Exclusive: Inside LabX, Portugal's Future Workshop

By Nurfilzah Rohaidi

Interview with Pedro Silva Dias, Chief Executive, Administrative Modernization Agency.

Portugal is starting a quiet revolution. From co-creating with citizens, to a total overhaul of government services, the country's Administrative Modernisation Agency's LabX is rethinking the purpose of the public sector.

One area of innovation has been in redesigning death and bereavement services. The innovation unit has developed a dedicated ‘death and bereavement desk’ (Balcão do Obito) which brings together both public and private sector services that need sorting out once a loved one has passed on, Pedro Silva Dias, the agency’s chief executive, tells GovInsider.

Dias shares how the lab is cutting across the public and private sectors to redesign services, and co-creating with citizens.

Support during difficult times

Image: Administrative Modernization Agency

When a citizen passes away, typically, relatives would have to visit multiple government offices to get paperwork and finances in order. On top of those, they have to visit banks and telephone operators to take care of bills and accounts. “We grouped some citizens that have recently been exposed to situations like this, and we tried to understand the pain points that they had to be confronted with,” Dias says.

Singapore and New Zealand have redesigned bereavement services too, but their focus has been on the ones provided by the government, excluding crucial services like banks and utilities. Portugal has recognised that from a grieving citizen's perspective, there is no distinction between public and private services. It wants to make the process easier, regardless of where the services come from.

LabX's death and bereavement desk brings together both private sector services - like utilities and banks - with government ones from the Ministries of Justice, Finance and Social Security. This creates a “more humane way of dealing with this difficult moment”, Silva Dias says.

A physical prototype is now being trialled in a town in the north of Portugal, he continues. “We are already testing a desk where people can go and in a single place take care of all needs that they have when they face a situation like this.”

Countries such as Singapore and New Zealand are implementing similar services to support citizens when there is a death in the family. The former is prioritising anticipatory services that provide a more seamless experience during crucial moments in a citizen’s life, while the latter recently launched the End of Life service that collects all relevant digital services onto one platform.

Co-creation with citizens

The ‘death and bereavement’ desk is housed in a Citizen’s Shop, taking advantage of Portugal’s existing network of over 50 one-stop centres across the country. The centres provide access to both public and private services - employment, social security, fiscal services, utilities, banking, and so on. “When you come in, you can satisfy almost every problem that you might have on a daily basis,” Silva Dias explains.

[blockquote]“Everybody has a stake, everybody has a say, in coming up with new initiatives.”[/blockquote]

LabX recently conducted interviews and engagement sessions with citizens, business owners, public servants working in Citizen’s Shops, supervisors, and other stakeholders to understand how to improve these spaces. “Everybody has a stake, everybody has a say, in coming up with new initiatives,” Silva Dias says. The team examined the citizen experience from all angles - even “the conditions outside the Citizen’s Shop where you can park your car, where you can get information on how to get to the shop”, Silva Dias says.

Based on these interactions, the team has come up with over 30 initiatives to improve the satisfaction level of citizens. “Some of our workers inside citizen shops suggested that we change the format of the tables where they were providing their services in order to give more privacy for people.” These changes may not be big ones, but nevertheless make an impact to citizens’ experiences.

Portugal has been recognised internationally for its focus on citizen centricity. The agency’s Simplex programme, for example, has won awards for cutting red tape across various government agencies, according to Silva Dias. One particularly successful initiative to come out of this programme in 2016 was automated income tax declaration. “A taxpayer in Portugal saves a huge amount of time every year because he doesn't need anymore to fill in several different tax forms”.

Another example of note is the ‘driver’s license on wheels’ initiative, which digitises a previously paper-based process. “You can just go online and you can ask for your driver's license to be renewed,” Silva Dias explains. “Nowadays, we have implemented more than 90%” of the initiatives identified in 2016, he adds.

All in the cards

Image: Administrative Modernization Agency

In its bid to understand citizens’ needs, LabX is now turning their attention to the nation’s youth. “The idea here is to engage in children and teenagers in important issues of society,” says Silva Dias. The team recently designed a card game for their Education for Citizenship initiative, and is now trialling it in various schools.

The cards show children in a variety of situations: using computers, tablets or cell phones, playing board games or playing sports, with family, with friends or at school. They also represent various social issues - poverty, support for the elderly, national health, and employment among them, says Silva Dias. It’s a “great diagnostic tool to understand what the younger generation perceive as the most important issues in their perspective,” he remarks.

Each child begins the game with eight image cards, and in each round, a question card is placed on the table - some examples include “What is teamwork?”, “What concerns me the most?”, “How do I prefer to learn?” or “What can I do to improve my school/ neighbourhood?” The children will then choose an image card they believe best answers the question; describe the picture in the card they chose; and justify their choice. The jury will elect the best answer, and the remaining players can argue and try to convince the jury otherwise, according to Silva Dias.

The project was born from a challenge issued by the Portuguese Secretariat of State for Citizenship and Equality to LabX, together with the Portuguese Institute of Sports and Youth and the General Directorate of Education, to carry out research into educational models for citizenship and civic participation. Silva Dias’ team is currently collecting data on the issues that children and teenagers find most significant, and starting this month, will work closely with schools and teachers to co-create solutions based on their findings, he explains.

If proven successful, the goal is to roll this game out to schools nationwide in partnership with the Ministry of Education, he adds.

From children’s games to matters of life and death, the agency is working hard to get citizens involved and bring the government closer to people of every age.

The team will be speaking at Innovation Labs World. Register here to join us on 25 September in Singapore.