Why Design Thinking Will Always Be Relevant in the Public Sector - Spring2 Innovation

Why Design Thinking Will Always Be Relevant in the Public Sector

September 19, 2022


Governments have always been responding to (or preparing for) complex and urgent issues, but to the general, news-aware public, it may feel like 2022 has redefined the gauge for “complex and urgent.” From the Ukrainian war representing a political and humanitarian crisis, to a global health pandemic that continues to drag on, to a future of economic uncertainty coupled with increasingly severe climate change consequences, governments are having to adapt quickly to remain effective in their policy-making strategies.

A few months ago, Deloitte and Apolitical released a Government Trends 2022 joint report that focused on how governments worldwide are taking up the challenge of becoming future-ready. Centered around resiliency for future shocks, integration of structures and data-sharing, and equitable and inclusive services, the ten trends for 2022 reinforce what has always been true: good policy always stems from empathy and understanding.

Here are some of the most transformative government trends and how to leverage the strengths of design thinking to maximize their success.

LINKED-UP GOVERNMENT

Governments face many ecosystem challenges that inhibit their ability to respond to pressing, complex problems. One such challenge is losing sight of the overarching purpose of government organizations when less collaborative mentalities cut off the sharing of information, knowledge and resources in the interest of departmental goals. The silos within and between government agencies represent roadblocks to delivering services, addressing issues and obtaining collective impact.

The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed interagency collaboration when the urgent crisis induced partnerships that crossed portfolio boundaries and agency engagement within larger ecosystems. Integrating governments across multiple levels, missions and programs is an essential model for effective and coordinated government services.

Every government agency’s end goal is to best serve the people they represent, regardless of the organization’s official title, responsibilities, department or level of government. The key to accomplishing effective practices is to focus on who particular processes, services or policies are made for – the people that are meant to benefit from them.

Design thinking helps identify those people and reveal insights about their needs and problems in the first step of the methodology: empathy. Gaining a deeper understanding of the issues being tackled and the people facing them naturally leads to enhanced journeys and improved services that better serve the people governments are working for. For instance, structuring agencies around problems instead of departmental boundaries is emerging as a better way to respond to complex issues.

GOVERNMENT AS A CATALYST

Another lesson that governments have learned from the pandemic is the productive value in their ability to accelerate innovation in every field – from increasing the production of masks, tests and vaccines to facilitating data-sharing across pharmaceutical companies. Even before the coronavirus allowed an increase in this transformation, governments were progressing as innovation catalyzers in breadth and complexity. Today, governments are taking on the role of enabler, funder, convenor and ecosystem integrator to foster multi-sector solutions for problems like public health, climate change and cybersecurity.

Two months ago, Spring2 Innovation facilitated a conference for Canada’s IoT strategy that led to recommendations to create a Canadian ecosystem for IoT that would include everyone from developers to people who understand different industry needs. The aim is to set up these various parties to work together to enable the creation of vertical solutions. This ecosystem could increase the reuse of base technologies and allow improved solutions to emerge from the collaboration between companies instead of gatekeeping innovation through secrecy and competition.

While successfully creating and integrating effective ecosystems can be a delicate endeavour, design thinking provides the tools to understand each of the different organizations in an ecosystem. The methodology is inherently set up to increase collaboration and teamwork regardless of whether members are in the same organization or not. By focusing on each partner’s needs, pain points and goals, organizations can successfully collaborate to resolve each other’s challenges and deliver better services as an ecosystem.  

DESIGNING FOR INCLUSIVE ENGAGEMENT

A third consequence of the pandemic in government trends is a realization of the essential need to communicate, gather input from and build trust with the people they serve. Leaders had to make quick and informative connections with various communities – especially disadvantaged ones who felt the most significant effects of the pandemic. To deliver effective services to fill these needs, governments have had to navigate new channels of engagement and counteract the overwhelming amounts of misinformation. Posting press releases is no longer enough; governments have to understand their communities’ information needs and the mediums they prefer.

Communication continues to be an essential part of government processes. Understanding whom you’re communicating with is crucial to recognize better what you’re trying to convey and the best way to express it. Building trust with a group of people also largely depends on understanding their needs and letting them know that you are working to resolve their challenges for them and with them.

Inherent to the design thinking framework is not only an emphasis on understanding your end-users but also on keeping them informed and seeking their input throughout the design process. When the ideation, prototyping and testing phases of design include the people that policies and services are geared towards, those policies and services have the best chance of meeting the needs and expectations that they were meant to.

FUTURE-PROOFING THE LABOR FORCE

Massive disruption in the labour force driven by an overall skills mismatch, technological advances and the resulting shift in business models have all been accelerated by the pandemic. Warning signals of trouble are evident in record job turnover rates, a significant decline in labour force participation rates and what the “great resignation” reveals about employee stress and satisfaction. Resilient economies need adaptive workforces to support them, which means that labour policies must stay relevant in these rapidly changing environments. To satisfy this growing need, governments are bringing changes to education, skills training and employment frameworks.

Recently, there has been an uprise in “quiet quitting” – a significant decrease in employee engagement resulting from a similar malady as the “great resignation.” Both reveal that employees are no longer finding satisfactory fulfillment at their jobs. For people to stay and engage at work, they need to feel seen and heard, which is another reason why design thinking is such a valuable tool for team leaders to use internally.

With design thinking’s empathy tools like personas, journey mapping and unarticulated need maps directed internally, it is easier to understand the position of employees so that shared goals can be achieved. “What is motivating them? What are the needs that they are seeking from their jobs? Are they being fulfilled? Why not?” It is crucial to understand the workforce in terms of people with desires, goals and needs in addition to their skills, degrees and job experience.

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Design thinking helps create the most effective policies and services for end-users, facilitate successful interagency partnerships and design sustainable and fulfilling jobs for public servants. The government trends of 2022 focused on resiliency, integration and inclusion, but the foundational framework that design thinking provides can be used to achieve goals in all areas.

The only certainty is that the future holds nothing but uncertainty. Governments will always be facing new, complex problems and unexpected challenges. To solve them effectively, sustainably and remain resilient, they need to create environments to better understand the people they serve and see issues from those perspectives. 

Spring2 Innovation gives different levels of design thinking training for the public sector. Look into some of our upcoming sessions or contact training@spring2innovation.com to learn more about the power of design thinking and how to unlock it for your organization.

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