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Design in the public sector – why we bring bureaucrats on a knowledge-safari.

In recent years, public administration has strengthened its efforts to facilitate how residents encounter services where they live. At the same time, we see major and complex societal challenges that cannot be directly solved by a new service or new technology. This especially applies to the solutions shared by two or more areas of the public sector.

We are keen supporters of better services, but new services are not always sufficient. The alternative is not an easy one. If you have been involved in developing cross-sectoral, people-oriented services with complex investments over a long perspective, while also making sure that the initiatives fall within this year's budget framework, you know how complicated and confusing it can be to develop new systems.

To solve these issues we need a broad conversation about how to organise the public sector. The important discussions can challenge both managers, employees, and users.

Our new field: policy design

Halogen has led several major design projects within public administration in recent years, and we experience that public officials show great willingness to explore new ways of working together. The design processes that support decisions about how services are developed, experienced, delivered, and managed have been collectively called policy design.

For Halogen, policy design means supporting and exploring innovation projects in the public sector, and we develop methods and share experiences with both individual municipalities and large government agencies.

Our experience shows that we find good solutions when we view the various parts of the administration as building blocks. Each part has a certain degree of flexibility, even if the framework is defined by guidelines, regulations, laws and mindsets. When we manage to put the right parts together in a holistic way, with the user's needs in the center and within the large framework, we can drive innovation in practice.

Policy design
Policy design is about exploring and challenging the interplay between systems and the people who use them.

Supporting slow development

The core of our work is to contribute to good conversations about how businesses and agencies can be organised to meet the needs of the people. We discuss the roles of the services in supporting a better everyday life for the residents, or how services support political ambitions. We raise questions about who collaborates, how different departments interact, and what types of knowledge they value as part of the decisions they make.

We often meet competent employees who have a lot of experience with concluding from data and numbers: they rely on working groups, statistics, financial analyzes and associated factual basis. Our challenge is often to invite them to listen to what the users themselves have to say, so that the citizens' voices also have a place and a role in the development.

In one of the projects, we chose to solve the challenge by inviting partners to what we called a knowledge safari - a large, open room with different stations where decision makers could sit down to listen and learn. We had put together a wide range of reports, a mapped overview of user needs, lectures from relevant professionals, and some very accurate caricatures.

The unique knowledge made the participants reflect and learn more about the topic from different perspectives. In this way, we avoided pitting the different types of knowledge against each other in a competition, and instead we supported the participants to see the bigger picture and the human stories within the theme.

A knowledge safari provides a rich foundation for participants to reflect on and view the topic.

Municipalities as a test arena for systemic change

We particularly benefit from methods and knowledge from systems oriented design, and we experience that the well-known methods for user testing and prototyping are useful, albeit in a slightly different form.

The processes we discuss in policy design are quite abstract, and there is often a long distance between government agencies and the lives of users. This distance can blind us to the consequences of large changes and innovative measures. As a result, it is extra important that we test the ideas together and talk to everybody involved.

Not surprisingly, it is quite hard to test fundamental systemic changes with long-term perspectives on actual users in a real setting. That is why we collaborate with selected municipalities that are drivers of local innovation. Together, we conduct hypothetical tests of what one or more services might look like if we change the basic principles or adjust the systems.

Through visualisation, storytelling, and design of imagined services, we can experience what the future may become. These experiences help us to discuss choices around specific services, but also reflect on major changes and developments in the public sector. The results are often both surprising and inspiring.

Radical innovation with Halogen on the team

Although public administration is a large and heavy machine, important changes are taking place throughout Norway. Our experience indicates that the answers are not about doing more, but about doing something differently.

We work with a number of different companies to create better services for people: Bærum Municipality, the Ministry of Culture, Digitale Helgeland, and Oslo University Hospital.

A good example of system innovation is the program Partnership for Radical Innovation. The program supports a number of different innovation projects across municipalities, counties, and businesses, and Halogen is one of the contributors to the innovative work.

The StimuLab scheme from the Norwegian Directorate for Digitalisation and DOGA is another good example of how we can solve major problems through new collaborations and design thinking. In the projects we develop and explore changes in both small and large systems. The result is important discussions about changes in policy so that citizens and employees can live better lives.

We have the tools and experience needed to create change. Are you ready to begin the conversation?

Talking about policy design
A large part of policy design is to discuss how we can collaborate across sectors and scales to create better services.

Three questions to start a good conversation about innovation in the public sector:

1. What major societal challenge does your agency or company want to solve?

2. How can an innovation project contribute to develop in-house competency?

3. Are you ready to explore new ways of organising the way you work?

For more information, please contact

Adrian Michalak-Paulsen
Studio manager
+47 98 89 29 58