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Designing for public sector challenges

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The new Design for Government course (DfG) has started in full steam in the end of March at Aalto University. The international group of 30 students from various design fields is working for 10 intensive weeks with complex challenges provided by Ministry of the Environment.

DfG is a pilot course under Aalto Creative Sustainability master’s programme focusing on design for governmental and public sector innovation with emphases on systems thinking and human-centered design. The ten-week intensive course is organised in spring 2014 for the first time. It’s been a pleasure to work with brilliant Aalto design researchers Seungho Lee and Juha Kronqvist on planning and now teaching the course.

The course was built to serve the rapidly emerging need to educate designers to work with the public sector. At the backround is the Design Exchange Programme initiated by Sitra, where four designers (me included) were embedded for a year in two municipalities and two ministries.

Our methodical focus at DfG is on systems thinking and human-centered design, which give the students the basic tools to address the challenges at hand. At the same time, we are entering a yet very young and unexplored field of design; we are doing our part in building ground for a whole new kind of design practice through this experience.

This year, we are collaborating with the Ministry of the Environment. The students are working with two themes where they can influence ongoing work at the ministry, at an early stage of the process. The themes are: accessibility in buildings, where a renewal of building regulations and guidelines is currently going on, and reducing the use of plastic bags, which is connected to the change of a EU directive, currently in process at EU bodies and member states.

Now we’ve already gone through the first three of ten weeks. The first week gave an introduction to public sector, with speakers such as Marco Steinberg, Jonathan Veale from Alberta public services, Tiina-Kaisa Laakso Liukkonen from Design Driven City programme, and various experts from the Ministry and beyond. Following that, we’ve digged into the themes through systems thinking. Next weeks the students will go and do field work with different stakeholders using human- centered design methods.

» Read more about DfG in the blog, where students will report weekly about their progress!
» Watch Marco Steinberg’s presentation “Redesigned State”

Marco Steinberg kicked off the course with his inspiration lecture on how to redesign government. Photos: Seungho Lee
Jonathan Veale, designer working at Alberta public services, Canada, having a Skype conversation with students
The students were divided in six teams using a cryptic method where each student had been given symbols from playing cards, which represented different capabilities.
Students teaching each other in systems thinking. Peer-learning is one of our pedagogical ideas at the course.
Talking about my previous work at the Ministry of the Environment and Design Exchange Programme