Ours has become an “experience economy” in which people have shifted from passive consumption to active participation. Opportunities surround us from video games, reality TV shows, continuing education and similar other platforms which have all grown substantially in recent years. Their significance lies in the emotional resonance they create because experiences are deeper and more meaningful than passive consumption. Recognizing this shift, many companies now invest in the delivery of experiences and that’s where design thinking comes in.
The mission of design thinking is to translate observations into insights and insights into services that will improve lives. Design thinking is a "next practice" and is a methodology that infuses the full gamut of innovation activities with a human-centered design principle. This means that innovation is powered by a thorough understanding, developed through direct observation of what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular services are provided. Citizens interact with the government not only at the functional and the cognitive levels but also at the emotional level. It has become evident that functional benefits alone are no longer sufficient to capture citizen needs and create strong communities. We are in the midst of a significant change in how we think about the role of citizens as consumers and moreover, in the process and design of development of better government.
- What do citizens feel about their community?
- How do they feel about their government?
- What touches them?
- What motivates them?
Increasingly citizens think of themselves as active participants in the process of creation; similarly, government staff and elected officials must become more comfortable with the erosion of the boundary between themselves and the public. Best experiences in government are not crafted by elected officials or chief administrators, but delivered on the spot by front-line staff – at a counter, on the phone, in the field or via the internet. The front-line personnel have the most “power” in the organization as they interact face-to-face with citizens/consumers. They can either hijack or highlight your organization’s brand in how each staff member delivers the particular service.
Same goes with your approach to e-tailing via the internet. Consumers are expecting what I refer to as the Amazon-ification of their e-tailing experience which means it should be easy and painless, with as few clicks as possible, to obtain the service. Governments typically start with the constraint of what will fit within the framework of the existing service model. All too often, government agencies and staff members don’t realize they are not the audience for the program or service they are delivering so their lack of empathy for the actual customer/consumer affects the design of the service or the program. Moreover, because service delivery systems are designed for efficiency, new ideas tend to be incremental, predictable, and all too easy for other governments to emulate, which has given rise to the over-reliance on best practices. Read my article "Best Practices are the Enemy of Innovation" for more on that subject.
The following is a “Design Thinking Game Plan.”
- Transition your workplace culture from one that values conformity and towards a creative culture that is essential to generating innovative ideas. To be creative, a workplace does not have to be kooky and crazy with skateboards and free food. However, what is a prerequisite is an environment in which people can experiment, take risks, and explore the full range of their own capabilities. For tools and techniques to foster a creative workplace culture, please read my article “There is No Box: Uncertain Times Demand R.A.P.I.D. Innovation.”
- Empathize by seeking input from “unfocus” groups in which a range of consumers and design thinking experts are assembled in a workshop format to explore a new concept around a particular topic. The power of this type of format is that members are invited to participate in an active, collaborative design exercise.
- Acknowledge that technology does not necessarily result in a better customer experience. Right now, access your agency on your smartphone or via the internet and experience firsthand the process, and possibly the frustration, to sign up as a new utility customer or access a public record. Designers of technology-based solutions rarely factor in the consumer experience and instead emphasize the technical features of their product.
Opportunities are endless for the public sector to pursue design thinking and reconfigure the delivery of a service or program including the obtaining of a building permit, applying for a job, registering for a social service or economic benefit program, responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP), or even the construction of a new public facility. As its role as a credible community builder continues to experience transformation, it’s vital that public sector leaders integrate design thinking into all those areas which touch citizens lives. Imagination, Inspiration, and Innovation are fundamental to accelerate this transition.
About the Mejorando Group
Patrick Ibarra is an “entrepreneur of ideas” and architect of innovation who takes the headwinds governments are facing about the current climate of unprecedented changes and translates them into a tailwind with practical, tactical and impactful solutions that can be used immediately. Patrick, a former city manager, owns and operates an organizational effectiveness consulting practice, The Mejorando Group (www.gettingbetterallthetime.com), and is one of the country’s leading experts on optimizing the performance of public sector organizations. Mejorando is Spanish for “getting better all the time,” and Ibarra’s firm brings fresh thinking, innovation, and new ideas to help governmental organizations succeed in the 21st century. For those seeking additional information, Ibarra can be reached, either by phone at (925) 518-0187, email at firstname.lastname@example.org.