Service Design Project: Where are the Gaps throughout the District of Columbia’s Internal Agencies?

Washington, D.C.

To better understand how my team of UX designers began working alongside the DC government, we first need to go back in time and understand the project's purpose. This is a year-long engagement with the city of District of Columbia to improve service, ease of access through and focus on residents' overall satisfaction throughout the city. The previous GA UXDI cohort took part in a city-wide canvassing effort to survey and interview residents (1,500 residents) from each of the District’s wards and synthesized recommendations for the city, which lead to quite a bit of valuable insights and varying priorities between agencies which showed that interagency cooperation is essential to fulfilling the needs of residents.

So, as part of the ongoing overall DC service design research project, my UX cohort was tasked with mapping out and consulting on improving the city's service experience. To cover all agencies within the conglomerate, my class was divided into teams of 2 and one team of 3 and were assigned 2–3 government agencies. My 3-member team was responsible for researching and interviewing the Public Safety and Justice cluster of agencies.

Goal: To better understand what it is like to work as a city employee and to help improve the work experience across the D.C. government network of agencies through the lens of service design.

Timeline: 2.5 weeks

Team: 3 UX designers


  1. Wrote out a research plan
  2. Conducted user interviews and card-sorting activity
  3. Sent out surveys
  4. Synthesized research through affinity mapping
  5. Quantified card sorting activity
  6. Crafted personas & scenarios
  7. Mapped out customer journeys
  8. Recommendations
  9. Presented findings to clients and members of D.C. agencies


Participant Interview

My team interviewed a total of 14 employees at three different agencies within the Public Safety and Justice conglomerate, including 5 at the Department of Corrections, 5 at the Office of Risk Management, and 4 at the Fire & EMS. I also had two additional interviews: the Assistant City Manager and another with the Chief of Project Management.

During our recorded 30–60 minutes interviews, we asked the following questions about each of the other six agencies:

1. What do you like about working with [agency]?

2. What do you think [agency] could improve upon?

3. What are your biggest challenges or frustrations working with [agency]?

If we had time left over, we asked the following questions:

1. Could you tell me about your role and what you do here?

2. What does success look like for you when working with other agencies?

3. What things get in the way of you doing your job?

4. What are the problems we should be trying to solve?

5. Is there anything we didn’t ask about regarding working with other agencies that would be helpful?

6. Could you describe any shortcuts, workarounds or efficiencies employees use here to make their job easier?

7. Do you believe most people here are proud to work for the city?

After the recorded interviews were finished, we then asked the participant to do some card-sorting. The card-sorting activity focused on the pillars of high-performing customer experience. The participant was asked to place each pillar for each agency, listing from strength to weakness, and the data collected were later analyzed and charted.

Survey Questions

Parallel to our research with the agencies, my group had also posted a 10 question survey on various outreach platforms to get residence experience interacting with agencies: including Reddit, Slack, Facebook, and Twitter. Because I do not have a Facebook or Twitter account myself, I had asked a few of my friends who have active accounts to post the survey on my team’s behalf. We were hoping to pull some information from the surveys, but unfortunately, we did not receive enough feedback to use it to either support or use it in our synthesis.

Synthesis of Interviews

Having conducted a total of 14 interviews, my group and I worked on transcribing each recording. To better organize ourselves and thinking ahead of what artifacts would be given to the clients, we decided to transcribe our recordings in a word document and an excel sheet. The word document included a much more detailed transcription, while the excel sheet only had staple quotes and or statements that we used as a reference when mapping out key themes. While re-listening to the recordings, we heard pain-point/red flag common themes throughout the inter-agencies. Not wanting to jump the gun, we wanted to support our initial findings with an affinity map.

Affinity Mapping

Old-school but effective affinity mapping
Miro affinity mapping

Looking at the above photo, it is easy to see where the problem areas are prominent. We put together similar statements and topics in clusters, which helped us see which topics and pain-points were the most common from our interviewees. This process took a while because people had so much to say. Some comments people interviewed included:

Seems each department has their own computer system that doesn’t seem to interface or be talking to each other.”

“The process isn’t really intuitive”

“It’s hard to find out who does what, takes time to talk to the person you need.”

“People stay in a little cocoon and only focus on what they do.”

“We weren’t getting…answers when you needed answers when you asked for it a bunch of times.”

Card Sorting Analysis

High-performing Customer Experience Findings

When we asked the people being interviewed to do the card-sorting exercise, we were hoping that the findings based on the activity would add to our research. It was a challenge to synthesis the findings. Still, having found away, we came to the realization that our findings based on the activity was not as useful in supporting our affinity analysis as we had hoped for.

User Personas & Scenarios

Meet Marcus Brand


Next, we built out our personas. In total, we made 3 personas — one persona for one agency. Meet Marcus! Building out our persona helps us understand our target audience and who we are building and designing. It allowed us, UX designers, to step out of our world and recognize that different people have different needs and expectations. We were thinking about a fictional persona's needs, which allowed us to infer what a real person might be experience and or need.


We also included scenarios for our personas based on common issues found. We used our scenarios as a starting point to help with designing the customer journey map to give us even more of an in-depth understanding of the pain-points people have.

There is an issue with one of the correctional buildings, but Marcus has trouble getting the funds to fix it.

Marcus is tasked to hire 5–10 new correctional officers within a two week time-frame.

Customer Journey Mapping

A shorty gots to do what a shorty gots to do for UX
Marcus’s day-to-day experience

We went over our interview transcripts to build out our customer journey maps for each of the scenarios. We mapped these journeys to show the ups (turquoise) and down(yellow) experiences employees of the DC agencies struggle within their interagency relationships.

We’ve noticed that by mapping out the journey map, our personas had more negative experiences than positive ones. The negative experiences were caused by lack of communication, delays in replies, having a siloed mentality, and a lack of understanding between agencies.

Greg’s day-to-day experience


Based on our interviews and analysis, some themes were jumping out at us, including a need to centralize communication and processes. The following three are suggestions for areas of improvement.

  • Establish a centralized system across agencies for project requirements and tasks, enabling managers to monitor progress and facilitate open and effective communication.
  • Streamline the process for requesting DGS funds that have already been budgeted for the DOC would minimize frustration and speed up fixing issues.
  • Implement a Further Education system where employees receive authorization and access the course catalog and requirements.

This is an exciting time. Getting to help give recommendations to the city government really shows just how UX designers are needed everywhere — not just in the tech industry. Thanks, District of Columbia, for allowing a group of UX students to come in and find new best practices to improve inter-agency relationships!




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