The scene is all too familiar: a room of 45 people, discussions are plentiful, and spirits high with the hopeful air of co-creation, and ultimately, innovation. It is one of the few times that players from the public sector can not only rub shoulders, but also work together with the likes of CSOs, private sector enterprises, and your run-of-the-mill citizen. The process lasts for two days, maybe three, it closes with applause and elation, and almost immediately, the room empties after a round of handshakes.
The thing about co-design workshops is that they don’t do what you think they do.
Afterwards, in an ideal world, participants from the public sector go back into a different space to deliberate, refine, and implement.
Yet, this post-workshop scenario is rarely amplified. As the ‘public participation’ buzzword intensifies, so does the increasing skepticism in the overall process. Much of the skepticism is driven by the expectation that co-design workshops like those described above are the ultimate key to open governance. But the thing about co-design workshops is that they don’t do what you think they do.
Workshops and buzzwords
The rise in public participation the world over enables governments to design services and policies not only with experts, but also with the users they are designing for. Approaches include evidence-based policymaking and co-design workshops: a process that gathers together those with the needs, those with the skills to build, and those with the ability to implement. These categories are not mutually exclusive.
Co-design workshops with the public sector are excellent in many ways, most notably because they allow unlikely agents to undergo the human-centred design process, an approach we use as a basis of our service design. Amongst others, participants in the workshop learn, create prototypes and undergo the iterative development through testing — all by developing empathy with the users they are designing for. Developing empathy as a response is facilitated by both interaction with other participants, as well as by undergoing rapid fieldwork within the limited time given during the workshop.
Good ideas translate into action only when bureaucracy + skills + willingness are combined.
For our project with UNDP on improving the public transportation system in Makassar, our user research initiative was followed-up by a co-design workshop involving stakeholders from the government, interest groups, startups and designers from the private sector, as well as transportation and traffic experts. What resulted was the creation of six low-fidelity prototypes that represent the needs of the users, and most importantly, a platform for discussion with a variety of stakeholders. Assumptions are built and broken down precisely through the interaction of different perspectives, which enabled government officials to take into account the needs of everyday public transport users, drivers, as well as urban planning experts.
It then becomes a tad unfair to entirely discredit the workshop process, as it does hold the key to building empathy and even to producing good ideas. Yet, good ideas don’t necessarily translate into action.
Bureaucracy + skills + willingness
Few things get as much of a bad rap as bureaucracy does. However, many often discount the difficulty in overcoming the remaining hindrances that often arise when attempting to innovate. Good ideas translate into action only when bureaucracy + skills + willingness are combined.
When the public sector has agreed to take on the task of undertaking the challenge, the issue of willingness has been tackled. With great willingness also comes interventions to curb the complicated process of bureaucracy, and direct it to enable a more successful implementation of services. However, innovative services often require skills that might not be possessed by the public sector. It is not often that those with the ability to implement are also those with the skills to build — and it is one of the base reasons why we so strongly believe in multi-stakeholder approaches.
Yet, as we have learned, when participation ends at the planning stage, there is little support to facilitate the creation and application of the new services. To achieve this, it becomes our responsibility to extend citizen collaboration well beyond planning, and it all started with the winning prototype from the workshop.
The winning team
The idea was Passikola, a system that aims to repurpose existing pete-pete vehicles — the most commonly used public transportation in Makassar — into a school carpool vehicle. The solution addresses the needs and behaviours of two stakeholders. First, pete-pete drivers have been known to struggle in receiving their share of pay as there are less and less people using the pete-pete to commute, often citing the reckless behaviour of the drivers. On the other hand, parents need a reliable mode of transportation for their children to get to and from school. Unfortunately, many of their houses are not within pete-pete routes and as a result, parents need to take their children to school by themselves, often on motorbikes, thereby creating traffic congestion around schools.
What emerged was a solution that not only repurposes the usage and routes of existing pete-pete, but one that also aims to nudge behavioural change of users and operators to abide by traffic laws and reduce congestion. Inspiration was also gathered from another idea from the workshop — the digitizing of pete-pete-related information to improve the user experience, into a system called e-Nassami. This includes the incorporation of a GPS-based tracking system as well as an application to provide detailed information on arrival and departure times of the Passikola.
Beyond the workshop
We stepped out of the confines of the workshop room and furthered our partnership with UNDP, BaKTI, and the department of transportation of Makassar and engaged them to go out and test the prototypes in an iterative manner, which includes the refinement and development of the selected idea.
