User-centricity: learning from Catalonia Digital Services Guide

To say that Catalona region is working on user-centric services would be an understatement. With over 25 projects completed in service design in the recent past, the Government of Catalonia has paved the way for a user-centric government. These projects are part of their Digital Services Guide. Carme Rodríguez- Pàmias tells us more about this guide and the projects Catalonia has been working on. What can we learn from them?

Carme has been working for the Catalan public administration for about 13 years. She’s currently active as the ser service design manager of the Directorate-General for Digital Administration of the Government of Catalonia, a role she combines with a teaching position at the Open University of Catalunya. She teaches Iconography, matching her educational background in archaeology and art history.

But, her educational background is also closely connected to the work she does now, Carme states. “These worlds may seem completely different, but they’re not. Iconography and symbolism are closely connected to how we visualize particular societal subjects and power, for instance a king holding paperwork, which implies it must be an important document, perhaps a legislative document. Or a king being depicted in snowy weather, which symbolizes we’re in wartime. Or religious symbolism, which has always been closely affiliated with society and government. Iconography and symbolism play a huge part in service design, because these visualizations largely determine perception and interpretation.”

Digital Services Guide

Carme’s career path, thus, isn’t as farfetched as it may seem. Now, she works on projects based on the Digital Services Guide from Catalonia. This guide is the corporate design thinking manual of the Catalan Administration, for which the government has carried out basic and advanced trainings and has instructed more than 130 people. “We’ve also given specialization courses in different branches of design thinking. We also carry out trainings in plain language and clear communication. Hundreds of people have already followed our trainings.”

Important societal topics

25 projects have been done. Carme has participated in 23 of these projects and led 15 of them. These projects all address important societal topics, for instance the sensitive topic of violence against women. “A big challenge was to reverse the difficulties and bureaucratic barriers that women faced when applying for help from the Catalan Government to palliate their situation. To this end, the form was redesigned and made simpler, more intuitive and more user-friendly. The amount of documentation to be submittes has also been reduced to a minimum. In addition, a website has been prepared which clearly explains the different types of aid and who is entitled to access it.”

The willingness and assistance of the Catalan Ministry of Equality and Feminism, which is responsible for the service, was essential to carry out this project.

Don’t you worry, we will do it for you!

The website acts a single point of contact. This idea of creating a single point of contact also played a huge role in another project, a project regarding immigration, a topic that was also addressed in the UCC café of September 2023. “The problem we tried to solve in this project was helping foreigners get settled in Catalunya. As any country will know, immigrants have a lot of things they need to arrange, like bank accounts, visas, social security numbers, and so on and so forth. This requires a lot of paperwork and immigrants have to go from one government institution to the next.”

Carme mentions that this bureaucracy in itself is already challenging, never mind the fact that a lot of immigrants don’t speak Catalan or Spanish, which makes filling out forms and paperwork all the more challenging. “And they’re not stupid by any means, but if they don’t understand the language and our government system, how are they arrange things properly?”

Among other procedures, immigrants, depending on their needs, must request a report from the Catalan Administration from among 4 options, and must find out which one fits them. Now, they will only have to fill in a unique multilingual and simpler form, which can be completed entirely online. This will reduce the bureaucratic burden and make it easier to request these essential reports for reuniting family members abroad. “Up until now, citizens had to go to their local council and to the Government of Catalonia, but thanks to the redesign they will no longer have to switch between Catalan institutions. We will do that for them. They will only have a single contact point. ‘One ring to rule them all, as they said in the Lord of the Rings’”, Carme says jokingly.

Working together with the ultimate goal in mind

Redesigning services is hard work that can’t be done without collaboration. Carme mentions how she works with different institutions, ministries, teams and people to get things done. “These collaborations are very good. We have a lot of inspiring and bright people in the team and management really motivates us to come to the best results, even if these take more time and means than we originally planned.”

Collaboration in every project also means involving users. “That’s the most important part. We always involve users in redesigning services. For the violence in women project, it meant conducting lots and lots of interviews to understand their needs better. We also did that with the design of a new app for teachers, which we tested with 200 teachers.”

Catalonia is ahead of the pack when it comes to involving users. They have a big network of thousands of citizens they can involve in service design. And Carme and her team are constantly reaching out to new citizens in projects. It requires a lot of effort to set up a solid user base and maintain it, but it ultimately makes service design that much easier and better.

Staying critical

Despite the successes, Carme urges one to stay critical. “Every project is different. Just because something worked in one project doesn’t mean it will work in another. You always have to start from scratch.”

Each project is a new challenge, as well as the subject it’s about. “Government services relate to so many different citizen subjects. The one day I’m talking about women in violence, another about optimizing an app for teachers, and then I’m thinking about how citizens can file complaints about delayed busses from Barcelona to Zaragoza together with colleagues from Aragon. That’s the beauty of our work, that we learn so much and get to help people in so many different branches of service design.”