I apply my service design experience having worked in several organisations, to reflect on a new model of mindful design leadership for service designers working in government. I explore context and highlight groups at the forefront of change, and challenges they face. Governments’ appropriation of service design signals an exciting (and long), journey to change. I propose design leadership acts for practitioners to establish, stabilise and mature their craft in this setting.
Outward acts of design leadership include sensing and perceiving context, to ensure the right approach is taken. Designer leaders must select the right methods and tools. Their capability to ‘reflect in, and on action’ (Schon 1983) is crucial to guiding, steering and adjusting conversations with stakeholders. Design leaders must be aware of their environments’ maturity level; and act to educate, share and translate meaning. Stakeholder engagement is crucial; design leaders must bring them on the journey, and into this new way of work. They need to detect, identify and connect their team into other networks to grow collaborative support. ‘Bridging’ contributes to the creation of ‘outsight’ (Ibarra 2015) and reinforces the right approach.
Subtler inward acts of design leadership are also required. They relate to encouraging mindset shifts towards customer centricity and collaborative work practices. It helps if design leaders are emotionally mature, grounded, with open and honest communication styles. Ideally they are an egoless leader who ‘plants the seed of change’ in others, and tends to its growth. A restorative mindful practice is essential to rejuvenate leaders, to build their stamina and support them to be in service to those they work with (Senova 2017).
I propose that a training and mentorship program (viewed through the lens of Iyengar yoga’s teaching framework); would support service designers to establish and mature their practice. A graded teaching system could develop capabilities for stakeholders, managers, designers and participants based on their level of knowledge and readiness. A flexible, rigorous and disciplined system with an inbuilt mentoring program, would be of a great benefit to support service design in government.
My design practice
My view of design leadership is based on my time in an imbedded team in the Department of Education and Training (DET). Our team was created in response to an Auditor General’s report and Records Reform project. It reflects a desire to use new methods to improve problem solving in complex environments. Government departments are increasingly adopting human centred design (HCD), and service design to improve the design and delivery of social services.
My design practice is sensory, embodied and physical; it’s development has been informed by my yoga practice. Yoga has enhanced my concentration, discipline and capability to be mindful, observant and reflective. It has also developed my physical sensemaking capabilities. Yoga and study have both influenced a deeper mindset, in my approach to life and design.
“There are many skills you need to develop as you become a masterful practitioner in human-centred design. One of them is knowing how to use your body to help make sense of what you are observing, or help you create something meaningful” (Senova 2017 p. 21).
BKS Iyengar developed Iyengar yoga from his youth through to final years, he codified the practice before his death by establishing a formal institute. In 1975, the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) was founded in Pune. Iyengar yoga is based on authentic, traditional Asthanga yoga, the eight limbs of yoga and Patanjali’s 196 Sutras (Iyengar Yoga Association Australia (IYAA) 2017).
BKS Iyengar defines yoga “as restraint of fluctuations in the conciousness. It is the art of studying the behaviour of conciousness” (Iyengar 1993, p. 46). It is “a contemplative science, a meditative process” (Goode 2015, p. 2); an inward journey of “philosophical and scientific inquiry” intended to integrate the body and mind (Iyengar 2005, p. xv).
Design as a way of life
Nelson and Stolterman “determined four design competency sets that ‘must be established and filled, in the process of becoming a designer’. These are: mindset, knowledge set, skill set and tool set” (Nelson and Stolterman in Howard, Senova and Melles 2015, p. 185). Howard’s doctoral research distinguishes between designers who approach “design thinking as a way of work” versus “a way of life” (Howard, Senova and Melles 2015 p. 185). It explores mindset as a guiding principle for design doing, and how it might be developed as a competency to mature practice (Howard, Senova and Melles 2015).
The ‘way of life mindset’, underpins how a “design-led professional approaches design thinking“ (Howard, Senova and Melles 2015, p. 186). There is no difference “between the method and the individual, it is simply how a person ‘is’” (Howard, Senova, Melles 2015, p. 188).
A mature practice is obtained when design thinking “is fully integrated into the design-led professional’s practices such that it is tacitly how they work in the world” (Howard, Senova, Melles, 2015. p. 189). It is “deeply humanistic and worldly”, and aligned to “transformation and improving peoples’ lives” (Howard, Senova, Melles 2015 p. 190).
My return to yoga at the same time I returned to study has resulted in both schools of thought informing each other. A natural merge has also created capacity towards a ‘way of life’ mindset (which is very much a work in progress!). I have developed a reflective and restorative yoga practice that supports my design practice.
