Teaching Innovation in Government

Each month in the Government of New Brunswick, public servants convene in a colourful, street-level, open work environment with plenty of wall space and whiteboard surfaces. They are here for the regular Public Innovation 101 workshop.

Neither the look nor the feel of the space resembles a traditional government meeting. The participants are gathered in a circle and each sharing something about themselves (What is their superpower? Why did they become public servants? What motivates them to excel in their work?). This is part of the first lesson in the workshop: innovation will be uncomfortable, unfamiliar by nature, and require that we bring our whole selves to the journey. This is because public Innovation 101 is about developing an innovative mindset.

After each of these workshops participants have asked for tools and this month we answered the call. This post outlines how we used an existing government priority to provide an experiential learning opportunity to our colleagues.

After six Public Innovation 101 workshops the team at GNB’s Innovation and Design Services unit hosted the first Public Innovation 201 workshop: exploring innovation tools and techniques.

In 101 we seek to develop innovation literacy by exploring the concept, reflecting on our own examples of innovation, and engaging with theories of strategic innovation in a public sector context.

We planned to conduct an A/B test with two delivery models. One model was to use an existing policy challenge and run it through a one day workshop, a condensed design sprint. The second model was what we have called “knowledge camps” where over the course of the day participants would rotate through six 45 minute sessions of their choice. Last week we experimented with the former.

This is how we did it (with templates by Alex Matson).


We used this template to capture fictional profiles of end-users and stakeholders in order to ground their work in a human experience.
We used this template to get participants started in empathizing with end-users and stakeholders.
We used this template to help get participants started thinking through the problem they are trying to solve.

Welcome, Framing, Flow

Team Formation

Challenge Brief

This template was adapted from an Open North report

Journey Mapping

Re-framing the problem

We ran a quick exercise to illustrate this.

We asked participants first to draw a vase. After some sharing, we then asked them to draw the best way to experience flowers. This UX exercise helps to illustrate the value of experience focused inquiry versus task/product focused inquiry, and the importance of asking the right questions.

We then invited participants to reflect on the morning’s insights and re-frame the problem from the POV of their chosen persona.


A structured brainstorming exercise that aims to begin stretching the thinking of participants.
A semi-structured exercise whereby team members build off the ideas of their colleagues
We use this map to guide teams through a discussion about the ideas they have generated before inviting them to do some traditional popcorn-style brainstorming. Is the idea familiar (status quo) or is it something we have not seen before (novel)? Will the idea address a symptom or address a root cause?

Prototyping & Testing

Teams first captured their selected idea in this template
Then we taught DFV-I before they built their prototype
Then in turn each team presented their prototype for one minute and our colleagues provided feedback in the form of a question.

Closing Circle

Based on the feedback from the session it was an overwhelming success. In one day we were able to provide an experience to our colleagues that gave them a better sense of how to do this work in practice and for a colleague with a priority project to see how the tools and techniques could be applied to their work. What was most compelling for me was that the experience surfaced how little time, space, or practice is devoted to thinking about the people most impacted by public policies, programs, and services. Not only that, but how difficult it is to do. It can be an emotionally heavy lift thinking about and empathizing with end-users.

It is deeply fulfilling to be able to make space for public servants to think about and empathize with the people who are most impacted by our work. I’m proud to work at GNB knowing there are so many public servants in ready and willing to do this work and demonstrate the value.

You can access the most recent beta of our workbook here. Your reflections, experience, and feedback are highly desirable so please share!

I want to change the system / je veux changer le système #collectiveimpact #opengov #opengovNB #opendata #socinn #psilabs #govmaker @rrpsnbsprn @nou_lab