The needs of government

Ben Holliday
2 min readMar 11, 2017


Image — Hernán Piñera

It’s okay for government to have needs. I always work with this presumption in mind:

Understanding user needs and understanding the needs of government isn’t a choice. You need to do both.

We start with user needs. Services designed to meet the needs of people, that’s the the end-goal. But a service only works to deliver an outcome if it’s efficient and viable when operated at scale.

Making sense of a complex organisation, intertwined with the intent of policy in government, is all part of delivering products and services that work for end-users. These services depend on the underlying systems, processes, and capability we have to operate and deliver them.

I deliberately made understanding the needs of your organisation 1 of the 5 questions for framing the problem.

Hold on with both hands

The best way to think about this is that we hold onto the problem with both hands.

In one hand we hold onto the needs of users. Start here.

In the other hand we hold onto the motivations, constraints and reasoning behind our need to do the work.

If we’re honest, we prioritise the problems we work on in any business or organisation for all sorts of reasons, rational and irrational, and it’s important to keep hold of this as well.

Leaning left

Prioritising one set of needs over the other doesn’t work.

If we start with the needs of the government we risk shaping our solutions towards unintentional outcomes.

Likewise, by focusing only on user needs we can fail to answer crucial questions of scale, and the cost of running vital public services.

The answer is teams need to get hold of both:

  • user needs: the underlying problem they’re solving for people. And, then
  • organisational needs: an understanding of the needs of government, in the context of policy.

The definition of success when thinking about service design in government is which way you choose to lean.

To succeed we must create the culture that, when in doubt, leans back towards the needs of our users, the underlying problem.

Building a service that truly meets these needs introduces the best possible chance of creating a modern, efficient, and sustainable government. The type of government built around services that work for people.



Ben Holliday

Designer and leader. Working with organisations and teams to deliver great products and services / also find me at