Public innovation labs: Co-designing public policies with citizens
Participatory approaches and public administration’s capacity to innovate have shown their limits. But there is a way to tackle both challenges at once! To “kill two birds with one stone”, local administrations develop their innovation capacities through "public innovation labs".
Public innovation labs are often based on design methods. Were traditionally the methods used by industrial innovators to better answer users’ needs. For public administrations, it means co-designing, co-creating with the final users, citizens, going into immersions, experimentation, iterative prototyping and testing development processes, etc.
Lille Metropole (the metropolitan authority of Lille and its surroundings) and Helsinki City have presented their practices.
Helsinki have presented all the developments they went through to include design thinking at the heart of their public administration governance since it was World Design Capital in 2012: Päivi Heitanen introduced their Helsinki Policy Lab, the function and the role of Chief Design Officer within the administration, and the diverse events they organised all year long to gather up citizens and co-create the future shape of the city whether for the architecture of new public buildings or new public services.
Lille Metropole has presented their future ambitions as World Design Capital in 2020 and why the move to a new administrative building is the perfect opportunity to transform the way the administration works. Design thinking and co-creation is at the heart of the transformation. First, designers organise the process of thinking up the project of the new building, so it is, itself co-created. Second, the building shall be made suitable to foster 'design thinking' throughout the organisation. Silvère Mercier, design policy manager in Lille Metropole, has also shown very particular uses of design methods. For example, to help people better access public supports (financial and technical) for housing refurbishment which are already available to them.
After the lively presentations, during a (very) participatory Q and A session participants asked questions about what was presented by Lille Metropole’s and Helsinki’s representatives. Table discussions have been very fruitful: some design thinking added-values were underlined such as the added trust in public administration and the knowledge of the real needs that it can bring to public employees, but also how design methods can help citizens to be more innovative themselves instead of leaving the innovation processes in the hands of private companies.
Challenges were also underlined and are still open for discussion: how to acculturate public agents to design methods so that each of them can be part of the innovative process, how to integrate a public innovation lab in the administrative structure while keeping it open for other users, how to scale-up the decision after experimentation at very local level, how to convince elected representatives of the benefits of such investment.
Take away message
Design methods can be used to restore the link between public administration, its citizens, and innovation. It is important to take home the idea that cities can play an important role in tackling thorny problems. Through using design methods in very diverse fields such as procurement, construction and organisational development, public administration can embrace the following added-value of design thinking: understanding users better, visualising complex systems, creating trust, codesigning the future etc. However, there are still challenges to be tackled.
Päivi Heitanen, Helsinki Lab:
"We are on the right track but there is still a lot to do to acculturate people, users, and public agents to make the most of design thinking and cocreate our city."
Silvère Mercier, Lille Métropole:
"World Design Capital 2020 will be, and already is, an incredible boost to bring about innovation at the most local level"