Tips on Hosting Public Service Design Workshops

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Pulse Lab Jakarta, with the support of DFAT, recently teamed up with GiZ to deliver a couple of health service design workshops in East Java, Indonesia. We find these kinds of workshops useful for identifying data innovation opportunities in frontline services and sub-national public administrations. We share what we learned from the experience below.

Leave your professional identity at the door

The hierarchical nature of government can lead to situations where one opinion carries more weight than others. Labelling of government officials also creates a natural barrier for meaningful conversations with citizens.

We found that requiring the participants to forgo their corporate attributes, like uniform, especially when conducting fieldwork, built trust within the teams and with citizens during interviews. It is amazing to see how a simple act, such as banning uniform, has an impact on people’s openness to connect and expose their feelings.

Onboard creativity

'Selling' creativity in this particular type of workshop can have a negative effect on the participants’ enthusiasm. Most of them did not feel that they are creative (we beg to differ!), but more dangerously, many did not think that creativity is a relevant skill in their work.

We found, during the first workshop, that forcing participants to do an intense and unfamiliar creative task right away drove them to question the relevance of the approach, a perception which sometimes lasted until the end of the workshop. This is not to say that we should eliminate creative exercises from the workshop, but, instead, that they should be introduced in digestible chunks.

Structure, structure, structure

As most public officials are accustomed to structure, a workshop programme with good structure on paper but following design principles is easier to digest. Based on our user research in advance of the workshops we developed themes and scenarios to help the participants structure their thoughts. We created these in a way that suggested, but did not dictate, creative direction.

Some participants ignored these and followed their own research insights which was good to see, while others augmented our scenarios with insights of their own. Structure should exist for the participants that need it and flexibility for those that have the creative confidence to advance unassisted through the design cycle.

Design for implementation

Working on issues and priorities that already have political traction increases the likelihood that the prototypes developed and tested at the workshop will be implemented. We have found that human centred design, while different from the traditional approach to problem solving in the public sector, gives officials the confidence to initiate reforms.

Post-workshop facilitation is also critical. It is good to think through what assets and capabilities you have before the workshop so that you can identify how to support the teams after the event. As mentioned above, structure is often appreciated by public servants so if you can codify your support into something similar to an incubator it will be appreciated.

There are a few more tips and tricks contained within the slides, below. We would love to hear from others working in this field, especially if you have experience integrating design thinking into institutional planning processes.


Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Government of Australia.

Top image: Ibu Nur, the most popular midwife in Curah Ginting village, East Java, Indonesia [Lody Andrian/UN Global Pulse, 2015]

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