When a person dies, there’s a lot of work to do. As well as organising a funeral, burial or cremation, and dealing with the estate, somebody needs to inform all organisations that the person was a customer of, that they have passed away. This usually involves waiting for the full death certificate to arrive, making multiple copies, getting them certified, submitting them to the commercial and government organisations that request them, and going through the process of closing or modifying customer accounts.
It’s a long to-do list to complete for anyone, especially when under a cloud of grief. The Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria (BDM), which registers the death and issues the death certificate, knew this process could be improved.
The need for such a service was highlighted in the Council on the Ageing’s (COTA) report on the Death of a Partner completed in partnership with the Energy and Water Ombudsman Victoria (EWOV). This highlighted that often, a bereaved family member has to phone service providers on several occasions to access an employee who knows what to do, and then has to email or hand deliver a certified copy of the death certificate
In late 2018, BDM launched a pilot of a new service, Notify Others. It aimed to help people manage the process of informing organisations that one of their customers had died.
BDM’s digital transformation team knew that Notify Others had great potential to reduce red tape and take the pressure off people during an already difficult time in their lives. But it needed more evidence to take things further.
BDM tasked Portable’s design strategy team with conducting an evaluation of the pilot. The pilot had run in two phases, the second ending in early 2020. Portable was to conduct research after each of the two phases, and deliver an interim report after the first phase to help improve the second.
Portable undertook design research to evaluate the pilot after each phase. We used a combination of human-centred design methods and desktop research to understand how the service had worked in pilot form. The research included in-depth interviews with citizens, funeral directors and customer service staff from organisations involved in the pilot, as well as subject matter experts and staff from BDM.
To compile and communicate the findings, we worked collaboratively with the BDM team to create a comprehensive report and presentation. The report included a long list of insights about how people – citizens, funeral directors and staff in the service organisations – experienced the pilot service, with accompanying service design considerations for each insight. We also designed and delivered a summary presentation of the report that BDM could use to communicate the project to a wider group of stakeholders and others, without including all the details of the report.
BDM now has even more insight into the needs, processes and behaviours of its users as they experience services while navigating the 'death admin' after someone has died. The evaluation report and summary presentation of the Notify Others pilot service will help to increase the government department's understanding of the experience of citizens, service organisations and funeral directors.
The insights and service design considerations could also help to design interventions around other life events that BDM plays a role in. Additionally, this evaluation report will help to inform initiatives in other jurisdictions. After the pilot had started in Victoria, early work began in New South Wales to define a national death notification service, which BDM Victoria is helping to collaborate on.