Posts tagged ‘IRD’

“We need design to tackle the world’s wicked problems!” is the familiar catch-cry that we are used to hearing from designers. It is a noble call to arms.

But what if we were at the point where Wicked Problems (as they have evolved in people’s approach to design thinking) ceased to be the issue that designers needed to grapple with?

What if the great challenge for designers wasn’t the Wicked Problem itself, but the desire for leaders to make Wicked Decisions?

 

Surely there are still problems?

We first heard about Wicked Problems in 2000 directly in relation to the work of Dr Richard Buchanan when he was a design mentor of the Integrated Tax Design Project in the Australian Taxation Office, of which Justin was a part, and a few years later in New Zealand’s IRD as Mel was involved in the journey to build professional service design capability there. The term Wicked Problem is older than this, of course, but Buchanan really brought it into focus for us in terms of applying design methodologies to address these problems.

As we learnt, and have been practicing for the following 18 years (15 of those across multiple service systems at DMA), the way we should strive to look at Wicked Problems is through a number of levels:

  • Take a systems thinking approach and deconstruct the ‘wickedness’ by defining and understanding the related systems at play.
  • When designing use a multi-disciplinary approach focused on facilitating a design-led dialogue about the problem and potential solutions.
  • Design the solution with a ‘fourth order design’ mindset – that is, don’t design products or services on their own, design the experience of service systems and their constituent parts.

Our work in this space has been predominantly and successfully focused on Wicked Problems in the public and community sectors. And as we move through our 18th year of practice, we have started to ask ourselves some critical questions about Wicked Problems.

From our point of view (public and community services in Australia) we and our peers now have 20 years of experience taking a systemic view of the problems that are presented to us – so why are a range the social outcomes within which we have been delivering excellent design not demonstrably better?

Continual reference – and sometimes reverence – to Wicked Problems suggests new problems emerging. But increasingly, though some elements might be new, the core systemic drivers of access, equity, resourcing, ownership and regulation in the public domain remain.

We (the design community, not just DMA) have established, built and evolved an expertise in diagnosing, researching, hypothesising and designing solutions for Wicked Problems. As experienced designers we can and do pull apart these problems quickly and expertly.

 

So why do Wicked Problems keep presenting themselves?

Firstly because the same ‘types’ of problems emerge but with new elements. AI as we know it now didn’t exist in 2000 – nor did digital for that matter. But we would contend the problems are no more ‘wicked’. The underlying design questions, needs and outcomes are the same.

Secondly, and most importantly, the Wicked Problems that we know about continue to present and emerge because of people. The greatest element of complexity in all Wicked Problems! And in this case, we don’t mean citizens, users, or consumers, we mean in terms of people who are supposed to lead and do the decision-making.

The most elegant design can present the most extraordinarily basic solutions to complex and so-called, Wicked Problems. We are then left with the question – why haven’t they been actioned?

We’re prepared to posit that at the same time we as an community have been evolving an expert capability in design’s response to Wicked Problems, the opposite is true in the field of leadership.

In the public sector people in leadership positions are still rewarded in the same way they were in 2000. The management constructs and hierarchies surrounding those making decisions has, if anything, become more narrow in the last 20 years.

Brave decisions to implement complex design responses that at their heart question and alter pre-conceived notions of ‘how things work’ are rare and generally result in ‘pilots’ or ‘trials’. Whilst the emergence of digital and technology solutions, as they always have, provide respite from the Wicked Problem, on their own they can’t and don’t address the underlying societal complexity of the problem itself.

So if the Wikipedia definition (yes, Wikipedia not Buchanan) of a Wicked Problem is a “problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize” then we have to ask ourselves:

how do we admit that maybe the Wicked is in the decision making and not the problem.

Otherwise – what have we been learning and achieving for the last 20 years…

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The only reason public service design takes place in the first place is because government has decided to offer a service. If there’s no government service, there’s no public sector service design. And at the heart of government services are rules and regulations. Even supportive services and information and education services have legislation or government ‘programs’ at their heart. And therefore the design is driven with wanting people to ‘comply’ with the core of the service offering.

We’ve recently completed a project with a client that had us re-engage with our regulatory compliance past. Helping the client design a multi-layered compliance strategy not only proved again to us the power of service design in normal project delivery processes, but reconnected and reminded us how critical ‘compliance’ is to the public service design work that we do.

