Christian Bason  is head of MindLab, a unit for citizen-centred innovation in Denmark. He is part of a vanguard who are creating meaningful ways for government to become innovative and to do so in partnership with community and business.  His new book, Leading Public Sector Innovation is quickly becoming a bible for rejuvenation of the public sector.  Here is his response to: What would you like to become more visible in 2011?  You can also Download Becoming Visible  -  the complete collection of 58 essays.

Citizen Insight

”Paradigm shift”. “Eye-opener.” “Like holding up a mirror”.

These were some of the statements I heard when I recently interviewed public managers in Australia, the UK and Denmark about how they have conducted projects based on co-creation – using ethnographic research and design methods to understand how citizens in practice experience public services. In each instance, the managers had achieved profound new insight by gaining an outside-in view of their own organisation’s practices.

In Australia, a manager of a family assistance programme took part in interviews and participant observation of at-risk families. She discovered how her own agencies’ programmes in many respects failed to help these chaotic families. Through the ethnographic research however, she found that with new kinds of interventions – such as pairing troubled families with the ‘positive deviant families’ who, in spite of adverse conditions, had overcome their challenges, it was possible to foster truly thriving families. Check the Australia Centre for Social Innovation’s family by family project to learn more.

http://www.tacsi.org.au/family-by-family-getting-the-message-right/

In a UK hospital, nurses discovered that they had for years essentially been humiliating patients by taking their weight on a scale placed visibly in the waiting room. When design researchers relayed citizen’s own personal stories about what it felt like to be measured in full view of strangers, the nurses immediately moved the weight to a more private location – and as soon as the story spread to other hospital units, their co-workers did the same. See how the UK National Health Service works with design methods to improve patient’s experience in hospitals.

http://www.service-design-network.org/content/nhs-institute-innovation-and-improvement

In Denmark, the Industrial Injury Board, which assists citizens with work injuries, realised through in-home interviews with injured citizens that by sending them 25 or more letters in bureaucratic, technical and legal language, the agency added to their confusion and dependency, essentially making the very people they tried to help even more sick. See MindLab’s cases about perceptions of government bureaucracy.

In all these cases, getting to really know citizens’ own experience, creates the insight that there must be a better way – and triggers new ideas about how that way might be shaped. Insight opens up a new opportunity space. This is the essence of innovation.

As we pass into the year 2011, I wish that public managers across the globe become better at generating the kinds of insight that enable new action that is more valuable to our citizens, business and communities.

NOTES:

Check out my previous posts on Christian: Why Don't Public Servants Open Their Windows in the Morning? and Who Invented the Committee?

You can download the complete collection of Becoming Visible responses here: Download Becoming Visible.  Or by clicking the Becoming Visible Category on the right hand side of your screen.

Please share and distribute to your friends and through your various networks, websites etc.  I think you will agree – these are too good to keep to ourselves.

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