Design provides ‘a new way of seeing’
Mintrom and Luetjens observe “around the globe, governments are establishing innovation labs where methods and principles of design are being explored and applied to complex policy problems” (Mintrom and Luetjens 2016 p. 392). This includes the establishment of service design teams to improve social service design and delivery. Kimbell’s definition of services design is people focused.
“What does matter is that understanding value and the nature of relationships between people and other people, between people and organisations, and between organisations of different kinds are now understood to be central to designing services” (Kimbell in Stickdorn & Schneider 2011, p. 116).
Service design has emerged from various fields (marketing, operations, information systems and social sciences), without a common framework or underlying theory. It is born of a collective response from academics and practitioners reworking their theories in the face of change (Kimbell 2011).
At a meta-level, this change could be considered as a global switching of economic and social systems. We are moving from an efficiency driven, industrial silo framework; to an open, networked, collaborative, technology focused age (Volkova 2016). The switching of these systems has brought a pace of change not seen before (Wakelim 2017; Helsinki Design Lab 2010). Service design’s iterative methods and tools provide organisations strategic clarity in the face of an overwhelming number of investment choices.
Within a government context where problems are complex in nature, service design supports a better definition of action and iterative improvement (Head and Alford 2008). Design support executives to scan horizons, identify and reframe problems, and better understand complexity with a human lens (Helsinki Design Lab 2010; Wakelim 2017). Design can assist “stakeholders to negotiate shared understanding and shared meaning about the problem and its possible solutions” (Head and Alford, 2008, p. 9).
Dessign continues to mature, fragment, and evolve Buchanan’s (1992) four orders. Traditional design 1.0 design has become more complex, each order has its own scale of mess and set of challenges (Pastor 2013). Design’s capability to provide ‘new ways of seeing’, is useful for government, whose problems often reside in complex realms spanning order 2.0 and 3.0.
Governments appropriation of HCD and service design
Growing pockets of Australians federal and state government are adopting design for change, to build capability, improve and transform their service design and delivery.
“Design thinking should matter to governments because many gaps exist between the services governments deliver and what citizens want…Scope exists for governments to better design their processes to become more responsive to citizen expectations” (Moore 1995 in Mintrom and Luetjens 2016 p. 391).
The DTA, modelled on the GOV.UK model (now almost ten years ago), was established to “help government departments and agencies undergo digital transformation” (DTA 2017). The first criteria of the DTA’s ‘Digital Service Standard’, is to ‘understand user needs’. Vic.gov.au recently published a whole of victorian government (WoVG) series of digital guidelines too. These have been inherited from global industry standards including GOV.UK and DTA.
Shetler 2016 made a case for HCD in digital transformation programs; “for services to be truly transformed, we need to go beyond the front end, and transform the back office IT too. If we don’t rethink the underlying IT systems and business processes, we’re constrained to do little more than make cosmetic changes. After all the service doesn’t stop at the user interface, it includes an ensemble of people, systems and processes that support it” (Shelter 2016).
Change makers in the Australian government advocating and applying HCD and service design to improve the design and delivery of social services do exist. They are however not widespread, it seems an early stage in governments adoption of design.
A long road to change
The effort to shift government to a modern operating model is in early stages, the challenges “are structural, cultural and skill-based” (Shelter 2016). My experience reinforces Shelter’s — government is an environment of low design maturity. It’s a highly changeable, under resourced and archaic — but filled with a range of hard working change makers, working towards a better way.
Shetler believes that outsourcing and offshoring has exacerbated the situation; “government’s biggest challenge in the digital age is to completely upskill the public service so that it is well equipped to deliver the change that’s needed” (Shelter 2016). Government is one of the last “industries that thinks it can outsource wholesale. Banks, brokerages and the insurance industry all made the shift twenty years ago, and have been able to transform their IT in the period since” (Shelter 2016).
Mintrom and Luetjens asserts that the benefits depend entirely “on how it is understood and put into practice in each setting” (Mintrom and Luetjens 2016, p.392). He states that stakeholders limited understanding of design “can lead to implementing design thinking for the wrong reasons, or with unrealistic expectations… Design thinking requires time, space, and authorisation to operate” (Mintrom and Luetjens 2016, 399).
Mintrom and Luetjens reflects on the support it requires; “for change to occur, design thinking requires leadership and commitment. There is a danger that agencies seeking to develop and adopt more citizen centred approaches to policymaking will use design thinking simply as a short-term means to an end” (Mintrom and Luetjens 2016, p. 399). “Design thinking calls for specific skills that are not always present in public sector environments. This barrier to its greater use could be addressed through training” (Mintrom 2016, p. 393).
