Designing public services (2/4): the power of collective intelligence
In the last few years, French public institutions have shown a growing interest for collective intelligence-based approaches. This fundamental shift has broken down silos, encouraged outside-the-box thinking and put the final user back at the heart of public policy, while considerably improving the quality of the services provided, especially when it comes to digital experience.
Meanwhile our experience in the public sector has helped us identify some recurring biases in the appropriation and implementation of such approaches. Indeed these flaws tend to generate frustration and end up hurting adoption, which can lead teams and projects to reach a dead end.
Here are some of the pitfalls we see most often:
**1. Under-estimating the human factor in deliberative processes** In collaborative workshops, the hierarchical structure – which always underlies any process despite the implementation of rules to minimise its effects – tends to hamper the participants’ freedom of speech. On the other hand, group dynamics (majority or unanimity bias) can sometimes lead to not addressing the real issues, to reinforcing beliefs not supported by facts, or to seeking consensus at all costs, resulting in lowimpact decisions that lack innovation.
**2. Highlighting added value at the expense of genuine feedback** Approaches based on “reflexivity” and “feedback” are becoming increasingly common but are also often influenced by an implicit – and conscious or not – inclination to highlight one’s own value. As a result, any disagreement, incident or mistake made during a session, which could be a great source of creative potential, ends up being swept under the carpet, while concerns or rough edges are carefully avoided.
**3. Project steering at the expense of impact measurement** In the rather formal framework of public procurement, detailed monitoring of the operations (minutes, records of decisions, reporting on work units, etc.) tends to take precedence over supervising target objectives and measuring the actual impact (“Was the implemented solution useful/successful?”). As a result, it becomes all the more difficult to assess the efficiency of the efforts incurred.
**4. Racing to production at the expense of alignment** The more complex and fragmented organisations are, the longer it takes to leverage the full power of collective intelligence. Indeed, it takes time to bring potentially divergent interests to the table, to learn how to communicate and think together, and then for everyone to align around a common vision. Often, despite clear declarations of intent at launch, we commit too early to a production logic, which brings more visible and gratifying results for stakeholders, but is also more risky if rushed.
**5. Pursuing digital at all costs** The race to “innovate” remains too often reflected in the implicit pressure to develop digital solutions, presented as the silver bullet for any situation. To innovate effectively in the public sector, we must never lose sight of “why” and “for whom” we do it. This means taking into account the fundamental needs of users without neglecting their digital and cognitive skills – which may lead, in some cases, to designing analogue and even hardware solutions.
“Design can act as a transformation lever capable of setting individuals and complex groups in motion”
Here are some approaches we recommend at Attoma to address these common biases:
**1. Systemic design** Our team includes a wide range of inter-disciplinary profiles (cognitive science, content, accessibility, circular design, business design, etc.) and we try as much as possible to involve stakeholders from various fields of expertise. We like to bring these different perspectives together to gain a better understanding of the contexts and issues at hand, across multiple levels: user needs and constraints, technical environments, the way organisations operate, and of course key economic and financial issues.
**2. Tangible design**
We are convinced that shining a light on existing issues is the best way to act on them and identify effective solutions. This can be done through visual management methodologies (giving depth to information, raising concerns) or through schematisation. There is nothing quite like a well-made visual or prototype (even simplistic) to align everyone around (often abstract) matters, reveal (hidden) problems and help move the debate forward.
3. Open dialogue
Encouraging open debate, allowing several points of view to be heard, valuing sincere debriefings and tackling controversial subjects: these are some of the methodological approaches that make it possible to get to the bottom of the issues, to go beyond what’s implicit and to bounce back from mistakes, flaws and discrepancies by considering them as areas for continuous improvement.
Whether it is about understanding the needs of users, exploring the flexibility of existing organisational models, or finding ways to see beyond the current functioning of public institutions, the innovation by design approach deployed by Attoma can actively contribute by facilitating, mediating and designing relevant and effective solutions. In short, design can act as a transformation lever capable of setting individuals and complex groups in motion.
In collaborative workshops, the hierarchical structure – which always underlies any process despite the implementation of rules to minimise its effects – tends to hamper the participants’ freedom of speech.
Bringing these different perspectives together to gain a better understanding of the contexts and issues at hand, across multiple levels
Shining a light on existing issues is the best way to act on them and identify effective solutions.