Across all sectors, the idea that people are not just passive recipients of a service, but are active participants – with agency and opinions – has become a hugely influential principle. Many commercial enterprises have long since embraced ‘customer-centric’ ways of working, providing the consumer with end-to-end support and the illusion of infinite personal choice – the positive results of which include increased innovation, greater emphasis on customer satisfaction, and more agile and responsive delivery units. At first glance, user-centric ways of working should be suited to the social sector, as the values that people look for in service providers are the very values that voluntary sector organisations espouse – respect, consideration, trust, quality. However, many in the sector have struggled to transform these values into a tangible reality for service users. We have identified four key steps that will help organisations become more user-centric.

With the advent of the government’s personalisation agenda and the drive for more integrated care between health, education and social care, there has been increasing interest and investment in more effective, more user-centric ways of working. However, becoming user-centric is about more than rhetoric – it requires a thorough and nuanced analysis of user needs; a comprehensive understanding of user touch points and experience; and a willingness to make changes based on user feedback. Until an organisation is willing and able to strategically invest in change, create the infrastructure to support new ways of working, and build their internal capacity, they will remain customer-centric in name only.

Why user-centricity has become so important

In the face of rising demand for public services, the idea that beneficiaries deserve the best and most effective services has gained a new urgency. Cost cuts and austerity have led to testing of innovative new ways of improving service delivery across many sectors, as service commissioners and providers seek more efficient ways to make an impact.

Alongside this drive for performance improvement and efficiency in public services is a body of literature that strongly suggests that more active participation of service users can actually improve the quality of services. Studies suggest that user perceptions are a source of information that can lead to better outcomes, particularly within health and education. A moral imperative to respect the innate humanity of the service user has further bolstered the argument that those who provide and those who access services should have an equal say in how they are designed and delivered.

The benefits of user-centricity

The typical expected benefits of a user-centric approach are:

  1. Alignment of needs – Services that are targeted to the actual, and not implied, needs of the service user.
  2. Reach and engagement – The integration of user voice means services are more relevant and tailored to individuals, increasing service user satisfaction.
  3. Lean and agile delivery – Resources can be allocated more strategically to achieve the maximum impact.
  4. Impact and service quality – Services can be improved by being made to focus on the outcomes that users need to achieve long term goals.

How organisations can become more user-centric

A truly meaningful user-centric organisation puts the beneficiaries at the core of all activities – from initial needs analysis and service design through to service provision and evaluation. Below is a framework with the core elements that an organisation needs to have in place to be truly user-centric. All four steps are interlinked and iterative. Two key considerations are worth highlighting:

  • Iteration is essential, as feedback loops within the framework make the process cyclical and support continuous improvement.
  • Maintaining focus helps keep your customers’ wants and anticipated future needs at the core of everything your organisation does.

The ultimate aim of the framework is always to deliver better outcomes for the beneficiaries that an organisation serves. To download our complete report on Putting users at the centre of voluntary organisations, which includes more frameworks, case studies and a self-diagnostic tool, please click here.