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.
Move over ‘innovation’; move over ‘agile’ and ‘lean’. ‘Design thinking’ is the new buzzword in town.
Ok, so it’s not actually that new. As Katja Tschimmel and Mariana Valenca explained during our first class in the SID programme, you can trace the concept back to the design methods movement of the 60s and 70s – and to the work of scholars such as Herbert Simon, Bruce Archer, Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber.
But design thinking certainly is receiving new levels of attention. ‘The power of design’ has been hailed on the front pages of Business Week and the Harvard Business Review – whilst the Centre for Public Impact recently mapped it at the peak of the government innovations ‘hype cycle’: “Design is not likely to be the solution for all of our governmental problems, but you wouldn’t be able to tell if you only listened to some speakers at design conferences” wrote Danny Buerkli.
10 government innovations and their place in the hype cycle, by the Centre for Public Impact
A similar story can be told in the non-profit sector, where the growing profile of design thinking has resulted in a proliferation of toolkits and platforms.
Staring at the hype cycle above, and just a few weeks into an MBA in Service Innovation and Design, I wondered how to brace myself for the apparently imminent slide from ‘inflated expectations’ into a ‘trough of disillusionment’. Afterall, as Tim Brown reminds us, “to harvest the power of design thinking, individuals, teams and whole organisations have to cultivate optimism” (p76).