Workshop: APS Design Thinking Mentor Programme


On Thursday, 16 July, as part of Innovation Month 2015, a few enthusiastic participants on the Innovation Hub took part in a workshop to progress some of the more popular ideas.

One of the ideas was an APS Design Thinking Mentor Programme.  Supporters and team members of the idea came together on this day for a few hours to workshop and included:

  • Me (Idea Owner, Department of Finance)

  • David Pecotic (Department of Communications)

  • Susan Hey (Department of Communications)

  • Evelyn Chung (Department of Finance)

  • Tamara Cutcliffe (Department of Finance)

  • Lenora McGregor (Department of Industry & Science)

  • Gerard Fitzsimmons (Department of Health)

Our aim was to develop and enrich the idea by bringing in the perspectives and experiences of users to see what shape and form it might take during prototyping.


If you’re not already aware of this idea it came to me during my research to find out how others innovate and one particular visit to the Commonwealth Bank head office in Sydney.

The first outline of the idea is below:

The Idea

In partnership with local academia to train staff that are willing to become mentors in Design Thinking. Mentors would move around when available to assist other areas of the public sector or their department to workshop tricky problems or new ideas. Mentors could also assist others on a one-to-one basis or in large groups. An example is the current model used by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia who have partnered with UTS in Sydney.

The Problem

In the current environment, the public sector is required to solve wicked problems quickly and often seeks the help of an external consultant to assist with focusing their thinking. Softer skills are going to be in more demand in the public sector as we change to a more contestable environment. Furthermore, staff are often not supported to seek these opportunities to develop softer skills for various reasons as it is seen as non-core.

The Benefits

Staff become more diversified in their skills and the capability of the public sector is broadened. Less spending on consultancies and the time taken to review programmes/policy etc. The public sector becomes a more contemporary in its approach and proactive in providing better solutions for government. An alternative way to look at this is through peer to peer learning, offering a solution to the current silo'd and limited approach to learning.

The Process

First of all I have to say that it was so much fun knowing that we had very limited time and so many people interested in bringing this idea to life.

Here are a few pics of us at work:

There were 4 main ‘ahah’ moments that focussed our thinking to come up with the idea as it stands today these were:

  1. Yellow t-shirt: this became a symbol for the idea. When I visited CBA they were running a workshop at the same time and volunteer mentors wore yellow t-shirts to identify themselves.  We then began to realise and consider; how are we going to make ourselves visible to those that need us?

  2. Global GovJam: David recalled a global wide event that travels from city to city where public sector employees use 48 hours to build on innovative approaches and solutions towards challenges faced by the public sector.  The APS no longer hosts events but we now see this is an opportunity to get engaged again rather than re-creating a platform and format for this type of discussion.

  3. Stunt team: While I had the word ‘Mentor’ in my head, it became clear that most of the team only identify mentors as being those that coach others on a one-to-one basis. It was decided that we needed a new name.  That’s when Lenora, having a stage performance background, suggested that the mentors be referred to as Stunt team or person.  So whenever you need assistance to solve problems or get out of wicked situations, call in a stunt officer.  They help you to navigate the problem, manage risk appropriately and push the boundaries to bring about the most beneficial result.

  4. Clearing house: When Gerard introduced himself, he started talking about a specific problem his team is facing in the Vaccine Preventable Diseases Surveillance Section of Health. He wondered what other solutions might be out there that are relevant and could be applied to them, so we thought there would be benefit in establishing a clearing house of experience and ideas that have been accumulated through time, maintained and coordinated by the group, so that we are also learning from them.

Using our design thinking skills to come up with something within a very short timeframe, we established:

The user experience (the Why)

Key & relevant stakeholders (the Who)


Prototype (the What)

Next steps:

While the photo under prototype indicates a yellow t-shirt with a bunch of stuff attached to it including a spilled jar of jam, we have identified a number of steps that we need to explore in order to develop our prototype, including:

  • identifying who our potential partners are;

  • what is the ‘hook’ for the APSC to build it into the L&D framework;

  • will the GovJam format be a suitable platform; and

  • how do we sell this idea to the leadership and the broader APS community.

What we do know is there is a team ready to get started and a real desire to continue our investigations including proving viability and feasibility.

Even though the Innovation Hub trial concludes in August, the momentum for the ideas presented so far can only increase given the willingness of APS staff to have these discussions and get involved.