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Design Thinking in the Public Sector


Design Thinking in the Public Sector

Design Thinking is a concept, discipline and set of processes used to address wicked and challenging public sector issues.

pic fr stanford


Members: 63
Latest Activity: Oct 13, 2013

General Overview

Design Thinking in the Public Sector is a rapidly emerging field of interest, closely linked to innovation. It describes a robust series of processes that begin with the end user in mind, using design skills in thinking about how we approach public sector challenges.

Some of the most well known practices of this thinking are IDEO, MindLab, NESTA, and others being discovered everyday, in the United States and around the world.  

This group will provide links to people and organizations doing this type of work in/with/for government, focusing not only on technology, but organizational and service delivery design.

One of many distinguishing features of design thinking is the use of ethnography and cross-discipline teams. 

As this group develops we will surface questions, tool kits, links to resources and interesting people.  

(thanks to Local Projects/ChangeByUs for the picture.)

Discussion Forum

Organizational Theory & Design Can Help to Improve Program Outcomes

Started by LMTB4 Oct 4, 2011. 0 Replies

I have a question to pose. Which do you think will improve program outcomes more: the program design itself; or, how well your department is structured-meaning high performance output or low…Continue

Comment Wall


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Comment by Paul Boos on May 10, 2013 at 7:57am

GLASScon II: The Second Iteration of the Government Lean-Agile Software Systems Conference

For Government folks interested in a low cost conference to learn more about Agile and Lean, please consider attending GLASScon, the Government Lean-Agile Software & Systems Conference, 4-5 June 2013 at the Navy League Building (at Courthouse Metro).  The cost to attend is $30/day or $45 for both days.  We have some great speakers including Luke Hohmann, Richard Cheng, Dr. Ahmed Sidky, Jon Terry, Sanjiv Augustine, Brandon Raines, and Jim York to name just a few.  You can find details at and follow @GLASScon4gov on Twitter for the latest updates.  Be sure to also check out the Innovation Games workshop on 3 June (see the Workshops page).

We encourage you to bring an contracts specialist/officer as well! (See the Open Letter to these folks on the site...)

At this cost, you really won't get a better deal...


Comment by Andrea Schneider on May 18, 2012 at 6:14pm

Good questions Jeff.  

I'd like to defer to OPM on how the Innovation Lab is evolving and the uses of the space. It takes time to answer even the simplest of questions.

The Lab is an old, unused file room, in a sub-basement, re-designed to be an open, flexible and bright space to work.  Not unlike a simple design studio of open space and walls you can write on and use Post-It Notes.  Tables and chairs which can be moved around, no cubicles, creating congruence between the actual space and the design process.  It's clear they did a lot of research and worked well with very limited resources.  

It's probably going to be challenging to keep the space from becoming just another type of meeting room. 

Comment by Jeff Ribeira on May 18, 2012 at 9:37am

Sounds very cool Andrea. Thanks for sharing. Is there a website up for the lab where we can see what the space looks like and what types of things will be going on there? Who is able to take advantage of the lab, or is it invite only?

Comment by Andrea Schneider on May 17, 2012 at 4:08pm

I want to applaud OPM for their new Innovation Lab.  Christian Bason and I were given the opportunity to facilitate a strategic direction setting workshop at the end of March 2012.  It was an amazing opportunity to watch a new design thinking, innovation lab come to life.

The Innovation Lab was led, under the visionary direction of Director John Berry, by Matt Collier, Special Assistant and Presidential Appointee.  It is really hard work to create such a special space for innovation and very impressive. The entire endeavor is inspiring, courageous and demonstrates leadership in our government for human centered design approaches.  

Along with the privilege has come a sense of how big the initiative really is.  It's helped me think, in very real terms, what it means to actually create a federal innovation lab designed to work and think differently.  

I used to think there might be one innovation lab, but now my thinking is evolving to the idea of clusters of public innovation spaces in the United States.  Design thinking is a great tool for identifying the construct, but not the only process needed.  As always, the workshop participants made all the difference and taught us a lot about how to approach the task.