DMA interpretation of the Triangle

For us, a critical and essential design tool has always been the compliance triangle. The triangle evolved from outstanding applied research work by Valerie and John Braithwaite at the ANU (and many others who worked on the associated projects). As part of the Centre for Tax System Integrity, their work developed what we all know today as the Compliance Triangle.

The triangle is a strikingly simple concept, underpinned by deep, complex bio-psycho-social theories. It was key to thinking about the range of options open to a regulator to support, direct and enforce compliance – with voluntary compliance as a key element of that support.

Any designer could read the theory of the triangle and understand immediately that it can be applied to any government created system. The more we think about, and reapply it, we think it may, inadvertently, be one of the great public sector design models.

If you think about this (almost) twenty year old model, you realise that service design projects aren’t only about doing research about the question at hand and then developing innovative solutions for the now. They are also about building in the knowledge of the past, understanding the key drivers and motivations that are inherent in the service system and the service deliverer and then researching the current and future states.

And so to the recent project.

Working with a federal agency that is implementing a new compliance approach to a critical environment means that the work results in real action and is managing real risk. This work isn’t a hypothesis, it requires definitive compliance approaches in order to minimise the ‘consequences’ of non-compliance (an understated description in this case).

The compliance work itself is asking the Agency to commit to a new model. One that broadens compliance from a narrow view of rule management to one where voluntary compliance, use of interventions across international borders and trade channels in different and new areas and collaboration within the Department are key.

The work requires us to co-design with our project team, not just a compliance approach, but a compliance posture for the Agency and the actual ability for the Agency to deliver on this posture (build the right capabilities, have the right people processes and systems).

In working with the team, we’ve brought out the triangle again. Luckily, in this case, the Department uses a version of the triangle itself, so in this case we are working with it to draw out what needs to be done. The triangle isn’t a ‘strategy’, it’s a thinking tool that allows the team to design what needs to be done to take the triangle from theory and model to practice in their very specific service system.

In working with the team, and bringing the triangle back out, we’ve been reminded of some key practices ourselves:

  • Mature compliance isn’t about rules (black and white), it’s about behaviour (decisions made in the grey).
  • In order to implement a modern compliance regime you must have knowledge:
    • Of the risk you are managing, of the service system in action (now and in the future).
    • Of the current and historical behaviour of all players within the service system. This takes data and intelligence.
  • Due to the structure of modern public sector organisations, data and intelligence is not the preserve of one team. Invariably it isn’t even managed by the team delivering the compliance strategy. So, implementing a compliance regime requires collaboration and integration of effort across the organisation, and increasingly connected agencies.
  • Integration, as a principle of compliance strategies, must be stratified across three levels or it undermines the outcomes immediately: strategic integration means the team’s strategy and approach must be in line with government and Departmental goals. Operational Integration means that the strategy must support and deliver on the departmental compliance posture and approaches. Delivery integration means that the strategy must acknowledge and design for the fact that a range of existing and new capabilities and processes will drive the strategy

These layers of integration (common to most new design efforts, not just compliance) show us how the triangle is still at the heart of the design work of the public sector. Without strategic, operational and delivery integration the department would be setting the public – the service receiver – for failure, for non-compliance.

Think of the triangle, think of the outcome of the interaction of the service receiver with the service, and invariably the triangle will inform how you design and support the right kind of service system.

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“It’s not faddish to try to get policies and services right for the communities that rely on them”

Article: In Defence of Design: far more than jargon (2MB)

Our Article: In Defence of Design: far more than jargon (2MB)

In our recent post Six thoughts for the Centre for Public Sector Design’s future CEO we put forth our advice to the incoming CEO of the Centre for Public Design. At the time we also reflected briefly on academic J.R. Nethercote’s ‘Recruiting the ‘charisma’ to innovate‘ – 7 February 2012. Following this, the Public Sector Informant (Canberra Times) took us up on our offer to respond in print.

Here is the article ‘In Defence of Design: far more than jargon‘. We hope our thoughts add to the thinking on design and innovation in the public sector.

Thanks to Markus Mannheim, Editor of the Public Sector Informant, for this opportunity.

 

Update: Here’s a link to an online version of the article.