Australia’s DesignGov and Singapore’s Human Experience Lab – different countries, similar aims

[Originally published on Australian Government DesignGov under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

Design and innovation have a lot to do with context and place – but often there also some strong underlying commonalities.

On Thursday 11 April some of us at DesignGov had the opportunity to meet with some of the team from Singapore’s public sector Human Experience Lab, a part of the Public Services Division of the Prime Minister’s Office, who happened to be visiting Canberra.

It was lovely to meet them, not least because of the very similar issues, challenges and aims of both groups. A number of times during the conversation we found ourselves nodding as they shared their experiences, or they nodded as we shared ours.

For instance, the Human Experience Lab is quite similar in intent to DesignGov. Their vision is for “A Public Service that delivers human-centric solutions to national outcomes for and with our people for an inclusive Singapore”. They were set up in 2012 (like DesignGov) and many of the reasons for their establishment were the same as for DesignGov and the broader public sector innovation agenda – rising public expectations, a call for more participation and a recognition that government no longer knows or has all the answers.

They have very similar goals including building awareness of design in the public service, growing internal capabilities to demonstrate credibility, building design capabilities for public servants, connecting and cultivating the design ecosystem, and partnering to realise the value of design. (Though we thought they articulated their goals and presented them in a more designerly fashion that we have :) )

And the discussion revealed that we are facing many similar issues, including:

  • A strong discomfort with discussion of failure in the public service (perhaps for different cultural reasons, but equally strong)
  • That citizens do not only want efficiency, they also want empathy; when citizens fall outside of the standard cases, they do not want to be treated as exceptional, rather they want customised solutions
  • The challenges of embedding and incorporating design and innovation into agency strategies and operations.

It was great to be able to share experiences and insights and to know that what is being attempted with DesignGov in the Australian Public Service is being attempted elsewhere (but that no one has the ‘answer’ yet).

We look forward to sharing more with, and learning from the team at the Human Experiences Lab, and with other labs and public sector design groups around the world.

(And our apologies to our counterparts at the Human Experience Lab if we have incorrectly represented them in any of the above.)