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Successful development with design thinking

Finnish Food Authority

The Finnish Food Authority ensures that high quality is maintained through diverse supervision of farms, production animals and food products. The Finnish Food Authority wanted to digitalize the entire control process. For this purpose, the Animal Control application was built, which animal control officers use on tablets when carrying out surveillance.


Pork or a cow's milk found in the local store have come a long way before ending up on the store shelf as a pack of minced meat or a carton of milk. On the shelves you can find meat and dairy products of several brands and prices, both domestic and foreign. Even if you as a customer have ended up in the store with patches on your eyes after a long day at work and with small children, on average you can trust that by choosing a domestic dairy or meat product, you will get quality and value for money.

This is easy to get used to, but this is not the reality everywhere. Finnish meat and dairy products also have a good reputation around the world: they are known for their high quality. Why? Where does quality come from and how can high quality be maintained nationwide?

At the heart of dairy and meat production are, of course, the people who do it professionally: animal keepers. However, dedicated animal keepers alone cannot explain the nationwide high quality of meat and dairy products. In Finland, high quality is largely maintained by the Finnish Food Authority. 


Finnish Food Authority's animal control digitalized

The Finnish Food Authority ensures that high quality is maintained through diverse supervision of farms, production animals and food products. Ultimately, high quality food can be monitored by inspecting random food packages, and the Finnish Food Authority does this, but quality control as a whole starts much earlier, with farm operating models and the animals' living conditions. The Finnish Food Authority also takes care of this: using a random sample, for example, the Finnish Food Authority monitors approximately five per cent of farms keeping production animals annually.

The Finnish Food Authority wanted to digitalize the entire control process. For this purpose, the Animal Control application was built, which animal control officers use on tablets when carrying out surveillance. The observations are recorded directly in the electronic system, the Animal Control Application, and there is no need for further digitalization. At the same time, the application aims to facilitate the work of supervisors and compiles observations to be shown to the animal keeper.

Throughout history, animal control has been carried out on paper forms. Supervision is often carried out by a pair of supervisors, one of whom inspects the animals and reports their observations while the other records observations on a paper form. In the paper age, after the actual supervision, the data had to be digitalized into an electronic system at the office.

In concrete terms, animal control work is carried out by top professionals in the field: animal welfare officers at ELY Centers. The animal inspector must be familiar with the special characteristics of the animal species and its breeding, as supervision involves a lot of being close to the animals. The controls inspect, for example, the animals' living conditions, ear tags, numbers, animal species, sex, and documentation, such as the records of the list of animals and notifications of movements of animals.

twoday's service designers and user experience designers have been strongly involved in designing and developing the Animal Control App. Even if they were not familiar with agriculture and production animals from their previous lives, cooperation with the Finnish Food Authority has thrown the planners into the deep end, and it has not been possible to avoid the details of animal species, animal husbandry or related legislation.


The conditions of the supervision - a challenging starting point for application development

Animal control is not always a clean job, and it is not uncommon for a shower of feces to fly over the supervisor. Control conditions can range from heavy rain on pasture to sunshine or a dark, noisy, dusty, and smelly pigsty.

Designing an animal control application has been an exceptional challenge. The world is full of digital services, but very few of them are used repeatedly and almost exclusively in such challenging conditions as the Animal Control App.


"The application must function and serve the supervisors regardless of the circumstances, even though at the same time some of the matters to be monitored can be very complex and contain a lot of information," says Hannu Mäki, Project Manager of the Animal Control Application at the Finnish Food Authority.


Balancing accessibility, intuitiveness, and a jungle of rules

The accessibility of online services is often thought to be needed especially for visually impaired users, for example, but when carrying out animal control, everyone needs it. Difficult conditions can make even an experienced supervisor half-hearted, deaf, and in need of another per of hands.

Animal control is also determined by complex and constantly changing national legislation and EU directives, which in some places may even contradict each other. "How animal control must be carried out according to the law, what needs to be monitored, what types of controls exist and how they relate to each other are largely dictated by law," Mäki says. Boundary conditions dictated from above may sound like an easy situation for a designer when there is limited room for maneuver. What makes the situation very challenging is the large number of rules, their complexity, and the difficulty of interpretation.

On the one hand, an animal control application should be as intuitive as possible so that supervisors can carry out controls in challenging conditions at all, but on the other hand, there is not much room for maneuver in the jungle of rules – however, there are even more unusual exceptional cases.

