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Public servant as a designer

I have been working for the government since 2005. We have now come to a point where we are moving from working groups, spreadsheets, data from the past to understanding the complex interconnected eco-systems. In this blog, I try to make some insights how design thinking could be applied to our governance.

Burden from the past

Finland’s public administration is built to a world which is linear, clear and predictable. We have ministries and their controlled bureaus and everybody knows what is their individual mission and responsibility. It is told that it was necessary to build Finland’s public administration this way so that Russians could not come here to bring their own governance. We are quite far from the everyday life and challenges of the citizen. The traditional way of working does not resonate the real, post-industrial world.

From numeric, logical models to emotional insights and experimental models

Design thinking (DT) gives you freedom to break down the models that are constructed in our minds and in our programme development plans for five-years. It is a toolkit for any innovation process and it combines design approach and more traditional rational problem solving. In the chart below you can see the differences in main characteristics between DT and traditional working way.

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Service designers are hot, but who are we?

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Diversity is a richness

Service design is now sexy. Pretty much any enterprise or organisation flirts with hot words as “service thinking” or “service design”. As a skill on one’s CV it can employ a person. However, rare people really know what the discipline is really about. I came across service design by accident while puzzling how to help generalist graduates to employ better (haavi.info) and ended to be amazed by the versatility of the discipline.

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DT – from convergent organizational thinking to changing the world

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Design Thinking course led by Katja Tschimmel and Sanna Marttila was an intensive two-day package of pushing us, the new students to find the Design Thinking in ourselves. It all happens subconsciously. Creating new in a multidisciplinary team working with Design Thinking tools you suddenly realize that you start to think like a designer.

How do the designers think?

Why do designers make change while managers get stuck planning? Designer is an abductive thinker and interpreter. He is forced to prove the results of his thinking in a visual form already at a very early stage of an innovation or development process, to make a proof of the concept and to get evaluated further. Designers’ thinking is divergent: fluent, flexible, original and the results are measurable. According to Tschimmel designers have the capacity to consider at the same time:

Human needs and visions of living well

Available material and technical resource

The constraints and the opportunities of a project or a business

What business or organizational lead usually lack, is the empathetic understanding of the human needs and visions: managers get stuck with resources or constraints while designers see the opportunities in human understanding. In the non-design -oriented world entire organizations are built on false values and digitalization projects that only need to be carried out but do not even see the possibilities of changing the world.

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Get you Post Its… it’s playtime!

It truly was a great start of becoming a design thinker when we started our journey towards the new goal with intensive two-day course run by Katja Tschimmel. Afterwards I felt like rundown by bulldozer. So many new things, interacting and so much more. But wait…something felt familiar! It’s all that fearless creating, drawing, role paying, acting and being with a team. It was like back in childhood when there were no limits, not even the sky. Something that we had, but lost when growing up.

Pablo Picasso said that it took him four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. I think we haven’t lost the ability to fearlessly create, imagine, role play or draw. We just have to find it again. It’s all about practicing and getting comfortable with all these methods that have been brought back to us by Design Thinking.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games, there are rules also. Not to limit us but guide us through the creative process. Maybe they should not even be called rules but best practices, methods, tools or guide lines.

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How to think like designers do?

Empathy, experimentalism, optimism, collaboration. These are the characteristics designers have – just to name a few. During the introduction lesson lectured by Katja Tschimmel on 8 – 9 September we took an intensive dip into the world of Design thinking. And instead of just listening and learning we also got our hands on to the desing process and acted on a basis of design thinking – learning by doing. We evoked our inner designers in teams amongst the theme ”Studying a Laurea” and our guide during the project was Tschimmel’s and Mindshake’s EVOLUTION 6² model.

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What comes to the characteristics of a designer, here’s my thoughts about them and how we took an advantage of them during the study project.

Empathy – Being a very human-centered and interested in peoples lifestories, to me this is the most inspiring characteristic of a designer. What would be more invigorating than to understand the inner mind of your customer and to create a service that responses to his/her inner needs and desires? In our project we for example interviewed the potential persons from our target group and made customer journey mapping in order to understand better the fictive customer.

Experimentalism – Design thinking releases the acceptance of failures and actually is even provoking to test new ideas and creations in an early stage by prototyping. We didn’t have too much time to prepare our ideas so inevitably we were forced to accept the possibility of a total failure of our ideas. And in addition, we were encouraged to accept the fact that our idea does not work in a real life. And thus we were coached for experimentalism.

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Design Thinking for Uncertainty

The greatest learning that I got from the Design Thinking course was about uncertainty. Design Thinking as a concept and process was not new to me, but what really struck me during the course, was how Design Thinking can be used in a business context to manage uncertainty.

The future is getting less and less predictable by past data. For many in the traditional business environment the way to create new has been by careful analysis and research of the past and currents markets. In the modern ever so competitive business environment to really succeed this is not enough. New innovative solutions must be created. When you cannot trust the previous data and development methods you need something else to rely on. This uncertainty and need for innovation has given the rise of Design Thinking in the business world. It has brought the design process and mentality to the business context.

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Using familiar to make sense of the unknow: from international development to design thinking

Can you kill with a pencil? Yes, and not just literally as pen(cil) truly is mightier than a sword. A mind shaking two-day crash course to design thinking by Katja Tschimmel and Sanna Marttila began with an exercise on creativity and a lesson on the importance of luck. One should strive to be creative – and can train for it – but the uniqueness of your idea often is a matter of pure chance. Suggesting a new use for pencil as an eyeliner calls for creative thinking. But from the group of some 60 eager students attending the same course, others had also come up with the same idea. Being creative is a must, but being lucky can make the difference between success and failure.

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Tim Brown suggests that thoroughly understanding what people want and need in their lives is the very core of design thinking[1]. To someone coming from a background of international development that sounds oddly familiar. We learned that people tend to use what’s familiar to them to boost creativity and make sense of the unknow. As a complete rookie to design thinking, that is exactly what I did.

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