7 Keys To Design & Innovation for Government

Start with Citizens
Even in complex problem-solving situations, a human-centered approach can lead to simple steps that encourage change. Like most organizations we’ve come across, government groups and agencies want to serve the public better. But to do so, they need to get better at understanding the people they serve. What are their needs and aspirations? Often, a few genuine stories from the people who will actually use or benefit from a service can galvanize even large organizations.

Forget the “Average”
There’s no “average” American, Peruvian, or Singaporean. While private-sector businesses pick and choose the people for whom they design, governments can’t. In the end, it’s design for all—and not just the obvious or easy-to-reach people. Rather than design for the ever-elusive everyman or -woman, search out common types of behaviors that span broad demographics. There are usually a few dominant behaviors that highlight opportunities. Target these and a team’s efforts to design change will resonate with the maximum number of people.

Visualize Change
Words are easy, plentiful, and often up for debate and discussion. In contrast, design drives organizations to demonstrate and envision change faster. Show tangible expressions of ideas through rich visualizations and prototypes and people will naturally get on the same page more quickly.

Simplify in the Face of Complexity
Large-scale systems are complex. They need to be in order to solve the kinds of problems they’ve been built around. Additionally, political shifts add to the complexity, altering processes and goals. The result? Systems that feel so burdensome that even simple problems seem impossible to solve. Fortunately, we’ve found that looking for the root of an issue helps a team to translate complex systems into simple ideas that allow organizations to debate, accept, or reject paths forward.

Prototype Before Piloting
Often, political pressure to succeed fast requires releasing a pilot into the world. Sometimes these solutions succeed, but when they fail, an entire effort may be abandoned until the next year or next administration. Prototyping in small, quick ways allows for in-the-world trials without the risk of high-stakes failure. This approach encourages learning—and even failure—to happen in a far more manageable way. And if an idea is truly bad, it’s best that it fail on a small scale.

Envision a future together
The scale of government and governmental agencies is vast, and oftentimes career employees have tackled large-scale challenges for years. Delivering complete design solutions doesn’t take into account these employees’ tremendous expertise around a topic. Neither does it lead to a future state that everyone can own. Co-design, or envisioning a future together, does. It also acknowledges that career employees will be around, working to make the future, long after the design team, advisers, and political appointees leave.

Share the mission
Design is an act of optimism. Addressing governmental challenges with the idea of building toward something versus creating a fix to a problem is essential. Sharing a mission can reawaken hope in both government employees and designers who want to make real change happen. With this approach, barriers and boundaries of protocol, hierarchy, and politics fall by the wayside.

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