Service design methods and agile development as the key to solving problems

Finding a solution to a challenging starting situation requires compromise, smartness, and hard work. In the case of the animal control application, the problems were solved and the key to the challenging situation consisted of design thinking, service design methods, strict prioritization, and agile way forward.

The jungle of rules set a starting point for what seemed like an endless swamp. No one really knew where to start when there were so many things and dependencies that affected the whole. Every time we started talking about one issue, ten others came up, and in the end the situation is just more confusing than it was originally.

With the help of service design methods, the confusing starting point in the jungle of rules was clarified. twoday's service designers designed and facilitated workshops that made all relevant people and information available at once.


"twoday's service designers played a key role in untying the knot. In the workshops, the whole could be skillfully structured into a structural and easy-to-understand form with the help of canvases and service paths, for example, which made it possible to understand what kind of parts are included in the whole. After that, it was possible to proceed to more detailed parts once the overall picture was clear," Mäki says.


User research and prioritization enabled successful progress

In accordance with the principles of design thinking, the aim was to find out what is being designed, why and for whom, before the actual design of the application. In principle, the starting points and requirements for the application arising from laws and directives were known, as the experts in whose heads this information was strongly involved in the design process. However, the experiences and understanding of the application user, an individual animal welfare officer, were not present in the process in the same way.

twoday's service designers interviewed ten animal welfare officers to understand what control work is really like and what the application should offer the animal control officer so that it really makes the work of the supervisors easier and does not just act as a digitalization company glued on top that complicates control.

When an understanding of both users and laws and directives was available, and the vague entity had been clarified into a more structural form, the starting point for successful application design was already much more favorable. However, there were still many individual parts and the whole was still complex.

In such a situation, there is a risk: it is possible, and sometimes tempting, to perfect everything, but then it is easy to end up just discussing forever and wasting resources with no results. However, the goal was to make concrete progress and get the application planned and produced on schedule.

The solution was strict prioritization. Once the different parts of the application were known, it was decided which parts were absolutely critical and which were not, and the parts were given a sequence of implementation. With this, planning and implementation could be promoted efficiently one section at a time using an agile way of proceeding.


"Agility, lean and efficient work is close to my heart, and it has been a pleasure to be able to bring these ideas into reality with twoday's service designers! Without this kind of approach and effective cooperation, we would probably still be wrestling with basic questions," says Project Manager Mäki.


Animal welfare officers were involved in the design process later to ensure that the application works in difficult operating conditions. Usability tests were arranged with animal welfare officers to simulate as realistically as possible varying weather conditions and difficult use situations while using a prototype of the Animal Control Application.

"These 'field tests' revealed things that we had never thought of in office conditions," says Mäki. These tests and the presence of animal control officers helped to outline dysfunctional solutions and steer the iterative app design in a more functional direction repeatedly.


Partly in production, but development continues – good practices carry on 

The saying about the silver bullet is familiar to many: there is no silver bullet for great challenges as a magic solution. In real life, solutions require hard work.

Above all, however, solutions require smartness. You can work endlessly, but hard work alone does not guarantee a good result. By working smartly, you can achieve the best possible result with as few resources as possible and at the same time save time and frustration – and in the case of the Finnish Food Authority, tax money!

In the case of the animal control application, as in many other new digital service development projects, smartness meant design thinking, strict prioritization, and agility. Before jumping straight into implementing a new application based on your own vision, it's a good idea to find out what is worth doing. Your vision may not always reflect the real reality and problems of your users or customers.

On the other hand, if in a seemingly endless jungle of rules you try to find out first what you are going to do, you will never get beyond planning and discussion. By understanding what is necessary and what is secondary, strong prioritization can be made and focus on the essentials. With an agile approach and continuous review of prioritizations, we can really move forward and, in time, move from the most critical parts to the more secondary ones.

"It has been a pleasure to collaborate with twoday's service designers! It has been great to be able to bounce ideas about agility and lean with top experts in the middle of the agency world – it's not always self-evident. And not only to bounce around, but also to bring reality. Together we have achieved a great deal. I wish everyone had the same opportunity!" Mäki talks about working on the project.

The journey of an animal control application from idea to production has not always been easy. At the time of writing, the Animal Control Application is already in production in some respects. The following parts are also continuously and iteratively designed and implemented in the application. User feedback is constantly collected, and users are involved in the design process on the way to more seamless animal control.