Wake up officer!

A scene from a random municipal office somewhere in southern Finland. One lonely planning officer sits behind her table. She has a computer and a cup of cold coffee in front of her. Her task is to plan a new customer service process for this small municipality. There are many problems in existing process: customers don’t find the right service, the service desk is not open when people need help, customers don’t get answers to their questions in decent time – just to mention a few.


But how to come up with solutions that serve different kinds of customers in best possible way? If there would be a good solution for this problem, wouldn’t it already be invented?

After taking Laurea Design Thinking course (by Katja Tschimmel and Sanna Marttila 2017) I would give this lonely planning officer – who might or might not be my alter ego – a few advices.

Think holistic

First advice: take holistic approach. The service you are designing does not exist in a vacuum but is surrounded by complex variety of other existing and developing services, processes and artifacts. From the point of view of a customer these services and processes cross and blend and boundaries between them are fuzzy.In practice this often means involving people from  different fields and professional backgrounds in the planning process from early on. This is an ambitious and challenging goal due to people’s understandings of the problem might differ significantly. In public organizations there are traditionally strictly separated departments taking care of different tasks.

The good news for this lonely planning officer is that design thinking offers effective tools for co-thinking and co-creation processes. In Design Thinking course we got to know Mindshake’s (2017) Evolution 6² model (see picture below).

DSC_0867 (1)

Empathy is the key

Second advice: if you are planning service for people you should start by finding out what do these people feel, think, want and need. You should admit that you, as a ’specialist’, don’t know everything – and that it’s okay. Most importantly you should find your empathy.

One central point of design thinking is a shift from passive relationship between consumer and producer to the active engagement of people we are designing for. Design thinking is human centered: every process starts with understanding cultures and motivations of people. (Tschimmel 2012).

Do before thinking

Third advice: do before thinking. Design thinkers believe that quick prototypes speed up the process because they show us the mistakes and faults on an early stage of the process. We have to prototype, test and visualize to make the idea touchable and real. As Tim Brown puts it in his TED talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAinLaT42xY), we cannot understand our ideas’ strengths and weaknesses unless we try them out in real world.

In public sector there is still a strong culture of keeping the ideas and projects strictly unpublished until they are considered as complete. Fear of bad publicity, critique and failure often stand in the way of agile developing and genuine co-creation.

Nevertheless there are signs of appearing cultural change and in recent years many public organizations have adopted features of design thinking and service design in their strategies. One inspiring example is from Denmark, where a cross-governmental innovation unit MindLab involves citizens and private sector in creating new solutions for social issues (Michlewski 2015).


So dear planning officer, instead of sitting behind your table waiting for a brilliant service concept to pop out of your expert mind, be brave and go out there, involve people, make your ideas visible. And most importantly, try to put up with contingency. Let’s hope that your organization is ready for the change.



Tschimmel, Katja 2012. Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona.

Michlewski, Kamil 2015. Design Attitude. Farnham, Surrey: Gower.


3 thoughts on “Wake up officer!

  1. Greetings from another public officer! I totally agree with you that in the public sector, we tend to be overly careful with trying out and publishing our plans. We need to step off our high “expertise” horse and collaborate with our clients for creating better services. However, I also see the big change starting to happen also in the public sector and I am very happy to be a SID student and to acquire skill to help this change happen and support others in the midst of it.

  2. And here’s third person working in a public sector! Your findings sound really familiar. I am also happy to see that little by little we are getting rid of closed doors and we are allowing people to participate in design processes in different sectors.

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