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Design thinking in politics

Steve Hilton, a former director of strategy for ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, is a guest in one Freakonomics podcast episode. At one point, he talks about his “transformational experience” after learning about design thinking.

If I’d have had the benefit of that experience before I had the privilege of working in government, I would have been a hundred times more effective. Because if we adopted in the government what’s taught at the d.school, human-centered design or design thinking– it’s really simple. You start any project with an intense focus on the user. Who are you designing for? Who is supposed to benefit from this? Let’s understand their lives. Then you generate some ideas and before you do anything, you test them out. You turn them into a very cheap prototype that enables you to get feedback before you go to the expense of building anything.

If [the] parallel is in government, before you actually start spending real money on implementing a program, you actually test it out with people, get reactions. That process of rapid, low-cost prototyping and testing is absent from the way government operates. If that was present, I believe you would save so much wasted money and have so much more effective government programs.

The situation is slow to improve in politics, but it’s finally moving in the right direction. Government Digital Services in the UK started in 2010. They focused on the user and completely changed the way digital services are developed in governments. Their design process matches that of the industry, and they open-sourced their content and code on GitHub. The US recently followed the same example by starting USGS.

Let’s wait and see. Or if your country is supportive, get involved and help now. The sooner the services improve, the better it will be for everyone.


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