OPM invited an excellent mix of key thought leaders alongside their own leadership staff.  The combination was powerful to watch in action, as new paradigms were introduced and the possibilities explored.  I know they are working on some great projects and I'm looking forward to the outcomes.

I have to say it was totally cool to be able to be a part of it.  

Comment by Andrea Schneider on April 9, 2012 at 2:21pm

As the public sector design and innovation agenda expands in the United States, I am starting to research and write about two very important questions.  

1.  What constitutes an authorizing environment for design thinking and innovation in government?

2.  What are the requirements for sustainable change within government?

As leaders and practitioners in the public space, what do you think?  Do you know of people looking at these questions?  As we move ahead in the US, these questions are fundamental to sustainable success. What do you think are important elements of the answers?

Comment by Andrea Schneider on March 16, 2012 at 2:42pm

Discussion today on NPR about Bell Labs, the Idea Factory and Innovation with Jon Gertner.  Also a recent article by him in the NYT  titled True Innovation.  

He speaks to similar themes in public sector innovation and apparent limits to a focus on apps, websites, technology and entrepreneurial ventures.  Thought provoking.

Comment by Andrea Schneider on March 7, 2012 at 1:56pm

Just came across this article in the NYT about Square.  I see parallels in how we think about designing and embedding human centered design in the public sector.  I really like how Jack Dorsey is thinking about how design helps us communicate a totality of process and experience.  Like to see much more thinking like this in government.

Disruptions: Design Sets the Tone at a New Start-Up

Comment by Andrea Schneider on January 27, 2012 at 5:17pm

I want to direct everyone to the post started by Bill Brantley and followed by Christian Bason's response.  It's an incredibly intelligent discussion about Innovation in the Public Sector and what is going on.  Innovation Labs... 

Comment by Andrea Schneider on January 11, 2012 at 12:38pm

I just posted this under the Innovation Fund discussion and thought it might be valuable here...

I've recently been involved in writing a co-writing a chapter, for a book being published by the London School of Economics, on Design Thinking in the Public Sector with Christian Bason, Director of MindLab in Denmark.  MindLab has been working on public sector innovation and strategies for 10 years and is funded by three Danish Ministries. My part of the chapter focused on the United States and Italy.

To say the least, there is much more going on outside the United States, with a much broader systems agenda, then the US focus on Gov 2.0, websites, apps, data and technology.  Excellent models exist, using interdisciplinary teams, ethnography, human centered design and co-creation to address the wicked and challenging problems facing so many countries, including our own.

Establishing an innovation lab includes creating a strategic theory of change, values and by it's nature would include transparency and accountability. It's critical to design an eco-system that creates consciousness and a language of innovation, capacity and strategies for innovation (it's not random), discovering solutions through co-creation, and courage, passion and leadership.  Additionally, policy has to support practice for anything to really happen.

The primary US focus on technology, has not always been accompanied by public participation and use of all the data available by the public or even agencies.  If the biggest thing we can say for ourselves, since 2008 is better websites, increased transparency, accountability and improved data, we are behind other parts of the world.  

Part of public sector innovation is taking risk and not getting stuck on barriers if possible.  Is money really the problem or is it something much harder?  Coming up with the best idea, even through a brilliant process, does not mean anything happens.

Public sector change is really hard work. The easiest part is getting people to the table and getting them excited about possibility.  The United States could easily partner up with partners around the world to move the innovation agenda forward with informed processes and intelligence.

No one can yet say it's all done by any means, but I wouldn't judge the state of the field by what we have done here so far. 

Comment by Andrea Schneider on October 21, 2011 at 3:31pm
Christian and I have made great progress on our chapter on worldwide cases of design thinking in government. The London School of Economics will be publishing the book next April.
We have many people to thank for sharing projects with us. With limited space of one chapter I think we have captured wide diversity and demographics. As soon as I can share more I will.
My cases covered the US and Italy so I got to meet and talk with some really great people.
Thought you guys might like a little update.

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