We invited workshop participants on a voluntary basis to continue developing the public transportation activity for their city, and received interest from around 30% of the workshop participants, including members of the public transportation interest group (ORGANDA) and public officials. The incubation process was overseen by the Mayor of Makassar himself and revolved around the winning prototype from the workshop.
Involvement of those in the private sector essentially enabled us to undertake a development project at startup speed.
What we built was not only a platform for prototype refinement, but what is essentially a pop-up innovation lab to realize the objective of building a better public transportation system for Makassar.
A few key learnings emerged from our experience during the process.
(1) Crowdsourcing skills
Involving citizens in the refinement process enables the crowdsourcing of a variety of skills, thus complementing the current pool of resources from the public sector. Further, it provides a platform for real-world contribution — instead of involving citizens in only the ideation phase, they are given opportunities to actually make a difference to the delivery of the project.
One lesson we found was that it is not enough to invite industry experts to inform the direction of the program, but also to invite do-ers, those with the technical capabilities to build the system. Our prototype testing in Makassar gathers all kinds of talents, from developers, designers, to strategists, all dedicated to making the project a reality. Participants possessed a variety of skills, from having the technical UX capabilities to ensure a smooth user journey, to one who works for a startup incubator, whose members can provide back-end support to the e-Nassami platform. Involvement of those in the private sector essentially enabled us to undertake a development project at startup speed.
(2) From volunteers to professionals
As the testing phase progresses, so do the requirements. Prototypes become more detailed, more questions were asked of users, and time increasingly plays a pivotal role. What we found was that while volunteers initially expressed willingness, commitment is not always guaranteed, especially in the face of an influx of work. A way for us to ensure sustainable commitment was to eventually treat them as consultants and project managers, by remunerating their services. In turn, participants also have a heightened sense of ownership and responsibility into making the project a reality.
(3) Define the role of each party
Once we have tackled participation and commitment, we identified another aspect essential to ensuring the continuity of the project, involving the ability to recognise and identify the roles that each participant has. This means not only classifying them by their skills and capabilities, but also their networks. Many operate within networks that enable us to gain buy-in from certain stakeholders, many of which we are dependent on for the realization of the project.
Having a participant from the pete-pete drivers association, for instance, allows us to have a buy-in to the ORGANDA network, one of the most notoriously opinionated stakeholders in the public transport scene.
(4) Speaking of buy-in…
A hard-hitting fact that we found throughout this project — and others similar to it — is the fundamental importance of having support from key players in the scene. We were lucky enough to secure the full support of the Mayor of Makassar in realising this project, allowing us to have access to the local government’s resources, as well as its commitment to implementing the Passikola.
We fully recognize, however, that all our efforts would not have come to fruition had it not been for this fact, so a lesson we fortunately identified before we set forth is to secure political buy-in before investing in any effort. Remember the enabling factors needed to translate good ideas into action? Having this support allowed us to check off two out of the three.
(5) The importance of mentoring
One of the most important pillars behind our human-centered design approach is not only empathy, but also the ability to realise that as outsiders, we will never be able to fully understand the life context of those we are designing for. This is the main reason why we decided to collaborate with BaKTI, as they have both the network, as well as the knowledge on what it means to live in Makassar.
We also realise that geographical limitations mean we are unable to constantly keep track of the progress, which is why it was important for us to situate a full-time, dedicated mentor in Makassar, to constantly oversee the project and train them in the ways of human-centered design (Hi, Larisa!).
(6) Iterate, reiterate
Don’t just iterate until it’s perfect (it will never be) — iterate until it comes naturally. Yes, testing is important, but a lesson we found was that by enhancing the focus on iterative development, we have learned a form of sustainable capacity-building, educating the participants about the importance of always gaining feedback from the service users.
Over time, testing each modification with users became intuitive for the participants; they couldn’t continue without making it more user-centric. With that, not only have we facilitated a solution for the community, we also helped establish a new group of human-centered designers in Makassar.
The continuation of our work in improving Makassar’s public transportation system has proven that co-design can (and should) extend well beyond a design workshop. The road to fruition, however, is paved with challenges, and hence great care must be taken in making sure that a few essential elements are addressed when undergoing the development process.
The incubation process was completed on 17th of March, with the output being the Passikola vehicle and a service blueprint, including business model, stakeholder mapping, budgets, and project roadmap. The team in Makassar will present the final MVP (minimum viable product) and plan to the Mayor in April, and full piloting is expected to commence in May.
Watch this space for updates.
Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support of the Government of Australia.