People-centred public services

Estonian Government Office
Co-funded by the EU & Estonian Government
8 months
Design support
Estonian Design Centre


Estonia’s Top Civil Service Excellence Centre recruits and trains civil servants for senior roles in government. The centre is part of the Estonian Government Office, which alongside a number of other government ministries was becoming increasingly interested in the contribution service design could make to their work. As interest grew, the Government Office decided an introductory programme was needed.

The Estonian Design Centre was asked to create this service design training course. The programme aimed to teach the basic principles of service design, but rather than use theoretical exercises, it led participants through the redesign of three real public services.

The programme needed to overcome the initial resistance and doubts of some civil servants about the value of service design to their work. So a key aim of the workshops was to show how meeting the changing needs of Estonian citizens, while remaining cost-efficient, required public services to become more people-centred, attractive and innovative.

How design helped

The main target group for the programme was high-level civil servants, but to ensure the sustainability of the service redesigns, the participating institutions sent a team of 25 to attend.

The training objectives were set by Estonian Design Centre to help participants:

  • Understand user-centred service design principles and their value to the public sector
  • Learn how to use the service design principles and tools in practice to design or redesign services
  • Gain practical experience in service design, development and prototyping
  • Create a service design expert group made up of top civil servants

The three live projects redesigned were:

  • Ministry of the Interior — The process of re-registering a main residence
  • Social Insurance Board — The service that guides people with psychological special needs to relevant welfare services
  • Statistics Estonia — The service that provides statistical information for companies

The design process was led by three Estonian design coaches, with a group of international experts also sharing insights with the teams.

Key stages of the training programme:

1. User group mapping, user journeys, user research (observations, surveys), drawing out obstacles/barriers and identifying the needs for change

2. Mapping of stakeholders and touchpoints between users and the service

3. Proposing new possible service models and opportunities for automation

4. Working through legal necessities and prototyping

Each stage included a seminar led by a design expert, as well as meetings with the design coaches leading the process.


  • 3 redesigned public services
  • 5 training workshops held
  • 25 civil servants trained

The key outcomes of the programme have been:

  • Specifications for the redesign of three public services (ready to be implemented at the end of the programme)
  • Enhanced service design knowledge and practical skills of the participants

The main achievement of the training programme has been a change in the participants' way of thinking. The training gave managers of these public services a user-centered view, established a service logic and provided a plan for the future.

Crucially, all participants left with an understanding of how design methods could be used. By the end of the programme the teams had created basic prototypes and had a clear brief for the future.

The programme made me realise that although we often think we know what the user needs, our assumptions are inaccurate without actually asking the user and giving them the opportunity to test our solutions.

Civil servant
Statistics Estonia, Estonian government