Eli MacLaren

Transforming the Public Service Industry: A New Citizen Imperative

Reason #1: “Once we win the next election, we can focus on the really big ideas.”

Reason #2: “You want me to experiment with tax dollars? Are you kidding?”

Reason #3: “We know the system doesn’t work, but we just can’t blow it up.”

In the public service industry, resistance to transformational change comes in many forms and sizes — but more often than not, it sounds like a version of the above and it takes on a host of related behaviors: 

The problems feel too big. So rather than embracing the complexity, we narrow our focus to manageable bite-sized chunks or point solutions.

We know that we need something different, so we throw the shiny potential of technology at the problem when we’re not even sure we understand the problem. 

We don’t have or know the answer, and we become paralyzed by the social, professional, and organizational risk of having to admit that.

There has to be a better way.

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I wear many hats. Mother. Market Maker. Designer & Strategist. Community Member. Systems Thinker. Foodie. 

These are not siloed hats, rather, they are all ways in which I represent and realize my purpose on this earth — which is to accelerate transformational change in ways that truly improve people’s lives. 

And in this, I can be very impatient — both my superpower and my weakness — with the fears and resistance that can paralyze our thinking and action, and keep us firmly rooted in the world of incremental.

This is why I work at BIF, and this is why I am excited to bring BIF’s methodology for making transformational change safer and easier to manage to leaders in public service through our new Citizen Experience Lab. 


At BIF, we’re making transformational change safer and easier to manage.

The Citizen Experience Lab is a platform for public service leaders and institutions to explore and test next practices and new business models.

Public service leaders, like all leaders, have an entrenched business model — a model for creating and delivering value for citizens (their consumers and customers) and for capturing value (revenue) to sustain operations. These models define and constrain what they do and make. 

These models are also ripe for disruption. Maybe disruption will come through political upheaval. Maybe it will come from budget upheavals — as they collapse under the weight of their own limited revenue models. Or maybe it will come from citizens as frustrated as I am. 

No matter what, business models don’t last as long as they use to, and disruption is inevitable. 

The opportunity, as I see it, is to help institutions lead this change, to help them explore and test visionary new models that can serve and delight citizens in wholly new ways. 


How does it work? 

First, we help leaders understand the problem in new and different ways. This is the power and potential of human-centered design. By shifting how leaders frame the problem, they are able to see opportunities that weren’t visible previously. The best way to do this is to understand the problem through the lens of the customer. Once leaders view the world through the citizen’s perspective, they have a strong foundation for designs that will address the job that citizens are actually trying to do, closing the experience gap between what citizens want and what public service leaders provide. This is the first way that we reduce the risk of transformational change, we root solutions in things that customers actually need and want. 

From this foundation, we imagine a new experience and we conceptualize the delivery and capture models required to support it. We define a strategy for simulating the new model, prototyping and testing it in a real world environment. The prototyping and testing phase also significantly reduces risk, as we generatively and dynamically iterate on the concept until it fires on customer’s desires and demonstrates feasibility and viability in the real world. This is an exercise in preventing public service leaders from making significant investments in infrastructure projects, only to discover that it didn’t solve the actual problem.



The goal of iteratively testing new models is to land on a market-ready model, and from there we help leaders manage the process of taking it to scale

Imagine the potential of this process in the public service industry. 

Imagine if we had a cadre of leaders willing and able to take on large, complex, systemic issues? 

Imagine if we had a cadre of leaders who — when facing severe budget cuts — don’t have to simply reduce services, but who are capable of working within these constraints to completely reimagine how they do business?

What could this mean for public health — given the United States has the most unhealthy population and yet spends more per capita than any other nation?

What could this mean for public education — given that 6.5% of students drop out of the education system every year because they perceive the system as irrelevant to their needs? 

What could this mean for our housing epidemic — given that 7.7 million people are spending more than 50% of their income on housing and will collapse under the economic pressure?

I am ready for the cadre of public leaders who are raising their hands for transformation — shifting their mental models and language:

From: “Once we win the next election, we can focus on the really big ideas.”

To: “I am running on a platform of transformational change because I know how to do it.”

From: “You want me to experiment with tax dollars? Are you kidding?”

To: “By generatively testing new models in the real world, we will create better fit solutions for citizens and save money.”

From: “We know the system doesn’t work, but we just can’t blow it up.”

To: “We know how system transformation works, and we need to explore and test next practices for new business models to get us there.”

This is the better way. 

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Impatient optimist bringing innovation & experimentation to
social systems at #thebif. Student of the human experience.
Market maker, system thinker, & foodie.

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