Death Documents Online Service – Ministry of Health & DIA

Ministry of Health

Learn how the Ministry of Health (Ministry) and Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), enabled by the AOG Innovation Fund and with close community and vendor partnerships, incrementally moved online the paper-based process to certify and record a death.


The process of certifying and recording a death was paper-based and slow, causing delays to funerals and updating the National Health Index records of the deceased. Health practitioners, funeral directors, Ministry clinical coders, the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registry and loved ones of the deceased would benefit from improvements.


The Ministry partnered with DIA as part of their Life Events work, to digitise elements of the death documentation process using a service design approach enabled by a unique funding model.

Observations and lessons learnt

Resourcing and funding


Normal funding models require projects to know exactly what they are delivering and when, making a truly iterative approach difficult. This project was kick started by DIA using funding from the AOG Innovation Fund giving them a degree of flexibility and separation from BAU processes. Once the AOG funding was spent, DIA and the Ministry each funded the features that most closely benefited them. This arrangement is ongoing as Death Documents is continually enhanced to meet customers’ needs.

To get senior leaders on board, there was upfront expectation setting about this incremental
approach and regular sharing of their discovery insights and what features were to be
released, when. These meetings were also open to anyone from the Ministry interested to

“If we had waited for it all, we would not have produced anything yet [four years later], that’s a massive difference in approach.”

Skills to innovate


The service design team led the three-month discovery process to understand the problem from the health practitioner and funeral director perspectives. This was critical to understand what features would add the most value and where they should start. After starting small with the most important features, over the next six months the team incrementally added features as needed. They didn’t set what order these would be, it came organically from user feedback. The discovery process also meant they had a growing community of users they could test the product features with before the final design. The Ministry team members learnt so much that they continue to use some of the service design tools in their work today, e.g. user journey maps and wireframing.

"We wouldn’t have gotten where we have if we didn’t start small and go from there. We would have got it wrong if we predicted what we needed next."

Collaboration with the public and non-government entities


How you engage your users and potential users is important, both one to many (digitally) and one to one (direct to community members). Information about the project was on the Ministry’s website as it’s the most reliable place for trusted information for health professionals. A video was made about why they’re doing this work, which is still available on the website.

To drive uptake across the country, the team sought out trusted health sector colleagues in as many parts of the country as they could who had had a positive experience with the new digital process to become champions, conduits to local communities. These people included hospital staff and individual GPs and nurse practitioners. MoH provided direct support to these champions who in turn shared this information, encouraged others to use the product, and acted as a point of contact if needed.


It’s really important to have a strong relationship with the vendor to make a project successful. DIA led the relationship with the vendor, Catalyst, and had pre-established ways of working together from past work. To get the best product, the vendor needed to understand the rationale behind the work. The team were transparent with their discovery insights (user journey maps, wire frames)
with the vendor so they could usefully input into decisions. The team and the vendor worked as equal partners, the more input, the better.

"Get soft round the edges. The more heads you get into it often the better the product."

Collaboration with other government organisations


Both DIA and the Ministry had value to gain from this work. It couldn’t have been done without working together as one team, with the DIA service design team leading. DIA and the Ministry brought different strengths to the project as did different team members. The design lead had the ability to get team members to contribute their different skills in a non-hierarchical way. It was acknowledged that no one person has all the knowledge needed to deliver this project.

A specific example of the strength from working together was the effort to overcome the Ministry’s substantial security clearance requirements. They worked to get the right people in the room, providing the right amount of detail including the clear reason why we’re doing this, and not to stop until they got what they needed.

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