From the Public Sector to the Private Sector and Back

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Self-portrait by Lia Purnamasari/Pulse Lab Jakarta
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The blog post was originally published on Medium

I joined Pulse Lab Jakarta in 2018 as part of the Social Systems team, whose work was focused on utilising thick data to equip big data analysis and provide insights on people’s perspectives. I was introduced to design research and human-centered design (HCD) methodologies, which both place importance on incorporating the needs of users in developing design ideas and interventions.

Over the course of two years at the Lab, I was given the opportunity to learn about and apply human-centered design to conduct foundational research on various topics, such as financial inclusion (Banking on Fintech) and women’s safety while using public transportation (After Dark). Though these design thinking approaches were applied to our research, adoption of the resulting recommendations and implementation rested with our partners’ organizations and we were not often involved in the follow up.

Around the same time, many technology start-ups were on the rise in Indonesia, which are known to utilise a design thinking approach in creating digital products and services. In observing this trend, I was curious to learn how they holistically integrate the human-centered design framework from doing the research, to designing and implementing the digital product — in essence the whole “double diamond” process. With my heightened interest and curiosity to learn about the end-to-end application of human-centered design, in early 2020, I shifted gears from the development sector and embarked on a journey with an Indonesian startup company. Providing end-to-end digital business solutions that empower small and medium enterprises is at the core of what it does.

After almost a year working at the start-up company, I decided to return to Pulse Lab Jakarta. After spending some time there learning about the application of the design approach to holistically design and implement products, I realized that my calling was still in the public sector and solving its problems. Around the same time, Pulse Lab Jakarta had begun shifting its focus beyond the solution space to a more integrated mixed-methods model that also focuses on problem assessment. I saw this as an opportunity for me to also apply human-centered design holistically to our data analytics tools. Whilst my time at the start-up company was brief, it was a unique experience that offered valuable lessons that might be relevant for the Lab. These are some key takeaways:

Moving things faster, incorporating iterations.

Like many start-up companies, the company I worked for adopts an agile approach to support the company’s value proposition on product development innovation. They designed their workflow based on a value generating concept known as the Scrum framework. With rapid iterations as the basic building blocks, this agile framework looks at products as a living object with no “final state”. By doing so, they envision that the workflow would systematically accommodate product improvements.

In practice, this framework translates into our daily ways of working. Aligned with this framework, “Sprint” is a core part of how the various teams’ activities are planned and implemented. My work would be planned for a 10-day timebox, and at the end of it there would be a review, where I would present my work for the past 10 days. By planning the work in this fashion, I am able to focus on manageable tasks and move things forward. More importantly, this style allows space for iterations to adapt to change — since the review that is conducted quickly would help me to spot things that do not work and need to be improved in the next sprint.

Whilst the Lab is not implementing the Scrum framework, this style of working to move things faster and to provide a space for iterations could be adapted in parts of our projects should we have to navigate ambiguity (or when changes happen quickly) or if we ever encounter “analysis paralysis”. Rather than being hampered in confusion, we might experiment and review faster, as well as quickly spot where things do not work and keep improving from there.

Revisiting our work

As mentioned about ways of working, rapid evaluations/reviews of the company’s products are also integrated within its agile framework to ensure that the products would continuously meet users’ needs and be aligned with the high-level strategy. As a part of the product team, in practice I would do two things: first, periodically evaluate the products through the qualitative design research; and second, in collaboration with the data analytics and Product Managers, use a set of metrics to regularly monitor how well the product is performing.

Since the Lab is beginning to revisit and evaluate its portfolio of digital tools to pave the way for more partnerships, it might be worth keeping a few things in mind based on my experience at the start-up company:

  • First, it’s important to be mindful of changing context, especially during the pandemic where things and trends are changing rapidly — this could really affect the relevance of our products.
  • Second, in relation to changing context, take into account strategy and policy shifts — if there’s a high-level decision that affects the ecosystem in which the product is used, it really could affect the sustainability of our products.
  • Third, and most importantly, gather insights on usage patterns — are there any differences in how the users interact and utilise the product? From these insights, not only are we able to see relevance, we can also identify areas for improvement or even opportunities to establish new collaborations.

Paving the way towards the sustainability of a product

From my time working at the start-up company, not only did I experience firsthand the role of design research in designing and delivering the product; I also had the opportunity to experience the workflow in which the product team (including me!) and the development team (those who are responsible for executing the product implementation) work hand in hand to deliver and sustain a product.

I observed several things that are important for sustaining a product. First, ‘communication’ between product and development should be clear. Guidance should be provided by the product team, not least regarding the product’s features and experience flow. Second, the team needs to consolidate on an operations blueprint. In this case, the team needs to specify staff actions, technical support systems, and budget. In essence, it’s very important to understand the team’s capacity to sustain a product.

Reflecting on this experience, it is not only important to ensure the smooth handover process from a technical perspective, but considering our partner’s capacity is crucial for paving the way towards sustainability of the product. At the Lab, we have begun using a service design approach which I think is a very strategic step. Apart from gathering insights on our partners’ capacity, through a service blueprint exercise, we can inform them whether they are missing an element within their support system so that they can take action towards filling this gap. This would help later on to ensure a smooth handover process, and more importantly, to ensure that they have the system in place to sustainably make use of our products.

There you have it, from the public sector to the private sector and back! I love to learn and I am grateful for all the lessons and experiences that I gained working in both sectors. After looking back on my experiences at this start-up company, I believe those lessons have helped me to grow professionally and are practically useful in helping me to navigate my design researcher role now that I am back at Pulse Lab Jakarta.

This blog has been reviewed and edited by Dwayne Carruthers (Communication Manager) and Maesy Angelina (Social Systems Lead)

Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Government of Australia

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