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).
Collaborating with our colleagues in social development we created five fictitional personas, corresponding empathy maps, and a problem statement based on their experiences.
Welcome, Framing, Flow
As with all our workshops we opened in-circle, with a land acknowledgement, emphasizing the importance of our work as public servants and the dangers of only taking an institutional point of view. We then used Theory U, Breath Pattern, and Design Thinking to illustrate the framing and flow of the day.
In the next activity we invited participants to pull an animal name out of a hat and asked that they make the sound of that animal to identify their other team members (gotta stretch that comfort zone!). This was a fun and light way to transition to team/table work where we reflected on the need for psychological safety on teams and the importance of team agreements.
We then invited our social development colleague to present the challenge and user personas that had been developed beforehand. Participants were invited to ask framing questions to help deepen their understanding of the problem.
After being briefed by our social development colleague and asking questions participants were led through a journey mapping exercise.
Re-framing the problem
With the journeys mapped out and opportunities identified we invited the participants to reframe the problem. We discussed the differences in points of view: Institutional, User/Citizen, and System. We discussed the common mistakes in problem framing and the importance of getting the right question before brainstorming ideas.
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.
Now that they have articulated their how might we question we led three brainstorming activities (structured, semi-structured, and unstructured).
Prototyping & Testing
Teams were then asked to select an idea or combination of ideas for development and testing. After a brief teach on prototyping using Back to the Future’s self-lacing shoe to illustrate Desirability, Feasibility, Viability, and Impact, participants were invited to build a table-top prototype.
At the end of each session we invite participants to complete a Menti survey. This helps us gather feedback and data to inform changes and report on our activities. Menti’s interactive nature helps us facilitate a closing circle/debrief.
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!