Voices from Accenture Public Service


What is ‘design thinking?’ The simplest way is to think of it as a new, holistic approach to solving problems and reaching new outcomes.  Design thinking starts with the ‘customer’, or rather, the ‘customers’. One of the key tenets of design thinking is to begin by identifying all the different types of people (personas) that might use a service and to understand the different journeys that they’ll make and experiences they’ll have as they interact with an organization.

In the pensions space, we’re using design thinking to discuss issues with clients in a whole new way. And the results have been very positive.

For example, we’ve deployed design thinking approaches to help one agency better understand the different personas that would be using the mobile app that they are developing. We conducted design thinking sessions to tease out those personas, understand their needs and from that work out the prominence that we would need to give to different functions as we moved into designing the app.

In another context, we deployed design thinking to help an organization think about how they are structured internally. We’re using sessions to find out what each division wants to be famous for as they move towards implementing a new technology solution. And only once that understanding is in place do we start to plan for the new technology and how it can help achieve each division’s objectives.

And then a third initiative is taking place at the industry level, where we’ve assembled representatives from five different states to come and think about providing retirements plans for people who don’t automatically receive one from their employer. These new state-sponsored retirement plans will give, for example, small business owners the wherewithal to offer a plan to their employees.

But the design thinking approach is more than just a methodology for solving familiar challenges in new ways. The tools and techniques used to support innovative, fresh thinking are new too.  For example, we use a sketch artist who works alongside the teams in each session to capture the key messages as they develop.

Pension organizations are grappling with a set of familiar problems. And continuing to pursue solutions in the same, tried-and-tested way may not always provide insights into a new way forward. Design thinking, however, can. It can help in crafting new services or completely reimagining current ones.

That’s because delivering new kinds of customer experiences requires more than attractive, intuitive portals or apps. It demands a rethink not only of the digital or physical channels but also the processes, systems and culture underlying them. While experience design focuses on making, for example, screens more attractive and intuitive, design thinking reimagines what those experiences deliver from the ground up.

It’s that ability to reimagine in a creative and exciting new way that’s gives design thinking its unique power to come at a problem from a new angle and see solutions that would otherwise remain hidden. I’d be very interested to hear from you how design thinking might be put to work in your organization.

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