Every method is only as good as its results. And so the quest to identify concrete examples of the application of ‘design thinking‘ continues. Some of the most effective design in an online networked society is effective because it recognises established flows and supplements or augments them, rather than forcing an ill-fitting structure that disrupts established flows. Here’s an example from government.
A government department I have recently worked with is charged with up-skilling the workforce through increased participation in skills training. This reduces the likelihood of skills shortages, lifts workforce participation, and stimulates employment and the economy. Vocational training in diverse skills such as apprenticeships, tourism services, hospitality and hairdressing is provided by a sector of established technical institutes across the State. Government partially funds, accredits and administers the sector through its primary Skills Agency.
The traditional ‘Gov1.0’ way of achieving the objective of increased training participation would be to design a groovy website on a .gov domain, launch it with media fanfare and a ministerial press release involving a token B-grade media celebrity. This typically results in a small spike in site visits but within a few months, the site is all but idle. Bureaucrats are then left with the problem of how to do better with next year’s budget, and the messy task of creatively interpreting web analytics and more dubious indicators to paint some kind of a picture of success.
In a Gov2.0 world, the mantra ‘meeting the people where they are’ dictates a different approach. First, the Skills Agency’s website is updated, but with minimal spend and only to make sure that content and links are correct and useable. Next, a marketing consultancy is engaged with the brief to identify the most effective places to engage the target audiences – specifically, males aged between 18 and 30 for building trade apprenticeships and males and females of similar age for hospitality industry training.
For the prospective tradesmen, the consultancy identifies a popular online football tipping competition run in partnership with one of the city’s daily newspapers. For a small membership fee at the start of the season, football fans can pick and predict teams, winners and best and worst performers. The subscriber base is large, stable and homogeneous – sports-fanatics, average age 24, working to middle class males. The Skills Agency places selected apprenticeship ads on certain pages of the online tipping website. This demographic is also known to be rusted on to a metropolitan youth music FM station that cross-promotes the online football tipping game.
The Skills Agency pays for advertorial segments and places skills and apprenticeship ‘advocates’ on the high-rating breakfast and drive shows. A few of these advocates (known by the agency as ‘ambassadors’) are high-profile sportsmen or personalities who supplement their on-air promotion with pre-edited tweets on twitter.com and status updates on facebook.com. The station then launches a competition to offer a one-week placement with well-known employers. The Skills Agency repeats the formula for the hospitality targets, this time using conventional television advertising during Masterchef, celebrity chef ambassadors, and a week’s work experience placement with one of the city’s top restaurants.
This approach intelligently recognises and leverages established communities. No-one is required to change their routine and nothing is artificially forced. It goes with the flow rather than trying to divert the flow. Some in the ‘design thinking’ movement might claim this as a ‘design thinking moment’. The solution exhibits a degree of systems thinking. Whether it qualifies as design thinking or not, it illustrates what can be achieved with awareness and the flexibility to embrace social media as well as established media and channels.