User needs: don’t go to Chino

The concept ‘don’t go to Chino’ may be my most significant intellectual contribution to GDS and digital transformation, though I cannot account for any practical impact. Or at least it might have been, had I published this when I wrote it in 2014. At the time I was leading work on how to get ‘digital by default’ services to digitally excluded users. It matters equally to me now as Director of Customer Journey at Citizens Advice.

Definition

If you are involved in making public services more digital, don’t represent users of public services in a less flattering light than you represent yourselves.

History

This concept is derived from The O.C., an American teen drama. It is a very good programme. Ryan Atwood, one of the main characters, is from the wrong side of the tracks, specifically a place called Chino. The scenes set in Chino or associated with Ryan’s working class roots are shot in a sad, grey light. The look very bleak in comparison to the shiny, bright, upper middle class new life the Cohen family offer to Ryan in posh Newport Beach. The first season in particular is anchored by the ever-present narrative risk that Ryan will return to Chino – don’t go to Chino! I feel that the line ‘don’t go to Chino’ is used in the dialogue but I’ll confirm that next time I do an OC re-watch.

The opening credits give a sense of this, when at the start Ryan is in a car going away from Chino, looking sad and grey.

This concept was coined by yours truly when I got cross at a difference I perceived between the representation of GDS employees and services users in GDS’s photographs. The pictures of users were a bit sad and grey, like they were in Chino. A bad place. The pictures of GDS staff were bright and cheerful, like they were in a nice office in central London, or Newport Beach, bathed in the warm glow of their (our) privilege.

My irritation at this became an imperative: don’t go to Chino [when representing your users]! Which makes no grammatical sense, but you get the point.

Implications

The concept is important to me as a reminder to consider how we represent the parties involved in public service provision and use. We should be as respectful to the people who use our services as we are to the people who make them, if not more, and this should show in our visual and other communications.

More broadly, the concept acts as a prompt for me to remember the power relations in digital transformation work, especially when working on services for the whole public, or more disadvantaged or vulnerable people. These power relations are, in my view, very present but mainly unacknowledged. When you work in the public sector and your work is making decisions about the provision of public services to citizens (be that policy decisions about whether services will be provided at all and to what level, or delivery decisions about how they are provided), you are in a position of power over the people who use you services. This is a privileged position. We should inhabit it respectfully and interrogate ourselves to make our actions and our work the best they can be.