement. We see the wait time increasing: there are quite a few callers hanging on the line.

After an hour, Maureen, with whom I paired last time, comes by to have a chat. She says there is a TikTok video going around calling for young people to call about corona. Aha!

But, Lisa and I look at each other, all these young people who called, and didn’t qualify for the corona allowance, we were able to help. As Lisa looked into the system, she could see that some of them had not applied for supplemental scholarships, for example, or were behind on their payments. We were able to address and arrange that directly with them. It was actually very good that they had contact with DUO.


#aanhechten met @Daisy Piras €1500 Corona vergoeding!

♬ origineel geluid – Daisy Piras
@daisypiras on tiktok about DUO’s corona fee

Is such a TikTok movie annoying, because it messes up our schedule, or just a good additional motivation and education for our target audience?

It goes on like this for a while. I see Lisa as she hangs on the line with students clicking through screens, finding messages, taking a quick look in the work instructions to see exactly how things are, and in the meantime kindly explaining how someone can best take care of something, whether it applies to the caller, and giving them extra reminders or something to take care of.

I have worked on some of the applications that I now see in action on Lisa’s screen over the past few years. I occasionally shake my head because it does turn out differently in practice than how we designed it, oops.

Three reasons why listening in is so insightful

The first reason. You hear what people are calling about, directly with tone, context, and everything to it. On one call, the partner dialed in briefly to hear the explanation as well, on another call there was a mother in the background shouting questions through the conversation, and on yet another call the caller became angry and sad.

Reason 2: You see how employees deal with this. You see everything coming together. It’s very tempting when working on applications to think it’s all about that one thing, but next to Lisa, you see how everything works together (or not). In our organizations, departments are separate, sometimes with different directors even, but on the phone everything comes together.

Third reason: you hear the stories of Lisa and colleagues between calls. Whether situations are more frequent, or incidental. How to deal with difficult questions and where they fix things because they went wrong earlier in the processes. “This is actually something we always look at, because that just doesn’t work well in the process. So then we can give people a little extra reminder.”

Good intention

Therefore, start the new year with the resolution to spend a morning or afternoon in 2023 listening in on the conversations your target audience is having with your organization.

Whoever you are in the organization, the boss, the it-person or someone from legal, it doesn’t matter: listening in is fun and you learn a lot.

(Un)understood citizens

Error unknown

Spend an afternoon at an IDO to see what questions people have about digital government. IDO (Dutch) stands for Information Point Digital Government. This is a low-threshold counter with information about digital government with people who will help you on your way if you find something difficult to arrange.

In this blog what I experienced at the IDO in my neighbourhood and what I learn about digital government from it.

I took the pictures of the books in the library around us. Entirely by feel, they form a poetic summary. The title ‘error unknown’ because we did encounter frustrating unknown error codes while figuring it out.

The setting

I walked along for an afternoon, on Thursdays from 1 to 4 in the afternoon, with 2 staff members from the IDO. In the middle of the library was a hip picnic bench-like structure. Two laptops on one side and a stack of information leaflets. On the other side, space for someone to sit down and ask a question or look something up on the laptop together.

When I came there were already 2 people with a question. I politely kept waiting a bit but was soon pulled in by one of the staff members. I became acquainted with the other staff member and the man with the question was also fine with me listening in. We ended up spending almost 2 hours with him sorting out all sorts of things. Then I stayed until the end and heard from the staff about their experiences.

What if this is it? Civilizations.

The case study

Time: still before 1 p.m. There was a somewhat elderly gentleman with a letter from his housing association. What the problem was exactly I don’t know because I joined a little later. Even the employee didn’t get the story completely clear I believe, but it came down to the following:

If you want to have a chance of renting a house through the social rental system, you must be registered with Woningnet, a joint regional platform of housing associations. Those who have been registered the longest have the best chance of finding a home. So you also have to renew that registration every year. This can be done automatically, if you have that turned on.

There was no trace of his registration.

Sir had been living in a house with the same housing association for 20 years, was he registrated for 20 years? He thought so, but Woningnet hasn’t been around that long. “But he had had something to do with Woningnet before, hadn’t he?” After calling Woningnet (by the IDO employee) we found out that he was not in the system. Whether this was ever the case, “no one could know anymore”.