Shetler, Mintrom, Luetjens and my own observations reinforce that for service design to be successful, design leaders must be sufficiently skilled, experienced and trained to succeed. “The effectiveness of design thinking will depend on the users’ understanding and intent. It is a time-consuming process and should not be undertaken for gains in efficiency” (Mintrom and Luetjens 2016, 399).
Outward acts of design leadership
Sensing and perceiving context to design the approach
Being able to sense, observe and perceive the environments maturity level will support design leaders to establish an appropriate approach. It will help them to use and adapt language to ensure they’re understood. Often design leaders will need to translate the meaning of words, work and approach for others. To provide support, growing awareness, comfort and an ability to understand the value. Practitioner experience improves a leaders ability to introduce, stabilise and nurture conditions for the practice to mature.
Selecting appropriate methods, tools and activities will lead to better collaborative moments towards the outcome and encourage a more customer centric mindset. Creating dialogue between service stakeholders to better understand painpoints and opportunities in context of the customers end-to-end journey is key. Knowing how to sequence methods and tools to achieve this type of understanding for the maturity level is key — it requires an experienced design leader to guide the process.
Design leaders will achieve better outcomes if they like a yoga teacher — tailor their technique (methods), timing, sequenced activities (tools) to their environment. The Iyengar yoga’s teaching system encourages students to start at the beginning. To take a series of ‘beginner’ classes, to learn foundational movements and master the basics — how to position their feet, pelvis and limbs - before moving forwards. Graded levels of teaching ensure that knowledge is delivered at an appropriate level, and encourages the group to develop together.
In discussion with Dr. Zaana Howard (Executive Director, Experience Design, McKinsey & Company); Howard reflected that the ‘Yoga toolkit’ (below) contains the same elements as design workshops — techniques, timings and sequence. Our discussion reinforced that the elements must to be tailored to achieve the desired outcome.
Guiding, steering and adjusting for alignment
Design leaders also need to guide and steer conversations to educate and reassure stakeholders. They need to be open to questions, to steer and guide conversations towards the outcome. Particularly when stakeholders might contradict themselves or confuse proceedings because they too are beginners, and its a new way of working, with language of its own. The capability to translate, establish an understanding and support for the work is a vital.
Taking the time to bring stakeholders to the walls of low-fi work and into the design process (if possible) is helpful to grow an understanding of the process. Being capable to reflect in, and on action (Schon 1983), (or adapt and steer on the fly), is also important to maintaining alignment. Mastering this practice takes time; the technique ensures that any adjustments don’t compromise the outcome. It does require a level of mastery, practical and theoretical experience.
A design leader is similar to a yoga teacher in that they must demonstrate their capabilities to succeed. One difference though, is that Yoga teachers must pass a series of theoretical and practical certification before they can teach. Teaching certifications require proficiency to practice. Capabilities to design and lead classes to the appropriate level; communication of the necessary instructions for students to understand the pose and sequence. Yoga teachers like designers, scan, observe and adjust to create alignment and create improvements. They guide their students understanding and development to learn how to achieve better human centred outcomes.
‘Bridging’ networks to grow collaboration and commitment
Identifying stakeholders across complex government networks is important to scaling collaboration (#Collabforge). It also increasing the number of views, ‘knowledge and skills’, to better frame complex problems (Head and Alford 2008, p. 19).
Creating and leveraging networks also improves ‘trust’ and ‘commitment’ to a collaboratively negotiated approach, and improves the chances for the approach to proceed (Head and Alford, 2008, p. 19). By seeking out and aligning with groups outside of their own, design leaders increase the chance of collective change taking hold.
Building networks across groups is a trait of contemporary leadership known as ‘bridging’ (Ibarra 2015). Ibarra differentiates between leadership styles comparing hub styles, where leaders are the centre of the team. To bridging styles, where leaders “work to link your team to the rest of the relevant world” (Ibarra 2015, p. 39). ‘Bridging’ benefits the design leader by providing them “the outsight they need to develop a point of view on their business, see the big picture organizationally, and set direction accordingly” (Ibarra 2015, p. 40).
Inward acts of design leadership
Designers also conduct inward acts of leadership to encourage shifts in mindset. They leverage collaborative action, to encourage subtle movements towards human centricity and more collaborative forms of work.
Co-design processes encourage transformations in the people who work together to problem solve, it shifts and grows understanding through the process. It transform the team and what they know (Akama and Prendville 2013). The diagram below illustrates mindset and behavioural transformation — the ideal movement is from left to right (Stickdorn and Schneider 2011, p. 306).
In conversation with Dr. Zaana Howard and my yoga teacher Ann Dragon, two interesting observations were made about mindset. Howard commented that it might not be reasonable to think that every piece of design work can or needs to do this. That it very much depends on where you are in the journey with your client, and where they are with themselves (Howard 2017). We concluded that programs of work were more likely to incorporate this element than discrete projects.
