Design-led Innovation in Government

January 21, 2016

In a recent article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Christian Bason, director ofMindLab, an innovation lab in Copenhagen, Denmark, talks about how the field of social innovation has evolved, and what challenges remain ahead.

Based in Copenhagen, and part of the government ministries of Business and Growth, Employment, and Children and Education, MindLab is a small team of ethnographers, designers and public policy specialists who work by involving citizens and business in co-designing new public solutions.

Bason asks, how do you systematically prototype, test and scale up public sector policy, and service response to the many challenges faced by government when wanting to effect real change?

It turns out, design-led innovation can help.

From addressing waste-management issues in Copenhagen, to reducing tensions between inmates and guards in Danish prisons, design has already been applied across a wide range of public sector settings in Denmark. The design methods that Bason and his team use are typically “ethnographic-inspired user research, creative ideation processes, and visualisation and modelling of service prototypes.” This approach is rapidly gaining ground, increasingly being adopted by social services and governments around the world. Bason notes that even at number 10 Downing Street, the Behavioural Insights Team is looking to design for a more experimental approach to understanding user needs.

However, Bason says that there are three major challenges that stand out:

  1. Creating authorising environments: There is still a significant challenge in embedding the design approach within government. Bason says, “Ensuring funding, anchoring change in the organisation, getting management buy-in, and actually executing the new ideas and solutions are all difficult”.
  2. Building and accessing capacity: Public sector organisations cannot rely solely on internal expertise for design-led innovation, and the market for public sector design consultants is still immature. Design education needs to catch up with the growing need for service and systems design, and existing designers need to learn how to interact more effectively with government.
  3. Opening up bureaucracy to co-production: says Bason, “human-centred design forces organisations to take a much broader, collaborative and inclusive view of who needs to be part of the process of co-creating initiatives that will actually work in the real world.” He argues that social and public innovation that takes the human-centred approach is disruptive to the existing public governance paradigm, thereby resulting in immense challenge.

So where does that leave us? Bason is optimistic but believes that public sector design is on the rise.


Read Christian Bason’s full article here.


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