The open government community is growing increasingly excited about what “Design Thinking” may bring to their work.
The basic design thinking approach is as follows: initial assumptions inform a prototype. The prototype is tested in the context envisioned for its use. Observations of user needs and behaviors are made, and the model is iterated upon accordingly.
Human-centered design is the application of design thinking to social problems. It offers a new approach to push for greater transparency and accountability in government.
With the rapid growth of human-centered design over the past few years, it is high time that the open government community, including technologists, international development experts, journalists and others, ask what we can learn from it.
“As Design Thinkers we understand that there are existing solutions that more or less work,” Wyatt said. “We want to make these more efficient and effective.”
Her recent visit to Washington DC included a pit stop at our office in the OpenGov Hub, and a brown bag lunch at the World Bank, where she presented concrete examples of Ideo.org’s work to illustrate design thinking.
One example was of how residents of Mexico City could save money more easily. Taking from what they had observed in Africa, Ideo.org set out to use mobile phones for banking. Their model changed when it became clear that the end users prefer to deposit their savings through a widespread system of ATMs in the capital city.
Another challenge Ideo.org sought to address was how to efficiently deliver clean water to households in Kenya. They proposed a subscription-based payment system for recipients, only to learn that locals were much more willing to pay up front because they were doing this for mobile phone payments.
Ideo.org wanted to see how they could adapt community-led sanitation from rural to urban areas in Ghana. They figured reporting open defecation would be most effective through SMS, but changed to the cheaper and more popular alert form of making a missing call.
Wyatt’s examples offer two key lessons for the open government community.
One, learn about practices that exist, and then see about improving them. Applying solutions that build off of existing practices can be more effective than bringing in entirely new ones. For example, while a central online open data portal could be useful for citizens, they may well prefer accessing government data through a more familiar institution such as their local library.
Second, accept that assumptions will be debunked. Testing will reveal which assumptions survive, which die, and which new ones develop. In a certain context, for instance, we may devote our energy to building tools for citizen data consumption, while learning that a more pressing challenge is proactive disclosure of that data.
If the open government community can learn to adapt to these new approaches in problem solving, we may begin to crack the code of reforming largely untouched issues like judicial opacity.
— Art by Gregory Perez/Flickr.