Building Ireland’s first public sector service design centre

A more human strategy for service improvement at the council
Illustration of a team working on user-centred services in Cork

Cork is a large county, in fact it’s the biggest in Ireland. As a local authority, Cork County Council (CCC) has a challenge administrating that size of area. From requesting housing, to reporting a pothole – delivering services that address public needs can become hard to manage when you have a large region to cover.

Service design has not traditionally been an improvement methodology that the public sector has particularly engaged with, however a greater focus on building in-house design capabilities and applying design to services is gradually evolving. CCC recognised the potential of design in supporting the digital transformation they were seeking, and they invited Snook on board to help with their journey.

Going digital

Sponsored by the Chief Executive’s office, Snook worked with Cork County Council to build a citizen-centred council. With the council in the process of ‘going digital’, we saw an opportunity to ensure services were led by user needs and considered how we might meet the senior team’s ambition of improving outcomes county-wide.

In response to this, Snook developed a strategy for service improvement at the council, highlighting projects to develop and identifying the cultural change needed to support and embed service design as an improvement process.

Overhead view of a team working creatively to design new services

Learning by doing

Working as one team, we undertook live projects to enable ‘learning by doing’ as part of our design in practice programme. This helped build in-house capabilities while driving digital transformation. In particular, we undertook a redesign of the council’s housing representation service, from discovery to beta. Housing representation is a service where any elected member can make a recommendation on behalf of a citizen to the council, whether that be low-income families trying to apply for a grant, or a person with complex needs seeking accommodation.

We discovered that the service was using a system that was ten years old, and the offices themselves were buried under heaps of paperwork, all of which was time consuming. However, we didn’t just want to shift all of this online, we wanted to transform the whole service.

From user research we discovered that legacy systems, siloed working, and a complex application process, were causing a lot of invalid applications – and an unnecessary amount of paper. There was a lack of clarity around what information was needed in the application: bank statements, pictures of families and everything in between was being sent to the department, causing unnecessary admin.

People talking during a Snook workshop

Simple, centralised, digital

Together we responded to these needs. We redesigned the language of the application form by eliminating negative and complex words, making it easier to navigate. Furthermore, by creating one integrated source for applicants that worked both online and off, we kept data centralised and reduced administrative activities. We developed a prototype directly into CCC’s digital service platform, fostering a real team spirit as we worked together in a live scenario to continually identify, refine, and meet system and user needs based on feedback and testing.


Cork County Council achieved real improvements and savings in the housing representations service, including reducing processing time by 86%, and waiting time for respondents by 100%. Snook’s efforts helped save the housing service 12,000 euros a year on postage alone, and we cleared up so much backlog that the staff members we had been working with were freed up to work on other projects and initiatives for 2 days a week.

  • icon-arrow-up-green 86% Improvement in processing time
  • icon-arrow-up-green 100% Improvement in waiting time
  • €12k Saving in postage

The redesign of this service supported the business case for the development of Ireland’s first public sector service design centre. Since 2017 Service rePublic has delivered a number of key service redesign projects with the Housing Department, including a new housing repairs service for tenants. They have built a real partnership with the housing department team which has become an advocate of the co-design process. Service rePublic are also developing a service standard for their work which aims to transform the council’s services and co-design new futures, all whilst putting Cork’s citizens at the heart of public sector transformation.

This vision of delivering services in conjunction with staff and tenants marks a radical cultural shift for the council, and one which we developed in our original strategy.