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Master's thesis: Service design can boost public value creation in government transformation projects

Master's degree student Martin Jordan studied facilitation of human-centred service transformation in the city-state of Hamburg.

Government organisations aim to use taxpayers’ money effectively and to create efficient services for citizens. But all too often they do not succeed.

In a recently completed thesis, Martin Jordan, a master student at Laurea University of Applied Sciences, researched how human-centred approaches like service design can help create better service experiences for people and thereby public value.

A public servant in the UK Government himself, he spent 10 months working with the German city-state of Hamburg to assess how it digitalises its services and what role design can play in improving them and the city’s broader digitalisation efforts.

He found that service design can indeed improve service offerings, increase trust in the administration and enhance outcomes for citizens. A new model, developed as part of the thesis, describes the contribution service design can make to creating public value.

Understanding public value

For two decades, academics and public servants have discussed – mostly in the abstract – how they can create value for the public (Moore 1995). More recently, various scholars and practitioners have found that services contribute to public value creation (Try & Radnor 2007; Osborne 2017) and that the objectives of service design are transformation and value creation (Wetter-Edman 2011). In 2016, the City of Hamburg published a digital-first strategy to develop citizen-friendly administration and services.

As part of his thesis research, Jordan conducted 11 interviews with people working in and for the administration to understand what role design practices play in Hamburg and how human-centred design could support public value creation in practice. He directly engaged with a social service undergoing transformation by running workshops with staff, conducting user interviews and feeding back citizens’ views.

The thesis found that design workshops involving citizens were already used at times and have started to change the view of public servants on how services can respond to the actual needs of citizens.

Improving public services

While the government officials understand that their transformation project has only just begun, they recognise how human-centred design approaches have led to better insight into what citizens’ pain points are, which problems services should solve and what the services should do.

According to Hamburg’s public servants, engaging with citizens early, before building a digital service, and testing prototypes throughout the development process has led to better outcomes. This practical finding aligns with academic theory and literature in service design and management.

However, various barriers to fundamentally redesigning public services continue to exist. The strict German data privacy law and its interpretation, politically-driven decision-making and technical infrastructure challenges limit the impact the most new digital transformation initiatives have. 

Proposing new models

The thesis suggests a new model that depicts service design as a contributor to public value creation by improving services, strengthening public trust, and orientating towards better outcomes. To overcome the practical barriers in administration and support effective transformation, it suggests increasing design capability and bring it in-house instead of relying on fleeting external resources.

In the context of the Hamburg administration, the thesis found that utilising human-centred design approaches increases democratic participation and provides public servants with  clearer guidance on how to invest public money in a way that benefits citizens. Outputs and recommendations from the thesis have already been used to improve one public-facing service and have been reused by other local governments to inform their digital transformation.

The title of the thesis: “Creating public value through service design. Facilitation of human-centred service transformation in the city-state of Hamburg”

The permanent address of the publication is

More information:

Martin Jordan
Service Design & Innovation Master's degree programme



Moore, M. H. 1995. Creating Public Value. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Try, D. & Radnor, Z. 2007. Developing an understanding of results-based management through public value theory. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 20 (7), 655–673.

Wetter-Edman, K. 2011. Service Design - a conceptualisation of an emerging practice. Go╠łteborg: ArtMonitor, University of Gothenburg.