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Design Thinking for Impactful Solutions

Design06-07-2023

The pressure is higher than ever for public servants to deliver exceptional products and services that meet the needs of their stakeholders. To meet these high expectations, a comprehensive understanding of design and the design process becomes essential. Design thinking can help public servants develop and modernize products and services in a way that is both innovative and effective. By embracing design thinking, public servants can better understand their stakeholders, identify and solve complex problems and ultimately deliver exceptional outcomes.

The design thinking process can be applied to a wide variety of complex problems, for example, retrofitting housing developments for net zero carbon emissions, reducing patient relapses in an integrated health care system, and improving the experience of creating Government of Canada forms. It leverages and integrates other digital practices like product management, user experience (UX) research, and Agile.

In this blog post, we will explore the basics of design thinking and how it can help you gain a comprehensive understanding of the design process. By breaking down big questions into more manageable ones and testing possible solutions, you can learn to apply the design thinking process to address complex problems.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is an intentional process that involves a team investigating their users’ challenges and concerns, recognizing the complexity of anything touching human behaviour, and framing problems in a way that inspires creative thinking. Key strategic considerations like understanding the causes of the problem, mitigating risk through evidence-based research, prototyping, testing, and incremental delivery of value for stakeholders are built into the process.

An illustration of four people sitting around a desk thinking and solving problems together.

Design thinking emphasizes collaboration among diverse and multidisciplinary teams, valuing team members’ different perspectives, and involving users and stakeholders throughout the process. Team members are more likely to become deeply invested in the problem and motivated to find ways to address it because they participate in the discovery, definition, development, and delivery of the solution and can see right away the value that it will bring to people. When team members are from a mix of functional areas of expertise, are empowered to self-organize with minimal hierarchy and are expected to bring their full range of skills and perspectives to the problem, the team is more likely to question the status quo and propose workable solutions.

Design thinking, human-centred design, service design, and other design methods share a common thread in that they are all focused on creating solutions that are user-centric, iterative and adaptable. While each method may have its own unique approach or framework, they all embrace the idea that the design process is dynamic and requires constant iteration and refinement. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to design! Every team is searching for unique solutions to unique problems. As such, approaches from different design methods can be intertwined or used separately depending on the needs of the project and the organization and the perspective of the team leading the work. Design thinking is a practice that requires time and experience.

The design process is often visualized as double diamonds. These diamonds represent two cycles of divergent then convergent thinking, the first focusing on the problem and its context, the second focusing on the solution.

Visualization of the double-diamond approach to design.
The double-diamond approach to design.

Divergent thinking is a type of creative thinking that focuses on generating a wide range of possible solutions and ideas. It involves exploring different options, perspectives, and possibilities, without judging or evaluating them.

Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is a type of analytical thinking that involves narrowing down options and selecting the best solution. It involves evaluating the different ideas generated during the divergent thinking phase and selecting the most feasible, viable, and desirable option.

By combining both divergent and convergent thinking, designers can create innovative solutions that address the needs and concerns of their users.

Within the double diamonds, there are four phases, two divergent and two convergent.

The four phases of design thinking

  1. The discover phase (divergent) is the initial phase of the design process when design practitioners and stakeholders think broadly and ask questions to understand the problem and then perform research on the people impacted by the problem. This phase sets the rest of the process into motion.
  2. The define phase (convergent) is the phase when design practitioners synthesize the research and narrow in on the problem they will solve and the criteria they will use to measure the success of a solution.
  3. The develop phase (divergent) is the phase when design practitioners broaden their thinking once more to generate ideas for solutions to address the problem, using the insights gained from the previous phases.
  4. The deliver phase (convergent) is the phase when design practitioners begin to prototype, test, iterate and implement the solution developed in the previous phase and release the product or service to users.

Practice makes perfect

The Digital Academy is developing resources that can help public servants learn about and practice steps of the design process as it relates to their work. These resources include:

  • a suite of foundational self-paced courses and job aids covering each step in the design process, soon to be available to all public servants via the learning catalogue
  • the CSPS Digital Accelerator program, a facilitated team-based learning journey that guides teams of public servants in exploring their current business problems
  • a series of community events that help public servants share best practices and successes using the design process

If you're interested in collaborating or learning more, write to us at accelerator-accelerateur@csps-efpc.gc.ca!

Why do I need to know about this?

If you are facing complex problems in your work, the design process can help you and your team to gain a collective understanding of the problem and develop viable solutions that create value for those served by the Government of Canada. The CSPS Digital Accelerator is a program that can help you practise these approaches.

Before you go, some food for thought

  1. In the work that you do on your team, what problem are you solving and for whom?
  2. Who are your users, and how does your team collect and integrate feedback from those users on a regular basis?
  3. How often do you make evidence-based decisions to improve the products and services you are responsible for?

Courses

Resources

Digital Accelerator Team / Équipe de l’Accélérateur du numérique

Digital Accelerator Team / Équipe de l’Accélérateur du numérique

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