There was big news in the public sector design space a couple of weeks ago when the Acting Deputy Secretary for Industry and Innovation Ken Pettifer, announced plans to hire a CEO of the Centre for Public Design (the actual Department and Centre names are more wordy but we’ve shortened them here).
We noted a number of references in the broader service design community. People in our network – both local and international – have also been in touch with us for our take on the Centre.
We think the idea of setting up such a Centre is important in terms of placing design thinking at the forefront of public services. We’ve all seen enough poor examples of administrative, legislative, policy and technical implementations to prove the need. But we also think that there are some lessons that should be learnt from those who have gone before, or the whole Centre could end up a well meaning white elephant!
So, as designers who have been involved in the development of public sector design in theory and practice for over a decade, we thought we’d capture what our advice would be to the incoming CEO. Here’s our top six thoughts:
- The methodology is NOT the most important thing – it is important but the Centre will also need to get in there and do stuff early.
- Don’t move slowly – don’t let the phrase ‘capability building’ be an excuse not to act.
- Measure EVERYTHING that you do – build the case and make sure when people are doing conference presentations about their wonderful design project it actually made a difference for the community.
- Do more than ‘assure’. After a few months you’ll realise the job is really really hard. If you hear yourself say “I think we are just going to focus on best practice models and assure other Departments’ work” you’ve failed. Assurance is a vital component but nowhere near as vital as actually supplying resources and collaborating on actual design projects.
- Do what is right for you. We understand the relevance of the Mindlab approach, but we also love lots of international and Australian design consultancy models (and there are plenty). So don’t just pick one up and try and implement it. Be clear about what you are trying to achieve and what outcomes you are seeking and then deliver it yourself. Sure – learn from others, but OWN your process and practice.
- Don’t limit your network. Sure there are rules and processes for appointing and engaging with people but get out and about in our service design community. Be at the drinks, be at the conferences, but most importantly come and see how we and plenty of others work – we are all really good sharers ;)
As a post-script, the excellent Public Sector Informant (now a part of the Canberra Times) has published a stirring critique of the concept of the Centre by academic J.R. Nethercote ‘Recruiting the ‘charisma’ to innovate‘ – 7 February 2012.
Nethercote has some legitimate concerns about what might happen with the Centre (many of which are echoed in our thoughts above) but he seriously underestimates the importance and need for the Centre itself. The vocabulary of the Department may be a bit waffly in the advertisement for the CEO, but in our minds the need for design (and in particular service design) thinking to permeate every element of policy design and administrative implementations of that policy is absolutely non-negotiable.
We’ve approached the Informant to present a response to Professor Nethercote’s skepticism, we look forward to the opportunity.
Postscript: We were taken up on our offer and here is the article ‘In Defence of Design: far more than jargon‘