How Can Design Thinking Help Governments and Social Enterprises to Innovate and Create Positive Changes for the Society? – Unleash

How Can Design Thinking Help Governments and Social Enterprises to Innovate and Create Positive Changes for the Society?


We speak to Patti Hunt to discuss ways to co-create a positive future using action-based design.

For Patti Hunt, Founder and Director of MAKE Studios, there’s no better time than now to be rethinking and reimagining how we can serve communities, citizens and the planet better.

The current year of unrest – socially and economically has finally revealed a lot of vulnerabilities and flaws that are in our current businesses, value systems, structures, organisations, ethics and practices that we’ve just ignored for a long time.

“Now for the first time people can collectively see the social inefficiencies, biases and waste that have been baked into how we operate. Just being able to see that is a big Call To Action.”

Which is why now is the time to fix the mistakes of the past and build a new better normal. And
Design Thinking offers an alternative to other practice, tools and methods that have not worked in the past. For Patti, design thinking is really about human-centricity and using that to solve issues and create opportunities around a problem you’re faced with in your society.

A great example is that of in Singapore where the government is using design thinking to shape policy making – they are making efforts to embed design thinking into the educational curriculum at a very young age so citizens grow up identifying relevant needs of the society and contribute to solving them.

“We can use design thinking as a Circuit Breaker to change what has not been working. It is a problem solving method that can be used to arrive at a different and better outcome.”

The question then becomes, how does one begin to identify the right problem to solve?

Usually NGOs or social enterprises are quite well versed in the problem they’re trying to solve. There is ample amount of rich insights and wisdom that pre-exists inside the organisation in the form of people, volunteers and organisations they’re in service of. But as design thinkers, we need to take a systemic view of these problems – where we harvest the information the organisation has, but also takes it out of it into more contexts. For example, homelessness problems will stem from greater administrative issues or funding mechanisms, which acts as a bigger problem to solve, than just homelessness in itself.

Traditionally in the social sector, we tend to follow an opinion-based process– where we go about problem solving with lots of discussion, stakeholder meetings, egos and opinions. Design thinking disrupts that and instead makes it about evidence, research and prototypes for people to react to.

“Sometimes the opportunities exist in the white spaces that lie between the different stakeholders or different organisations. The role of design thinking is creating that space to reflect and see the bigger opportunities at play.”

Even we have identified the right problem space, moving into action and implementation is hard, especially when there is lack of coordination and collaboration amongst the multiple stakeholders. This is where the methodology of co-creation can enable an outcome.

The co-creation of solutions together means that consensus and trade-offs can be negotiated in the moment with different stakeholders. So that the resolution or action happens during the process of co-creation, instead of speculating where you disagree. The process nudges you towards an outcome and doesn’t let you stay stuck in that conversation.

Some participatory crowdsource platforms are great examples which citizens can directly offer ideas and solutions to social problems as well as voting on alternatives. This can be a good ‘circuit breaker’ to endless rounds of committee meetings and negotiations.

 ‘Design for Impact’ programme led by Patti and team - a public, community based programme that connects NGOs with design thinking community and corporate clients for social innovation and change.
‘Design for Impact’ programme led by Patti and team – a public, community based programme that connects NGOs with design thinking community and corporate clients for social innovation and change.

3 ways social organisations can learn about design-thinking to achieve desirable outcomes:
  1. Connect with existing Design thinking communities and practitioners to get inspiration. This is an easy step which is low cost – low risk.
  2. Be open to doing things differently and trying different approaches to what’s not working.
  3. Go out and talk to the end-users. “One thing I’d suggest everyone to do is to talk to people facing the problem and immerse yourselves in situation.”

Today, there is a need to co-create innovative solutions with private organisations, public institutions and citizens instead of being stuck in discussion in silos. This essentially helps us move from design thinking to design doing.

“It all starts with citizen engagement”, concludes Patti.

Describing an ideal societal system, she says, “We need to pay attention to citizen engagement and make sure it is easy for all of the different voices to be heard – not just the usual voice we hear, but also the invisible hidden voices that are directly affected by policies. We need to keep this a foundational principle.”

Patti will be hosting the Co-Creating Innovation Panel at the Unleash! Design Thinking Forum on 30 July, 2020. The panel will discuss how design thinking can help solve the wicked problem of our society with specific examples from Denmark, Singapore and Taiwan.

Patti is Founder & Director of MAKE Studios. They initiated Design Thinking Hong Kong, a community dedicated to integrating design thinking into the Hong Kong community through networking, events, workshops and conferences.