Achieving innovation through design thinking

Have you ever wondered how government products, such as programs, policies or processes, can be created in a way that closely aligns with the needs of the end-user, whilst also achieving the Government and department objectives? How do we better ensure that the product is taken up by the user? How can we create the product in a collaborative, innovative and cost effective manner? How do we minimise compliance costs?

Answer: Take a design thinking approach

When the DIISR graduate project group investigating design thinking first heard of the concept of ‘design thinking’, a level of scepticism filled the room. As the project progressed through industry consultations, we became enthusiastically engrossed in the concept, and our initial scepticism gradually turned into a strong recognition and appreciation of the beneficial impact a design approach could have on the operation of the department.

We realised that design thinking had merit, and the fundamental principles and processes when applied appropriately could lead to the better design of programs, policy and internal processes. By taking a user-centred approach, the design methodology leads to the creation of innovative solutions that can improve efficiency; reduce compliance costs; mitigate the risk of project failure and more closely align results with organisational objectives.

User-centred design has already been applied successfully in many public sector agencies such as the ATO and the Department of Human Services. It continues to have significant impact on the private sector, with organisations such as Google, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and AMP incorporating design approaches to add value to their product and service offerings.

Drawing on secondary research, and information collected through industry consultations, the project group created a ‘hybrid model’ that outlines the process of design thinking. This was a difficult task, as every organisation had a slight variation and adaption of the design principles. The ‘generic’ model the team created draws on approaches from the public sector, private sector, industry consultants, and academia.

  1. Identifying the problem– this includes brainstorming the problem, discovering which questions need to be asked, establishing empathy with the end-user and understanding the problem. An important part of this process is ethnographic study or contextual inquiry to observe end-users in their own context and develop solutions according to their needs

  2. Creating blueprint – this can be a quick, cheap and rapid scenario. This includes engaging end-users or stakeholders, visualisation of the solution, discovery of multiple solutions and open, non-judgemental brainstorming

  3. Prototyping – this includes design ideation, co-generation, trial proposal, consultation and collaboration

  4. Piloting– this involves testing the design, storytelling about the solution and the way it is integrated into an organisation and redesigning if it does not meet the needs or solve the problem

  5. Implementing change – this may involve recruiting, restructuring or consciously raising the solution

  6. Evaluating – this involves analysing the positive and negative aspects of a program and feeding this new knowledge back into the design of new projects.


Design thinking, when broken down into its raw elements is not new. However there is value in recognising it as an approach that encompasses a practical process for enhancing the design of programs, policy and internal processes.

If innovation is your desired result, then a user-centred design approach could provide you with a method of achieving it.

Unfortunately we are unable to share the report due to material that was provided to us on a confidential basis, however aspects of the design thinking concept will be spoken about and the toolkit will be updated overtime to incorporate these elements.
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