Ideo public-sector pilot heads for roll-out

Global design consultancy Ideo and sustainable development charity Forum for the Future is working to secure Government funding ahead of national roll-out of their I-team scheme, aimed at driving innovation in the public sector.

The design group, and its sustainable development partner, are this week refining their public-sector innovation process and embarking on a Government funding mission, following positive results from the I-team pilot project with three local authorities: St Helen’s, Kirklees and Suffolk (, 27 February).

While councils can often be overwhelmed at the more macro climate change issues around transport, buildings and consumerism facing them, the I-team scheme aims to drive creativity across communications and services in tackling climate change through incrementals that revise traditional thinking, as well as generating end uses. The ‘design thinking’ used to drive this can be taught and disseminated, and the knowledge transferred.

The hallmarks of Ideo’s innovation and design thinking process – empathetic research, or observation of service users in their environment – is motivated by really understanding their needs, says head of Ideo Sue Siddall. It is only then that the question around the design challenge be posed and a solution implemented, she adds.

‘Innovation in the public sector means kick-starting a different way of thinking, one that is more solution-based than legislation-based. That’s why it’s exciting if you want to make an impact,’ says Siddall.

Forum for the Future chief executive Peter Madden says, ‘Ideo pioneered the idea of adding anthropologists to innovation teams. By asking people what they think you get one set of answers, but if you observe and understand them in their surroundings, you get a different set of responses.’

A key response from participating councils has been about awakening their creativity. ‘They said they didn’t know they could be so creative, and for us that was energising,’ says Siddall. ‘One of the other responses we had back was that it was great for the councils to get out and speak to the people they work for.

Because of the public sector’s inherent hierarchical structure, the I-team scheme has put the local authorities back in touch with the communities they service through research, co-creation and design thinking. The public sector is more receptive to innovation, says Madden, partly because there are no brands to damage, unlike in the private sector.

Moreover, both Siddall and Madden are of the view that sustainability is driving a shift in design itself. ‘Designers don’t just want to be creating more and more products, brands and stuff to add to the growing problem of climate change,’ says Madden. ‘They want to use their skills to tackle systemic issues, redesigning systems and policies.’

‘Design is about making an impact – commercially, environmentally, socially – through services, experiences, systems and even policies, not just products and visual communications,’ explains Siddall. ‘Design thinking can be disseminated and used by the many. Excitingly, that leaves designers with the challenge to continually break boundaries.’

The I-team is now looking to target an estimated 410 councils across the UK, as well as Government quangos and other public-sector bodies, including the largest employer in Europe, the NHS.

‘There is huge capacity to innovate for sustainability. The idea is to take the methodology and apply it to other public-sector bodies to scale up,’ says Madden. ‘It might be how a primary care trust can innovate to tackle climate change.’

Results of the I-Team Pilot Project:

• Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire wanted to incentivise new parents to reduce their energy use through monetary savings

• Suffolk County Council decided to create a scheme to significantly reduce business mileage

• St Helen’s Council wanted to encourage 12- to 14-year-olds to take the lead on climate change via a viral marketing campaign

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