Background: As an experiment, I'm writing my ebook Public Design FAQs in public, on the 200wad platform. It's a complete field guide to the best practices, strategies, tactics, tips and hacks to using human-centred design approaches in the public sector. Read the book here as it's written, 200 words at a time.
Q: How do I convince my boss to try out design thinking related innovation in our department's work? As a government organisation, we're quite hierarchical and decisions flow from top down. Without my boss's blessings, I can't go ahead!
A: This seems like a common experience across government, even in different countries. The first step is to try to walk in the shoes of your boss, why he/she might be opposed to trying it. Is it due to too much perceived risk? Or budget concerns? Or no manpower/bandwidth? Try talking to him and understand why, in the same way we do design research to develop empathy for our users. Use design thinking to bring design thinking into your team! Your boss needs empathy too. It doesn't get more meta than that. Once we have a better understanding of his needs and challenges of running a team, we can better address them when proposing something new and perceived to be risky or a waste of time.
Try to find good case examples to address those concerns. Ideal would be examples closest to home, that's within your organisation, within your country. Least favourable might be overseas examples since those can often be brushed off as "different context". "Waste of time" is a common objection? Find an example where design-driven innovation led to higher efficiency/effectiveness. There's loads on the internet, like this. Share them subtly in emails, during meetings or even off-work conversations where your boss might be more relaxed and open. Invite teams from other organisations for brown-bag lunches to share how their design innovation project benefited them. If there's an unspoken competitive vibe with other departments and one of them had successfully applied design in their work, you definitely have to invite them to speak at your brown bag. 😉
When your boss is more open to consider using design thinking, ask if he's willing to go for study visits and sharing sessions that you can set up for him, during breaks in his schedule. There's nothing like seeing design-driven innovation in the wild - one good visit is worth a thousand words from you trying to intellectually convince him. Make it as experiential and visceral as possible - design is best experienced embodied, not in the abstract.
If you're up for it, you can also try applying design thinking in your own scope of work as a means to slowly win your boss over. Hierarchical as government organisations are, there's always some autonomy and scope - no matter how little - within your own work that you can influence and control over. It can be small tasks, and the best are small tasks which doesn't carry much risk. For instance, say you're preparing a press release for a new government initiative. Prototype a 'fake' newspaper front page by sketching it out or on Powerpoint and show it to your colleagues from other departments not involved in your work. Get them to remove their government hats and instead wear their hats as citizens and give feedback on the prototype press release. That way you can spot blindspots and potentially contentious phrases that save you from public outcry. Remember to share this small step with your boss to show the benefits of how it's helping you with your own work at no major bump-up in time/effort. Start small and build incrementally. There's always something you can proactively do within your own job! And that makes our work in service to the public so much more meaningful (not to mention, fun!) as well.