Dragon reflected that internal shifts in students was not a yoga teachers responsibility — that they could not take that on. What arises for students ‘on the mat’ was their responsibility, and whilst it is an intention of the practice, it is dealt with on a more personal level (Dragon 2017). Dragon comments, that she encourages students to deepen their practice and embark on their own inward journey by demonstrating the value of her practice and how special it is to her.
Mindful design and restorative practice
Yoga underpins my design practice, it is key to my restoration and recharge from change environments. It supports my authenticity, awareness, grounded, mature and open, honest approach. Design leaders need to remain sensitive to themselves and how they are travelling to ensure they don’t fatigue and burn out. An awareness that change environments can be demanding, and they demand a lot from design leaders. It’s important to establish healthy boundaries, have a restorative practice to rejuvenate, build stamina and create the capacity to be the human you need to be to be in service to yourself and others (Senova 2017).
Yoga encourages students to develop personal responsibility, and master the outcomes of actions and experiences. Goode writes, concepts of ethical practices to develop self-awareness and accountability signify a mature practice (Goode 2015, p. 7). A student practices to fill their body container with their mind to avoid misperception, doubt and illusion; has created an awareness of the relationship between action and outcome. They can continue to develop and seek capacity for the right action that does not cause re-action (Goode 2015, p. 7).
“It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.” BKS Iyengar
Education, training and mentorship to build competency, maturity and mindset
Shetler states a core challenge for government is its need to “upskill the public service” (Shelter 2016). Mintrom and Luetjens assert the benefits of design thinking depend entirely on how stakeholders understand and implement it, and the conditions they create for its development (Mintrom and Luetjens 2016, 399). He outlines “leadership and commitment” are essential to design thinking’s success, and the practice is in danger of being applied as “a short-term means to an end” (Mintrom and Luetjens 2016, p. 399).
Mintrom and Luetjens acknowledge that “specific skills are not always present in the public sector”, and a “barrier to greater” application, “could be addressed through training” (Mintrom and Luetjens 2016, 393). He also acknowledges that effectiveness will “depend on a users understanding and intent”, and that it is a time-consuming process ”not to be undertaken for efficiency gains” (Mintrom and Luetjens 2016, 399).
Based on my experience I also see value in up skilling and training everyone involved in the process (stakeholders, managers, designers and participants). Training a baseline for design thinking and service design, to create an understanding of what it is, what to expect and how the group collaborates through the process.
Furthermore, the components of training need to be more than a “knowledge set, skill set and tool set”, it must also include mindset (Howard, Senova, Melles 2015, p. 186). Howard acknowledges training often focuses on skill set and tool set, and the role of mindset is only acknowledged “at a high level” (Howard, Senova, Melles 2015, p. 186).
A graded teacher/student training system similar to the one underpinning the Iyengar yoga school could be advantageous to help prepare the environment and players for service designs introduction, value and their roles within the process. Iyengar’s teaching system is flexibile, rigourous and disciplined; it is structured to provide quality progress based on the student and teachers maturity. The graded system ensures an appropriate practice approach is applied to the environment.
The model also contains a strong mentoring system that nurtures development and supports knowledge to be handed down from person to person. Mentoring can also facilitate a designers mindset to mature and benefit the application of service design in government by creating more designers approaching their practice as ‘a way of life’ not ‘a way of work’.
For service design to be adopted successfully into new settings it requires the support of strong leadership . Outward acts include educating, guiding and steering stakeholders towards an understanding of what the practice is, what it does, how it does it and its value. Bringing stakeholders, managers and participants in the process; engaging them in the co-design process, the low-fi work helps to build knowledge and support. As does ‘bridging’ collaborative networks across stakeholder systems to improve support and input to problem solving.
Inward acts of leadership relate to subtle shifts in mindset towards customer centricity and collaborative work. Mindset is a key component of a designers’ mature practice, essential to their craft and can encourage an approach where they distinguish their approach to design ‘as a way of life’ (Howard, Senova, Melles 2015). The development of a mindful restorative practice is key for design leaders to restore themselves from the constant pressures of change environments. It can also support them to be the human they need to be, to be in service to themselves and others (Senova 2016).
A graded training model similar to the Iyengar yoga teaching framework would be advantageous for government to support the development of a diverse set of capabilities involved in the practice. Designing a training system to provide understanding and grow practical capabilities, backed by a strong mentoring network across departments would be ideal. Acts of design leadership and training to support service design to mature as a practice in government are several ways the existing levels of maturity could be improved. And encourage a wider adoption of the practice to support an improved design and delivery of social services.
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