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 are rewriting the game rules of the business world all the time. The trend has naturally grown on the public sector, too. Even though this sector may not have 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 a drive of the public sector, it is all down to whether policymakers are inspired with a vision for change and better public services.

Australia’s Victoria State Government, the state government of Melbourne, has its own Public Sector Innovation team within the Premier and Cabinet Office. Helmed by Sam Hannah-Rankin, who brings extensive experience in innovating established enterprises and the government, public servants were empowered to design solutions in collaboration with the people they concern. In a "Code for Victoria" project, three tech experts were planted in Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) to design web solutions that could improve legal services and streamline workflow. A prototype online legal checker was developed that saved at least thirty call hours of staff time. More important, the design mindset has extended to VLA’s work culture – the public workers have picked up the can-do attitude of their tech fellows.

Thorough research into changing usage patterns and trends using ethnography provides another useful approach, like in the ‘Hospitable Hospices’ project steered by Lekshmy Parameswaran and her team at fuelful, a healthcare innovation design consultancy. After a nine-month collaboration with three local hospices in Singapore, the team has shaped the reimagination of end-of-life services for its stakeholders and dissipated the industry’s negative connotations. Their findings were synthesised into a design toolkit, which was applied in local hospices by, for example, setting up a “Goodbye Garden” for families to bid eternal farewell to their loved ones.

Riding on the global trend of this public innovation movement, Hong Kong’s sizable nonprofits have started to adopt design thinking to revamp their services. Senior users were invited to participate in the design renewal process of elderly houses operated by the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui Welfare Council. Their Project Development Director, Robert Wong, piloted the renovation projects using co-design approaches, resulting in user-centric, novel amenities that overturn the stereotype of conventional public facilities.

Government departments are also teaming up with civic organisations to drive innovation in public services. In a joint project by Leisure and Cultural Services Department and Make a Difference Institute, a series of creative experiments were run in Po On Road Library for months. They identified the specific needs of the public, such as the demand for more books for ethnic minorities, and tested out prototypes of new mini-facilities and services. The innovative spirit of the project has since spread to other government departments to provoke more inquiry into the user experiences of public parks and streets.

Hong Kong Design Centre (HKDC), as the government’s strategic partner for promoting design in Hong Kong, also injected design thinking into pilot renovation projects like the Mong Kok Post Office and Cornwall Street Park. Advocating the concept of ‘co-design’ and a rigorous project management approach, both initiatives managed to take human-centred design to a strategic level, with postal service efficiency and park users’ experiences greatly enhanced as a result. With government policy support, HKDC will continue to ramp up its efforts to promote design thinking across all ranks and sectors across Hong Kong.

The global discussion on public sector innovation is moving into full swing. In Knowledge of Design Week (KODW) on 11-15 June, the aforementioned innovators – Sam Hannah-Rankin, Lekshmy Parameswaran and Robert Wong – will share their cases and insights in Forum 3 "Public Sector Innovation”. 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 speaker panels to explore how innovation can be enhanced in policy making, creative economy, and health and care. If these topics interest you, reserve your tickets for KODW now!

This issue of DMatters will also delve into KODW’s Forum 2 “Urban Experience Reimagined”, and give you a preview of the nine hands-on workshops focusing on different design-related themes. We will talk about the DFA Design for Asia Awards and DFA Hong Kong Young Design Talent Award, both of which are closing their applications soon. Wrapping up is a story on a special DFA Awards-themed tour, with interesting tips on how to make acclaimed Asian designs a part of your everyday life.

Further reading:

Knowledge of Design Week (KODW) 2018 “Design for Liveability” (11-15 June 2018)

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.