Making way for design thinking in the public sector: a taxonomy of strategies


Geert Brinkman, Arwin van Buuren, William Voorberg, Mieke van der Bijl-Brouwer




Public organizations are increasingly turning to design thinking to address wicked societal issues, enhance innovation, and improve services. However, in general, public organizations do not provide the most receptive context for design thinking. To be applied effectively, design thinking requires sufficient tolerance for uncertainty, capacity for risk-taking, receptiveness to new ideas, and flexibility to learn and adapt. Public organizations, instead, favor rationality, stability, and accountability, and are therefore generally characterized as rigid and risk-averse. Additional efforts are thus required to make way for design thinking within this context. Until now, research on strategies to support the application of design thinking in a public sector context is limited. In this paper, 14 design thinking projects in the public sector were analyzed to identify these strategies, resulting in a practical framework of strategic actions to build confidence, form an alliance, generate support, enhance compatibility, and thereby enable design thinking in the public sector. Accordingly, this study contributes to the theory and practice of design thinking for public issues.

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