Design of public policy

Why we take bureaucrats on a knowledge safari

Written by:

Adrian Michalak-Paulsen



October 3, 2022

In recent years, public administration has strengthened its work to facilitate how residents experience encounters with the services where they live.

At the same time, we see large and complex challenges that cannot be directly solved by a new service or new technology. This particularly applies when the solutions are shared by two or more areas of responsibility.

At Halogen, we are keen supporters of better services, but new services are not always enough to meet needs.

Most people who have participated in developing cross-sector, people-oriented services with complicated investments over a long perspective, which must also be within this year's budget framework, know how complicated and unclear it can be to change systems.

In order to achieve good solutions, a broader conversation about the organization of the public sector is needed, and the important discussions challenge managers, employees and users alike.

Our new professional field: management design

Halogen has led several large design projects in public administration in recent years, and we have learned that the administration shows great willingness to explore new ways of working together. The design processes that support decisions about how services are experienced, delivered and managed have been named administrative design.

For Halogen, administrative design means supporting and exploring innovation projects in the public sector, and we develop methods and share experience together with everything from individual municipalities to large agencies.

Our experience shows that we find good solutions when we are able to look at the various parts of the administration as building blocks. Each part has a certain degree of flexibility, although the framework is provided by guidelines, regulations, laws and mindsets.

When we manage to put the right parts together in a holistic way, with the user's needs at the center and within the big framework, we drive innovation in practice.

Support for slow development

The core of our work is therefore to contribute to good conversations about how the businesses can be organized to meet the citizens' needs.

In conversations, we discuss the tasks they manage and the services they facilitate, and explore how the services can meet the citizens' needs or achieve political ambitions. We raise questions about who collaborates, how different departments interact across dividing lines, and what types of knowledge they value as part of the decisions they have to make.

We often meet competent employees who have long experience of basing themselves on classic investigations: they rely on working groups, statistics, financial analyzes and the associated factual basis.

Our exciting challenge will then be to invite them to also listen to what the users themselves have to say, so that the citizens' voices also get a place and a role in the development work.

In one of the projects, we chose to solve the challenge by inviting people to what we called a knowledge safari - a large, open room with various stations where the decision-makers could sit down to listen and learn. We had put together a wide range of studies, an overview of mapped user needs, lectures from relevant professionals and some very accurate caricatures.

The varied knowledge base made the participants reflect and learn more about the topic from several perspectives. In this way, we avoided the different types of knowledge being pitted against each other as in a competition, and instead we supported the participants to see the whole and the human stories in the topic.

Municipalities as a test arena

We particularly benefit from the systemic view from service design, and also experience that the well-known methods for user testing and prototyping come in handy, albeit in a slightly different form.

The peculiarity of administrative design is that the processes we discuss are fairly abstract. There is often a long distance between government bodies and users' lives, and the distance can make us blind to the consequences of changes and measures. Therefore, it is extra important that we test together with those concerned.

But it is not straight forward to user test fundamental systemic changes with long time perspectives. That is why we ally ourselves with selected municipalities that are promoters of innovative working methods. Together, we carry out mental tests of how one or more services might look if we change the basic principles or adjust the systems.

Through the use of visualization, storytelling and the design of imagined services, we can experience what the future could be like. The experiences allow us to discuss choices about specific services, but also to reflect on major changes and developments in administration. The results are often both surprising and inspiring.

Radical innovation with Halogen

Although public administration is a large and heavy piece of machinery, important changes are taking place all over Norway. Our experience suggests that the answers are not about doing more , but about doing something different .

We work together with a number of different businesses to create better services for most people: Bærum municipality, the Ministry of Culture, Digital Helgeland, and Oslo University Hospital.

A good example of system innovation is the Municipal Sector's organization (KS)'s program Partnership for radical innovation . The program supports a number of different development projects across municipalities, counties and businesses, and Halogen is one of the contributors to the innovation work.

The StimuLab scheme of the Directorate of Digitalization and DOGA is another good example of how we can solve major problems through new collaborations and design thinking. In the projects, we help develop and challenge both small and large systems. The result is discussions about cooperation and changes in administration, so that residents and employees will be even better off where they live.

A large part of management design is about discussing how the various systems can best interact to achieve a common goal.

Three questions to start a good conversation about innovation in the public sector:

  1. What is needed for your business to solve the most current social challenges in your sector?
  2. How can innovation and development contribute to increasing competence in your business?
  3. Are you and your colleagues ready to explore new ways to collaborate with other businesses?

We have the tools and experience needed to create change. Are you ready for a chat?

Adrian Michalak-Paulsen