Product - 09 Jul 2021

IremboGov Product Design Principles

About IremboGov

IremboGov is the digital gateway to government services in Rwanda, and its mission is to meaningfully improve citizen’s experience with government services. On IremboGov portals (web and USSD), citizens can request services such as birth certificate, marriage certificate, criminal record certificate, passport, driving license, land title. The platform was launched in 2015 and in February 2020, a brand new version (2.0) was released to the public. This new version is a major overhaul of the citizens and government experience including new features such as e-certificates and a better user interface, to name a few.

When designing IremboGov 2.0, we identified some important design principles to ensure our long-term success. But what are product design principles? According to Marty Cagan, author of the book “Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love“, product principles are fundamental concepts the company believe in, and that speaks to the nature of the product: “Where the product vision describes the future you want to create, and the product strategy describes your path to achieving that vision, the product principles speak to the nature of the products you want to create. Product principles are not a list of features, and they are not tied to any one product release. The principles are aligned with the product vision for an entire product line. A good set of principles may inspire some product features, but it’s more about what the company and product teams believe is important.“

In this article, we will present the five design principles that guide IremboGov day-to-day product decisions in a consistent and coherent way — and ensure that they stay in sync with the product vision and strategy.

1. Prioritize The Citizen, People Over Process

IremboGov is a multi-sided platform (very similar to an e-commerce platform) where we connect citizens, on one side, to government entities on the other side. Government entities are mainly process-driven. However, these processes are not always focused on making the lives of citizens easier, but rather, to increase efficiency or control on the government side.

For IremboGov, we start with the citizens’ experience and focus on it, and after, we figure out how to make it easy for the government to manage the process. At the end of the day, if citizens are not happy, the government will not reach its objectives. So focusing on the end-users is actually the most important thing we can do for the government.

2. Make Services Simple, And Then Make Them Simpler

IremboGov shall effectively serve all citizens, no matter how internet literate they are. This means that we are targeting a very diverse group of users, but at least, they all have a common denominator: they value simplicity.

However, achieving simplicity is hard – especially in our context where government backend processes can sometimes be quite complicated – and as Leonardo Da Vince famously said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication“.

With this principle, we want to ensure that we are not taking simplicity for granted and that we will always do the hard work to simplify, not only how the user interface looks like, but also how services work and are used by citizens. Some of the questions that often pop up during design reviews are: do we need that field ? Is this attachment really required ? Where does the user get it ? can’t we fetch it for him?

Also, it is important to note that achieving simplicity is a never-ending journey. In line with Irembo core value to “continuously improve”, we understand that “the ultimate sophistication” cannot be achieved in one shot and will require many iterations.

3. Ask Once Policy, Make The Government Feel Like One Entity

Government agencies are not working in isolation and sometimes, citizens need to interact with many agencies to get a service delivered. This situation makes things more complicated for them. Here is how this principle applies to the two situations where there is an interaction between different government agencies:

Situation one: to apply for a government service, citizens need to provide a document previously delivered by another agency (birth certificate, for example). In this scenario, IremboGov shall not ask for the document when the citizen applies again. If the document has already been delivered by IremboGov, we will not ask the user for it again.

To get a specific document, citizens need to make trips to many government agencies. In this scenario, IremboGov shall simplify the citizen journey by orchestrating the interactions between government agencies to deliver the desired outcome. Here, we want IremboGov to behave like a chef d’orchestre: we orchestrate the interactions between the various players of the government orchestra so that citizens can comfortably and effortlessly enjoy the “music”.


The concept of making the government feel like one entity is really that the citizen shall just know what he wants, it shall not even be necessary to know which agencies provide it. And Irembo will just do the rest.

4. Open Data, Give Citizens Ownership Of Their Data

Before IremboGov, citizens owned their government data (as physical documents): birth certificate, driving license, marriage certificate, land title, you name it. However, besides the physical documents they have, more citizen information is scattered in various government systems, and it is not always clear what it is used for.

So, this principle enforces two things:

When citizens are using IremboGov to request for a document, the ownership of that document does not change. It means that there is no way we can use data/documents of a citizen out of the context of serving him. The process of granting access to one’s information to third-party service providers shall be simple and transparent. This is true for physical documents; it shall be the same for data on IremboGov.


Citizens should always have clear visibility on data that the government have on them, understand how the government is using it and have a simple way to update their information. This reinforces the ownership of the data: It belongs to the citizen, not to the government systems.
This principle is very important for us as it provides a compass for decision-making when working on opportunities around data usage.

5. Strengthen Data Integrity, Security And Privacy

This principle reflects the responsibility that we have towards citizens’ data on IremboGov and our commitment to ensure that their data is consistent, accurate, safe and protected from unwanted access/actions of unauthorized users.” Inspiring trust” is the first value of Irembo and this principle aims to ensure that, for all features, we design for IremboGov, citizens can trust us with their data.

Way Forward

In summary, these design principles provide a solid foundation to ensure that all product decisions about IremboGov will delight our users and inspire their trust. They represent our fundamental beliefs that should be translated into all features of IremboGov. Yes, it is an aspiration, and we are still on our journey to make it a reality. We cannot align 100% on these principles right from the beginning, but they provide us with the north star we should follow. Looking at IremboGov 2.0 today, we still have a long way to go; but with continuous improvements, the next iterations will certainly tell a different story

By Patrick
Product

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