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Make public services user friendly in only four days

The citizens of Estonia – an IT country – can access most public services online. This phenomena – which is mostly unheard of in the rest of the world – has made Estonians into very demanding citizens who expect all web-based services to be easily accessible, easy to understand and quick to use. Due to this, ministries keep trying to implement new solutions that will help make people’s lives easier. A good example here is the Estonian Tax and Customs Board, which used a Google Design Sprint in order to make taxes more pleasant to deal with.

Yes, you read that right, it is possible. We asked Grete Urbel, head of personal income and taxation services at the Estonian Tax and Customs Board, to walk us through her Sprint experience. The happy occasion of receiving money is often marred by the headache of taxes, the filing of which could take considerably less mental energy.

The Estonian Tax and Customs Board was working on a project that will let Estonians have a better overview of their taxes even before the period of tax returns, perhaps even allowing them to file the paperwork early. According to Urbel, the Estonian Tax and Customs Board is currently unable to offer these features, which is why they begun to hunt for quick to implement, long-term solutions.

The system is expected to automatically fill in data known to other companies and institutions, with the end-user only being required to review and confirm it. We all want the security of knowing that our taxes have been filed correctly.

For Urbel, being prepared is as important as being fast: before choosing a development partner, she first set out to understand the design market. Being a smart customer, she researched different methods, eventually deciding on the one offered by Futurist: only spending four days to create a working prototype seemed like a good investment.

The Google Design Sprint helped them take several steps closer to finding a solution to their problems. Their Sprint consisted of small, easy-to-digest problems that, once solved, gave the team a pleasant surprise with how easily a solution was reached.

More often than not, the majority of time and money spent is done so on analysing development and developing environments, says Grete Urbel, which means that the project runs out of money, and the end-user remains unsatisfied, feeling that the service doesn’t take their needs into account. We have observed projects where end-user testing is performed either just before the service goes live, or shortly after the fact. The feedback gathered from these tests is then left to gather dust, as new projects take priority.

The Google Design Sprint is also an excellent tool for formulating ideas, reflecting on what solutions are required and whether the given problems need solving in the first place. The Estonian Tax and Customs Board’s project has reached its fourth version thanks to the Sprint, requiring only some finishing touches to be completed. The project team agreed among themselves not to rest on their laurels and to continue improving their project on teamwork Wednesdays. In these meetings, the team discussed the suggestions found in end-user feedback, designed new solutions and continued testing.

Grete, as well as we here at Futurist, encourage all public institutions to communicate with their end-users and to try out new methods to implement in their work.

Experience and many Google Design Sprints have shown us that there are very few challenges that a well-led Sprint cannot solve.

The case study of the Estonian Tax and Customs Board Google Design Sprint can be downloaded here.

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