Design in the Civic Space: Generating Impact in City Government

Paper by Stephanie Wade and Jon Freach: “When design in the private sector is used as a catalyst for innovation, it can produce insight into human experience, awareness of equitable and inequitable conditions, and clarity about needs and wants. But when we think of applying design in a government complex, the complicated nature of the civic arena means that public servants need to learn and apply design in ways that are specific to the intricate and expansive ecosystem of long-standing social challenges they face, and learn new mindsets, methods, and ways of working that challenge established practices in a bureaucratic environment. Design offers tools to help navigate the ambiguous boundaries of these complex problems and improve the city’s organizational culture so that it delivers better services to residents and the communities in which they live.

For the new practitioner in government, design can seem exciting, inspiring, hopeful, and fun because over the past decade it has quickly become a popular and novel way to approach city policy and service design. In the early part of the learning process, people often report that using design helps visualize their thoughts, spark meaningful dialogue, and find connections between problems, data, and ideas. But for some, when the going gets tough—when the ambiguity of overlapping and long-standing complex civic problems, a large number of stakeholders, causes, and effects begin to surface—design practices can seem slow and confusing.

In this article we explore the growth and impact of using design in city government and best practices when introducing it into city hall to tackle complex civic sector challenges along with the highs and lows of using design in local government to help cities innovate. The authors, who have worked together to conceive, create, and deliver design training to over 100 global cities, the US federal government, and higher education, share examples from their fieldwork supported by the experiences of city staff members who have applied design methods in their jobs….(More)”.

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