Three Examples of How Design Thinking Is Improving Government

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Written by Digital Surgeons,
• 4 min read

Private businesses and nonprofits are not the only ones benefitting from design thinking. Aided by the principles of design thinking, governments and municipal institutions are improving the lives of their constituents.

1) US Tax Forms

Anyone in the US who has filed taxes empathizes with the average taxpayers’ frustration filling out the labyrinthine forms. If you can’t afford an accountant, you can easily check the wrong box or enter erroneous information.

Well, 40 years ago, the forms were even more confusing. The average taxpayer spent 45 hours filling out the tax return. The language of the tax forms was full of jargon and legal language that was confusing, resulting in forms that had were errors, and, consequently, lost revenue for the IRS.

A design consultancy was hired to simplify and improve the tax form. To gain a deeper understanding of the stakeholders’ needs, the design team interviewed tax lawyers and tax payers. The designers realized that the main problem was not so much the form itself but that there was only a short tax form and a long tax form, with the longer one reserved for people in a higher tax bracket. The team decided recommended the creation of a medium size tax form to make life simpler for taxpayers that who were not qualified for the short form but found the long form cumbersome.

Though the IRS refused to implement all of the team’s recommendations, their work resulted in the IRS creating a new, simplified form: the 1040EZ. Though we still want to see a less convoluted tax form, we should all be grateful to the original design team. By adopting an empathic approach that aimed to simplify the tax return process, we ended up with a much improved tax form.

2) Singapore’s Employment Pass Application

In collaboration with a renowned design consultancy, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower’s Work Pass Division (WPD) used design thinking find ways of helping foreigners who was to live and work there. Instead of viewing the entry of foreigners as a series of processes, the WPD began to think of their problem in human terms. Their goal was design solutions that spoke to the individuals affected by the immigration policy–the employers and the foreigners who were being hired.

Changes were made to the Employment Pass OnLine (EPOL) and Employment Pass Services Centre (EPSC). The EPSC was redesigned to improve the user experience. Solutions were quickly prototyped and tested for the new Centre.

To gain user insights, the WPD and IDEO observed users in action as opposed to relying on surveys. This method gave the group a better understanding of how users were behaving.

The result of the design thinking-driven framework was that a new Centre was created that reduced wait times while improving outcomes for the foreign workers arriving in Singapore. The new and improved ESPC requires appointments which minimizes wait times, has a lobby that feels less congested, and has service ambassadors greet customers when they enter who can also direct them to where they need to go.

Through design thinking, the Singapore government delivered a human-centered solution for foreign workers and their employers.

3) Designing out Crime Research Centre (DOCRC)

In partnership with the New South Wales Department of Justice and University of Technology Syndey, the mission of the DOCRC “is to bring design innovation to complex crime and social problems.

In 2012, the city of Sydney partnered with DOCRC with the goal of reducing the amount of violent incidents that occur in Sydney’s Kings Cross neighborhood, a nightlife area and, unsurprisingly, an area known for inebriated acts of violence.

The DOCRC along with the city of Sydney approached its challenge by thinking of Kings Cross as a music festival, a similar environment where there are lots of young people who are drunk and partying. Through critical thinking and observation, the design team focused their solution on distraction and extraction.

Going from a hyper stimulated club setting to a comparatively barren outdoor environment full of people can be a recipe for disaster. The team recommended more food carts, less congested pathways, and softer lighting to remove elements that heighten tension among drunken revellers. Late night transportation and amenities in Sydney Cross was also improved.

The design team’s human-centered approach to designing a solution helped reduce late night violence in the area.

The design thinking process works for private enterprises as well as neighborhoods, cities, and governments.

Let’s connect about about how design thinking can fix your pain points.