Good Lab’s take from the Policy Address

By now, I’m sure that the media and various commentators have already expressed their views on the big policy areas such as housing, transport subsidies, new infrastructure and education. However, few people have discussed paragraph 88-91, which is on the inclusion of Design Thinking in the policy address (for the first time ever!) as a creative solving tool.

For us at the Good Lab, we would say we’re optimistic and intrigued!

Why? We’re intrigued as one of the central pillars (7) was about the government taking on new roles as a facilitator and promoter of new ideas and initiatives, a trend that we’ve seen worldwide in terms of government’s engagement with civil society.

In the past, the interaction between government and citizens is largely based on an one-sided formal consultation process.  A policy paper is produced, and a couple of forums are held, and people take part and use 3 minutes each to express whether they are for or against these ideas.  Citizens do not have the chance to take part much earlier, or have a dialogue (definition: two way conversation) in the decision making process and see impact for their efforts.  While this might have worked in the past, it is no longer working.  Without an alternative mechanism for discussion, people now tend to oppose outright anything that is proposed as it is the only thing they can do.

Other points that get us excited include resolving problems with citizens, adopting a ‘bottom up’ methodology (27), using the principles of ‘innovative, interactive and collaborative’ (5) which is very much in line with our approach in using Design Thinking to understand, define and pilot solutions.

We know it is still the early days.  We have yet to see how this policy will be enacted but we are optimists (as being pessimists doesn’t really get anyone anywhere!)  Thus, we welcome this human-centric approach to co-created problem solving for the government and for the people of Hong Kong!

 

 

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Introduced in this year’s policy address, design thinking as tool for citizens and government to co-create has been something that we’ve been championing through our projects in the community over the past 5 years.  We have been inspired and working in collaboration with various Civic Labs from around the world, including Social Innovation ExchangeKennisland (NL) and Social Innovation Generation (SiG) Canada.

Using this type of open innovation process, we’ve seen examples of successful co-creation and dialogue which would have not been possible using the traditional method of engagement with the public.  This includes examples such as collaborative dialogue and problem solving involving Uber, Taxi companies, citizens and the government (Mexico City and Toronto), streamlining health care provider procurement processes (Toronto), shared public space (Netherlands), and community co-created parks and libraries here in Hong Kong.

While Design Thinking has been the steady gaining traction in Hong Kong in business, with the likes of Google launching their own approach to it (and from the enquiries it seems like the hot training topic now!), using the methodology in a trisector approach to solve community issues still has a long way to go in Hong Kong.  It requires a consortium of multisectoral partners to put in the time to listen, learn and co-create with each other, and not being afraid to fail (small) and move forward from it.

As we’re entering into this brave new world of collaborative problem solving, we would just like to highlight a couple lessons we learned along the way in regards to design thinking and collaborative co-creation,

 

  1. As the famous Jedi master Yoda said, ‘You must unlearn what you have learned’.

We all consider ourselves smart and well informed individuals.  Reading the news, going to conferences, being a specialist in your sector, we pride ourselves of knowing what is happening.  However, this approach could be risky as we might take stories from one viewpoint and form biases that cloud our decisions.  How many of our actions are informed by facts, primary sources or just false assumptions?  Just last week, on one of our programs, a group of participants was surprised that the local attitudes to a certain community activist was not the glowing ones that always appeared in the newspapers.  It was an angle they never would have guessed, and were surprised at the reactions.  This taught them that never to rely on one view point.  Going into any kind of collaborative process, we need to drop assumptions, and be willing to learn about the topic again from different viewpoints.

Empathy is the approach we always try to go into a situation with.  This is the first step in the design thinking process – not to see issues only through our own views and prejudices but to have that ability to stand in the shoes of others and feel their pain.  From that perspective of humility and understanding, we are always amazed at the insights that we get.

 

  1. Innovation can only come from diversity.

If you’re about to embark on a design thinking process, we can tell you the recipe for failure.  Basically, invite one department to solve their own problems – thinking that sticky notes and interactive facilitation processes will get you to the fresh new solutions you need.  In our experience, almost every time that happens, it fails in depressing group think, and all sides are disappointed and quick to abandon ‘design thinking’ as a methodology for innovation.

As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

The solution?  Put only 3 of that department with 12 other people from different departments, maybe sprinkle a couple interns, external stakeholders and some guests – then you automatically got innovative ideas popping up.  While hard to do, from our experience, it is worthwhile, exciting and we know it works.  For innovation to happen, almost every time, the catalyst is from the outside.  Not inside.

We understand in the fast paced lives of Hong Kongers, getting a diverse group together to tackle an issue that is not directly related to their work is difficult and time consuming.  However, if we’re going to solve the ‘wicked problems’ of society, this is what is required.  I’m pretty sure there are no more ‘quick fixes’ to the complex issues in our society.

We must work together, collaboratively, building trust between sectors and realize that for the problems of the 21st century, no longer can we go it alone, only by working together can we really solve those persistent issues that plague our society.

Want to give it a try?  Throughout the year, we have a series of tri-sector workshops focusing on community problem solving, addressing issues of community building, the sharing economy, ageing and other aspects of society.  Come check it out!

 

  1. Finally, design thinking has to go beyond policy recommendations.  It needs to be tested in the community.

Recommendations or ideas need to be tested, as how else do we know if something will work?  Each design thinking process needs to have the resources and the authority to be tested in the community to see if the idea will work.  We don’t need to roll out the idea 100%, maybe mock ups to test the idea concept, and then select a small sample of people to test it on and continuously improve from there.  Each time, it’ll get better and better and be closer to the needs to the community.

I know what you’re thinking.  What if the media gets a whiff on this and reports on it?

Given that the media usually likes to be critical of any efforts publicized, we have a couple of suggestions to address this.  1) Invite them to be part of the team creating the solution!  As one of our directors said, it can be solution journalism! Bring them in on the process, allow them to understand it from the inside. 2) Start your pilots small and under the radar.  We’re actually working on a couple of projects now, but have made them by ‘invite only’ because we only want to reveal it to the public when it’s a suitable time.  3) If it’s hard to start, try to put a $$$ figure on it.  For example, if you just increased sign ups or retention by x% through this process, what would it mean?  One project in the USA made some small changes to its parking fines process and were rewarded for it.

The success of design thinking processes relies largely on a mindset shift.  It requires the ability to prototype and test, and doing rounds of iterations, tolerating failure as learning points, and not as a reason to stop.  There will be stumbles, but that isn’t a signal to stop, it’s a signal to pick ourselves up again and move forward, learning together along the way

Therefore, design thinking can be an effective tool only with the right mind set change from all stakeholders.  From our interactions with several government departments over the past year, we can gladly say that this is already happening.

 

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We see that there are a lot of multifaceted and complex challenges that Hong Kong and its citizens face.  We’ve tried numerous approaches over the years and see that Design Thinking has been the best approach in terms of coming up with viable solutions to test and to bring together a group of unlikely allies and collaborators to create a solution.

Through our workshops, programs, and our multi-stakeholder initiatives, the Good Lab looks forward to supporting all initiatives in social innovation and amplifying the use of design thinking as a creative problem solving tool to tackle some of the most difficult problems in our communities.

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