How design thinking is changing the future of government organisations and their ICT services
June 16, 2017

Naomi Hill, Manager, Design & Visualisation Capability


In recent years, the Australian Government has made a significant commitment to transforming and improving the many ways Australians interact with government. Their focus – ‘digital by default’ – will see government invest $70m over the next four years to continue implementing the digital transformation agenda. This investment is only the strategic tip of the government’s $6.2 billion investment in digital services.

An exciting initiative on the agenda is the new Digital Investment Management Office’s (DIMO) mandate to provide government with an overview of all ICT projects and programs ($10m+) including the costs, benefits, and risks. Importantly, I see the outcome of the initial review as a benchmark for influencing the future of government through enhanced strategic partnerships; not just changing the face of the customer experience.

A design thinking approach to whole-of-government ICT oversight

Design thinking is an approach to solving problems that puts customers at the forefront of solutions. Under the auspices of the Digital Transformation Agency, the DIMO’s approach will be strongly influenced by the DTA’s design thinking principles and culture. With an approach firmly rooted in customer-centric outcomes, what changes to government should we expect to see?

  • Improved coordination of government programs and projects based on value created for citizens. A customer-centric approach is at odds with the historically accepted way of building ICT systems where regulatory and compliance aspects are built first, and then a front end portal is ‘bolted’ on. This ‘bolt-on’ approach has manifested itself as stove-piped regulations aligned interactions and not a true customer or business service journey.
  • A heightened need to find efficiencies through innovative shared services and collaboration models. Specifically, DIMO is focusing on establishing strategic partnerships across government to provide assurance and improved benefits delivery.
  • A more fluid and flexible public service workforce with increased demand for ICT skills and experience; and a decentralised workforce to achieve ICT outcomes.
  • An increase in the public and private sector’s capacity to plan and implement programs of work using customer-centric thinking.

The standing up of the DIMO, of course, does not come without common challenges:

  • Changes to ICT infrastructure, architecture and policy will only increase pressure on the workforce to deliver in line with customer expectations (and the resources to meet this gap in expectations is changing rapidly).
  • The need to balance departmental standards and priorities with realistic and well-scoped business requirements for ICT change.
  • Untangling and rebuilding governance structures and settling cultural differences.

Design thinking delivers benefits by aligning programs to the customer experience

The challenges above are hardly new – but confidently I believe the journey for government leaders to grow a design thinking mindset will eventuate in improved outcomes for the end user experience (the real business need).

As we move away from traditional waterfall models that are simply too slow, and Agile, which is too often misused, design thinking is becoming the method to evolve and transform government services and business. Design thinking meets the requirement set by government to increase the speed to market of new products and services.

Government organisations on the design thinking journey

Positively, there are many initiatives already underway and contributing to a clearer whole-of-government taxonomy for digital change. The Australian Public Service Commission’s investment into creating the job families framework, the DTA and Department of Human Service’s evolution of myGov, and Defence’s First Principles Review with their end-to-end approach to capability development. These initiatives are just a few examples where whole-of-government integration and design are producing robust and aligned results.

At the heart of how well government moves towards this inevitable future is the ‘way’ we drive outcomes and motivate our workforce to succeed. The need to understand what the change is, and lead people through it, is also a core principle of design thinking. Design thinking is a continuous, evolving process and mindset that aims to bring clarity and purpose to delivering outcomes and benefits for government and its customers.

Naomi has worked in government as a member of the APS, Australian Army, and as a management consultant for the last 14 years. Naomi specialises in providing design thinking, change, communications, program and project management advice and services to government and the non-profit sector.