How can design thinking help transform organisations?

We are experiencing an acceleration of technology, production of goods, the spread of ideas and information. Social interaction and the pace of life has also sped up in many parts of the world. We need to increase the pace at which we plan and implement our work in order to match the speed of change in the world.

Long planning cycles are no longer an option if we want to make sure the progress we’ve made isn’t rolled back and if we want to address society’s biggest problems. This means transforming the way we work so that we can spend less time planning and more time getting work out the door.

Solving Wicked problems

Our work is driven by a desire to create positive change, to find better solutions to society’s problems. Unfortunately these problems are often part of a complex and interconnected systems and, as Einstein said, we cannot solve these problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.

Complex systems behave in unpredictable ways. We need another approach to finding solutions, one that recognises there is more than one possible solution.

Design thinking recognises that the problem and solution are intertwined and provides us with a process for finding solutions to systemic problems. Exploring solutions gives us a greater understanding of the problem than we gain by reducing the problem into its component parts through analysis.

Design Thinking is growing in popularity in both the private and public sector, and is spreading to the third sector, primarily because design thinking provides a lifeline to organisations working within complex and dynamic environments.

By taking a non-linear approach that relies on synthesis, as well as analysis and evaluation, we will be better equipped in the third sector to address systemic problems and provides us with a process for finding solutions to complex problems.

Putting people at the centre of planning

Design thinking espouses an empathetic approach to people – our constituents, supporters and stakeholders – and encourages participation.

This is different from other qualitative research we do, such as focus groups, as the aim is to put us in direct contact with the people our organisations serve or wish to engage. It is only by making these personal connections and understanding the challenges, needs or desires of people can we really empathise with their perspective.

Design thinking helps us challenges our own assumptions and beliefs about people and begins to break down some of the barriers between “us” and “them” so we can understand the problem from their perspective. It is this connection and empathy that allows us to create solutions that meet people’s needs, tap into their motivations, and ease some of the pain and disruption of change.

By putting people at the centre of our planning we will engage a wider section of society in the work we do. We will also gain insights that lead to entirely new ways of thinking about the problems we tackle and more innovative solutions.

Increasing collaboration and participation

The most immediate impact of taking a design thinking approach in our work is an improved culture of collaboration. The methods and tools of design thinking bring together diverse skills and perspectives within organisations to develop solutions through participatory exercises.

Integration is baked in. This approach to planning and implementing work helps to break down organisational silos and create greater team alignment. Design thinking helps grows skills that increase collaboration in the long term.

And collaboration extends beyond the front doors of the office. DImplementing design thinking requires greater interaction with the people we serve and engage, through research, by testing early ideas or even inviting people to a be a part of the creative process. Through co-creation, staff work alongside constituents and supporters to create and test solutions.

Becoming learning organisations

There has been a lot of talk about learning organisations since Peter Senge published his book The Fifth Discipline, and many organisations have struggled to implement his advice for organisational transformation.

Practicing design thinking offers organisations a practical step towards becoming a learning organisation.

By implementing design thinking, staff begin a new journey of learning, one that challenges assumptions.

Design thinking is not just about learning a new process and methods to apply to your work, it is about learning how to learn from feedback throughout the planning and implementation of our work.

Evolving ways of working

We have entered a period in time known as the great acceleration. We are experiencing an acceleration of technology, goods production, the spread of ideas and information, even social interaction and the pace of life has accelerated in many parts of the world. Change in the areas we work is happening faster than ever and that means the pace that we plan and implement our work in the voluntary sector has to catch up and match the speed of change in the world.

Long planning cycles are no longer an option if we want to prevent the progress we’ve made from being rolled back or address society’s biggest problems. This often means transforming the way we work so that we can spend less time in planning and more time getting work out the door.

Design thinking offers us an approach and toolbox for working in a non-linear and iterative way. It means we spend more time learning in the early stages of planning. By taking our ideas to constituents before they are polished, we can get feedback that allows us to better determine what is going to work, adapt to feedback and scale ideas based on what is working.

By recognising up front that ideas will change between planning and rollout, we allow for the evolution of ideas. Design thinking means that we can invest more resources in the work that has the most impact.

 

An edited version of this article first appeared on 30 things to think about to mark the 30th birthday of ACEVO at http://30thingstothinkabout.org/design-thinking/

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