Towards a unified theory of ‘shiny new things’ for the public sector

[Originally published on the Australian Government Public Sector Innovation Network under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

What does design offer that we don’t already have in the public sector? How does design fit with what we already do or with other ‘new’ trends and techniques? In the public servant’s tool-set, when and how should design be used?

These are some of the questions that have come up in discussions with colleagues across the public service. There’s a lot of interest in design thinking and what it can offer, but there’s also uncertainty as to how it differs from some existing practices, or how it fits with all the other techniques, strategies and skills already being used.

I think this problem is exacerbated by all of the other things being discussed as ‘should dos’ for organisations and individuals. For instance, in addition to design thinking there is innovation, visualisation, ‘lean’ principles/organisations, learning organisations and many others.

When confronted by such an array of additional things that you are supposed to be across, it can be daunting. Which approaches should be used when? What offers the best opportunities for achieving your goals?

Now not all of these approaches are completely new –  many of them have evolved or developed over time and have been on the horizon or incorporated to some extent into some agencies. The ‘newness’ comes from how all of these approaches interact with each other, with the existing core practices of the public service, and how they should operate in aggregate.

Some of the methodologies or approaches include:

    • Strategic design
    • Behavioural economics
    • Gov 2.0 (and maybe 3.0)/Open data/open government
    • Ethnography
    • And many more.

DesignGov is looking at holding an event on this topic for this year’s public sector innovation activities (Innovation Month will be held from 20 May to 14 June 2013 – more details to come soon!). We’d like to tease out some explicit advice for agencies and individuals about how design can fit into their work and how it might fit with all of their current skills and practices.

We’d love to hear from any groups within the public service that already using some of these new approaches and who would like to share their thoughts about how these various methodologies might fit together, what works best when or, indeed, whether some are just not really useful at all! Ideally we would like to understand whether it is possible that all of these approaches could fit together under a unified theory of shiny new things for the public sector. Alternatively we’d like to hear from others about why that might be the wrong way to be thinking about this, and what other guidance we might be able to offer agencies and individuals about how they should confront or embrace this array of shiny new things.

If you would like to be involved, please either leave a comment below or send me an email.