You understand, sir was high on stress. Not only because he had little experience with getting things done digitally, but also because he wanted the option of perhaps moving to a senior housing facility later.

Well, we had our goal for the afternoon: a new registration with Woningnet with automatic renewal.

This shouldn’t be too difficult, I thought.

A puppet show?

This happened

13.18. The employee went to the Woningnet website. Together with sir, she created an account. They filled out some personal information such as name and address on a form. Sir chose a password. To really complete the account, a confirmation then comes via e-mail that you must click on. This was no problem as the e-mail came in on his phone, super.

Then the payment. To register on Woningnet cost 20 euros, an annual renewal cost 11 euros. You turn that renewel on with a direct debit authorization in your account. Payment for registration can easily be made via Ideal or also by online banking.

13.32. We peer at sir’s phone screen for payment options (because we went through the account confirmation and arrived at this payment page). Paying via Ideal has never been done by sir, so we try the authorization. The screen loads and then we are in the bank’s payment environment.

But sir doesn’t actually have online banking either. But wait a minute… a week ago he got an E.dentifier because he was tired of walking to the ATM all the time to check his balance. He just hadn’t tried it out yet.

The employee gently closes the flap of the mobile case so that the payment screen remains on the phone. Sir puts his mobile in the pocket and goes home with his moped to pick up the E.dentifier.

The innocent

All IT-people who read this blog, I think, already know what comes next.

That payment session expires after a few minutes of course. When sir returns by 2 p.m. and we try to pay with the E.dentifier, it fails.

At first, this is still because the usability of that payment environment leaves something to be desired. In fact, we only find out after entering the account number 3 times that you should not enter your entire IBAN but only the account portion. The pop-up picture where this is explained has letters that are far too small to read on mobile. And instead of good feedback, we keep getting ‘error unknown’ when we click ‘continue’.

But even the fourth time it fails. Frustrated with that mobile screen, the employee decides to work with sir on the laptop again. Logging into Woningnet and looking up that payment task.

But it is no longer there. Well it’s there, but it has the status ‘awaiting payment’.

What to do now?

in free fall.

14.17. Calling Woningnet again. On hold, of course. At the IDO, they don’t have special call-through numbers; staff members are also put on hold.

14.42. The lady who picks up at Woningnet doesn’t really know what to do either. ‘The system is indeed waiting for payment.’ When this will be reset, she doesn’t know either. ‘You have to wait now.’

She does tell us that sit. can also opt for payment by letter. Yes! A physical letter. Meanwhile – I couldn’t contain myself – I had found that somewhere on the Woningnet website as well. But that option is not offered by default in the process, for that you have to call. But she couldn’t fix that either now that the system was waiting.

In short: sir may return to the IDO on his moped the following Thursday.

Get used to it,

What I learn from this

Pff… where to start? So much was happening. From those simple little things like a time-out from a system, with no clear new route you can then take. Error codes not giving good feedback. Instructional copy that drops out or is not readable.

Why is a payment via a physical letter a sneaky third choice and not just listed in the online portal? This, of course, is in the interest of the organization that wants to save money and not in the interest of the user who wants, no, needs good service.

On a more abstract level, why do we in the Netherlands unite organizations in large platforms with all kinds of underlying data-exchanging systems with this kind of poor service, and come up with an information point where you can go with questions about those complex digital networks as a solution? Why not make those services better?

And we also don’t give the people on that IDO a speed dial number. Why do they also have to stand on hold for minutes to help someone when they are the ones closing the gaps?

Game over!

Where does public service end and self-reliance begin?

Of course, this is different for everyone.

Most people find it convenient to pay via online banking, myself included. A lot of people understand the mental model that you go from the digital environment of Woningnet to the bank and back again, or they have seen that happen several times on their phone when they ordered something online. With that, they have some sense of how systems are connected and communicate with each other. That kind of mental model helps you find your way digitally. So yes, I understand the idea of courses and information points to enhance digital skills.

But the staff told me that most people don’t come to them with questions about how digital government works. No, they want to take care of something and it has to be done digitally. They want another house, they need to do income tax, they want some extra money, for example, a rent allowance. And to do so, they must go through a trail of online forms, logging in, confirmation emails, passwords and unknown error codes.

Employees of the IDO are not so much giving information about the digital government, they are temporarily fixing the digital government.