Service patterns and why they matter

We’ve just started a new piece of work to identify and explore some of the common service patterns that sit within our services. We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, and it promises a different way of viewing services that will be valuable as we build our service design roadmap. It also supports the next steps for and will enable us to collaborate on several other related pieces of design and technology work that are running across the organisation.

What we mean by Common Service Patterns

Our goal is to map Essex County Council’s services to help us locate and start to understand these common patterns. By identifying and documenting service patterns we can design services that provide a consistent and familiar user experience, making things quicker, easier and more accessible for citizens. It can also help us to create appropriate capabilities and ways of working to support the interactions and touch points that exist across council services.

Where you find patterns

Registering a birth or death, reporting a problem on the road, applying for a permit or checking your eligibility are very different services that are accessed through many disparate channels. The experiences of citizens accessing them can be quite different, but in reality, many of these different services go through the same kind of building blocks, like registering, booking, or paying for something.

Some examples:

  • when talking about end to end services; applying for a permit, applying for a licence and applying for a school place. “Apply for something” is a common service pattern
  • within the “Apply for a licence” journey, we can identify several smaller steps, like registering, booking and paying. Many of these steps will be similar in other end to end services (like “Applying for a school place”).
  • going down another level, when designing each step that citizens will interact with design patterns can be identified, for example how questions are asked, how information is displayed and how elements of a user interface are designed.

a tiered view of end to end services, building blocks and design patterns
Our hypothesis is that by identifying common patterns we will then be able to prototype new ways of delivering the same types of experience for different services, improving the user experience and streamlining the work that is required to run the service.

How we are doing it

Our initial few weeks will be focused on looking across the organisation and mapping a broad range of services at a high level. Most importantly, we will map services from the user's point of view, instead of thinking about how services are currently structured in the organisation.

We will work collaboratively with ECC teams to create an “as is” picture that is as accurate as possible. After starting to identify some of the common service patterns we will then focus on a specific service area and start to prototype and test how a common service pattern might work for that service.

Where we are now

We are at the start of our project and will be reaching out to teams across the organisation over the next couple of weeks. At the same time, we’ll be building on our initial ideas and finding an effective, consistent way of mapping services to make it as useful as possible.

And we’re not going to do this in a darkened room somewhere; we’ll be reaching out to service areas immediately and learning from mapping real services with the experts. We’ll also get our work in progress up on a wall so that others can see and feed in their knowledge.

Share this page


  1. Comment by Benjamin Taylor posted on

    Are you using all the reference materials from ?

    Given we have been at this sort of analysis and classification since at least 1999, hopefully there's a lot of valuable documentation - including some interesting examples of local government papers at their finest (this wonderful 2002 strategy, mostly in Comic Sans, this classic 2004 report

    • Replies to Benjamin Taylor>

      Comment by Nicholas Ward posted on

      Hi Ben, thanks very much for your comment, we'll be reviewing the ESD reference materials/standards whilst undertaking our initial mapping work - and not in Comic Sans!

  2. Comment by Lee Emery posted on

    Hi Nick
    Good article. We're starting on our journey with this too in Stockport. It's something we've been doing for a while with building our tech capability with some success so hope it will prove as beneficial to do with service design patterns. I hope to hear more about how it's going and any lessons we can learn from it when we visit.

  3. Comment by Chris Sutton posted on

    Hi Nicholas,

    Really interesting blog.

    I am a User Research for the Welsh Local Government Digital Team. We are currently going through the process of assessing the feasibility of creating Service Patterns for every Welsh Local Authority.
    I was wondering if you or anyone in your team would be available for a chat so we can learn more about how you are getting on and hopefully get some advice. If not, are you doing any public sector show and tells to showcase this work that we could attend?

    Many thanks,

    • Replies to Chris Sutton>

      Comment by Nicholas Ward posted on

      Hi Chris, thanks for your comment. We shared our work at a #govdesign show and tell which might be of interest and can be found here:

      Happy to pick up any more specific questions if helpful - contact details are on the vid!

  4. Comment by Diahan posted on


    I work as an analyst for state government in Australia. I think the work you have done is so valuable and applicable across borders. Is work still continuing on the development of service patterns? I am not finding a lot of recent articles, or any new patterns being released.

    Thank you

    • Replies to Diahan>

      Comment by Nicholas Ward posted on

      Hi Diahan, thanks for your interest. Unfortunately, our work on patterns has taken a back seat recently whilst we focus on improving our core platforms. We still regularly discuss the approach internally and with other interested folks from other orgs (we're all wrangling with similar challenges), and we aim to revive the work in the near future, once we have a little more flexibility in the tech components that support user journeys.

      • Replies to Nicholas Ward>

        Comment by Diahan Fisher posted on

        Thanks so much for your reply Nicholas. Sorry took me awhile to find this page again. Would love to connect with your team and stay up to date with the work you are doing as we are hoping to embark on a similar journey.


Leave a comment

We only ask for your email address so we know you're a real person