DMatters June 2018 Issue

Towards Citizen-centric Design: Instilling Creativity into the Public Sector

Cloud technology, sharing economy, 3D printing – the emergence of disruptive innovations is constantly redefining our urban life. We live in an era where creativity and design is rewriting the game rules of the business world all the timeThe trend has naturally grown on the public sector, too. Even though the sector may not has been the forerunner in the movement, more governments are picking up the lead role and surprising us with unparalleled creativity and phenomenal impact. While most of us may not expect to see creativity as the drive of public sector, it is all down to whether policymakers are inspired with a vision for change and better public services.

Fortunately, public servants and nonprofit workers have a host of design thinking experts and tools to wield. Design expertise can inspire changes not just in branding but on the fundamental and systemic level, gearing governments to be truly citizen-centric. This is a future recognised and shared by many progressive countries worldwide. Just consider the estimation, made by British think tank Nesta in 2015, that at least one public innovation lab opens in the world every month. It is evident that many countries are investing sizeable resources to unleash the power of design institutionally, whether it is within the government itself or in collaboration with the civil society.

Creating the conditions within the government
Australia’s Victoria State Government, the state government of Melbourne, has its own Public Sector Innovation branch helmed by Sam Hannah-Rankin. Bringing in extensive experience in innovating established enterprises to the government, Sam has put forward a number of successful initiatives. Her teams, including the Public Sector Innovation Fund, the Behavioural Insights Unit and the cross-department Innovation Network, are empowering public servants to design solutions in collaboration with the people they concern.

Take "Code for Victoria," the collaboration between the Public Sector Innovation Fund and Code for Australia. By planting three tech experts in the service improvement team of Victoria Legal Aid (VLA), a number of web solutions were created to improve legal services and streamline workflow. For instance, the prototyped online legal checker potentially saves at least thirty call hours of the staffs. More important, the influence extended to VLA’s work culture – like the can-do attitude the public workers learnt from the tech fellows.

Designing new future with the public sector
Made for people, public services naturally need to adapt to the changing user needs and behaviour over time. Design practitioners' intuition to probe into the mind of users helps us analyse the trend of usage patterns. Thorough design research using ethnography is an useful approach, like the ‘Hospitable Hospices’ project steered by Lekshmy Parameswaran and her team at fuelful, a design consultancy for healthcare innovation.

Through a nine-month collaboration with three local hospices in Singapore, they shaped critical reimagination of the future of end-of-life services with the stakeholders to rip off negative connotations of the industry. They synthesised the findings into a design toolkit that offers seven user-centred design concepts and twenty-four design principles to inspire hospices to open up their services to the society. The toolkit was soon translated in local hospices as, for example, adding more single rooms for patients soon to decease for more privacy, setting up a “Goodbye Garden” for families to bid eternal farewell with their loved ones, etc.

Innovation rising in Hong Kong’s public sector
Catching up with the global movement, Hong Kong has already set foot in the public innovation landscape. Some sizeable nonprofits are adopting design thinking to revamp their services. For instance, in some recently renovated elderly houses operated by the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council, the senior users had participated in the renewal design process. They were led by Robert Wong, the organisation’s Project Development Director, who has piloted the renovation projects to a user-centric direction through co-design approaches. The remodelled amenities are filled with novel facilities that overturn the stereotype of outdated public facilities.

We also see government departments starting to team up with civic organisations to innovate public services. The collaboration between the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and Make a Difference Institute is a case in point. Running a series of creative experiments in Po On Road Library for months, they unfolded the specific needs of the catchment area, like more books in ethnic minority languages, and tested out prototypes of new mini-facilities and services. The innovative spirit has since spread to other government departments to dig into the user experience of public parks and streets.

The global discussions of public sector innovation is getting into full swing. In this year’s Knowledge of Design Week (KODW), taking place this month, we tailored the entire Forum 3 "Public Sector Innovation” to perk up the topic with illuminating local and overseas experts and cases. The aforementioned innovators, Sam Hannah-Rankin, Lekshmy Parameswaran and Robert Wong will share their experience and insights. They will be joined by representatives from the Efficiency Office, Hong Kong Design Centre, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Make a Difference Institute, Jockey Club Design Institute for Social Innovation, etc, in three different panels to explore innovations in policy making, creative economy and healthcare. If these pressing urban issues interest you, don’t hesitate and secure your tickets now!

In this issue of DMatters, we will delve into KODW’s Forum 2 “Reshaping Urban Experience,” as well as having a further peek at Forum 3. Besides the three main forums, there are nine hands-on workshops on a variety of design-related themes at KODW and we will get a sneak peek. Next is about the DFA Design for Asia Awards and DFA Hong Kong Young Design Talent Award, both of which applications are closing soon. Wrapping up is a cover on a series of DFA Awards programmes. We will see how everyone can celebrate acclaimed Asian designs in daily life.

Further reading:
More about Knowledge of Design Week (KODW) 2018 “Design for Liveability”

More about the collaboration between Code for Australia and Victoria Legal Aid through Public Sector Innovation Fund:

‘Hospitable Hospices - Redesigning Care for Tomorrow’ written by Lekshmy Parameswaran and László Herczeg

Click here to read the full issue of DMatters June 2018.