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How do we create the mandate for change?

MindLab’s Head of Research Jesper Christiansen did an immersive residency at the Canadian start-up lab InWithForward. With Sarah Schulman, he explored the concepts of risk, accountability, power, and politics. The reflections come out in terms of 3 blog posts. This is Part III in the writing series (see part I and part II).


Sarah Schulman’s prompt: says that mandate is the authority to carry out a policy or course of action. We often hear the word after an election, when a decisive win gives the elected official the ‘mandate’ to push through their proposed reforms. This mandate supposedly comes from the people. From both the ‘average’ Joe on the street and the ‘elite’ in their high-rise. The challenge is that once the policy is passed, or the service is re-designed, who holds the real mandate for change? Ultimately for most policies to be successful, they have to be owned by the implementers: by the people charged with carrying out that policy, and with the end users who now have to act differently. Take, welfare reforms. It’s the street-level bureaucrats and the welfare recipients that ultimately have to embody the mandate for change over time.

So, why not start with them? And create a bottom-up mandate for continuous change? How can we get the folks on-the-ground to demand that their politicians – and the bureaucrats that service them – create the space for local experimentation? In other words, how can citizens agree to some of the risk that innovation entails and give politicians the assurance they need to back off from the regulatory red tape?

We haven’t always seen our work in this kind of movement-building light. Seven years ago, when we worked with the service design agency Participle, we saw our work as designing one new public service. But we neither built a bottom-up constituency for the service, nor had top-down authority to spread the service. Five years ago, when we worked with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, we managed to create a bottom-up constituency: families who were powerful advocates for the new service we co-created. And yet the focus was still on building a constituency base for one new service or network.

So, over the past 18 months, we’ve started (and just barely scratched the surface) with building movements of families and service providers who aren’t just asking for one new service, but for the space and resources to continually develop new services that meet their needs and aspirations. These are families like Patrice and her daughter Jordana, who interfaces with the community living system. As Jordana’s needs shift with age, different solutions are required. The answer definitely isn’t a single new service or policy. But the answer just might be in their ongoing engagement in making, testing, and improving the services and systems with which they come into contact.


Jesper Christiansen’s response:

In our work within the Danish public administration, one of the longest ongoing conversations has been about the responsibility of the policy-maker and the success indicators of the work carried out. We attempted to challenge the previous consensus that the job was finished once the policy was formulated, the law was passed or a decision had been made. Instead, we have tried to facilitate a conversation about outcomes; and not least the ways in which policy-makers are bound to them. In this light, much of what we do is aimed to at creating ‘professional empathy’ and bind civil servants with public problems and people’s experience in a more direct relationship.

The good news is that this conversation has been lifted up the ranks. Ministers and permanent secretaries are now publicly stating that “a reform is not a reform before there is an actual change in behaviours and experience in practice”. This emphasis changes the mandate for change significantly. It corresponds well with Sarah’s description above (and also with Michael Lipsky’s description of street-level bureaucrats as ‘everyday policy-makers’). This begs the question of how we are involving citizens’ experiences and the concrete practice of the frontline in the development and implementation of public policy?

So despite being an internal innovation lab deeply embedded in the central administration, the theory of change is the same: we need to reframe the development and implementation of policy as an explorative innovation task where the goal lies beyond developing a single new service. We need to public service systems where the backbone is the open and ongoing engagement of the public and the public sector ecosystem in making, testing, and improving the services and systems.

This is a cultural shift in the government role. It reframes public interventions as an actual change-making effort (inventing to intervene) rather than merely an analytical exercise. It is dependent on developing a qualitative intelligence base and feedback mechanism where citizens, practitioners and professionals in collaboration with (the official) policy-makers form new partnerships and create dynamic relationships between national initiative and local experimentation. In this way, a real dedication to outcomes and the continuous creation of the mandate for change require reversing the policy cycle and becoming comfortable with and capable of acting as a platform for bottom-up development.

To some extent, this characterizes MindLab’s current collaboration with the Danish Ministry of Employment. We are currently trying to assist an experimental effort to create joint ownership of reforms across central and local government. We are trying to redefine the implementation challenge of public policy from a ‘plan and deliver’ mentality to an outcomes-focused practice of realizing the political objectives through involvement, collaboration and co-design.

However, there is still a long way to go if we wish to work systematically with creating a bottom-up mandate for change. What is needed is for the lab itself to become distributed. While maintaining a positioning in the central administration as strategically focused user-oriented innovation unit, we increasingly become deeply involved in experimentation in local settings. We need to be creating and empowering local experimental platforms that over time are allowed to be the ongoing feedback mechanisms for policy development. And that will move innovation efforts beyond the project and reposition the central innovation lab as a more distributed entity.

Ready, steady, prototype – design guide for prototyping


A prototype is a quick, preliminary version of an idea. A draft form that you can throw together in a flash or a more finished and detailed version of the solution. Prototypes are common in a wide range of design disciplines, including product design and service design. The idea is that you can use the prototype to imagine possible futures.

Ouch! Keep your voice down! Imagine if your mobile phone zapped you when you talk too loud. The innovation firm IDEO has addressed the social impact of mobile phone use and used so-called provotypes to put mobile phone users’ behaviour to the debate. The project ‘Social Mobiles’ was presented at MoMA in New York. Provotypes are provocative prototypes.


This lets you acquire new learning quickly and develop your solution in real-life situations – without needing to invest costly resources into the idea. And without having to wait until everything has been perfected. Because you cannot afford delays if you are operating in a fast-moving market or developing new solutions for use in complex systems.

Let us take a closer look at where and how you can use prototypes in change processes.

Before you begin: Have you asked the right questions?
A prototype is an efficient tool if you want to explore your design challenge or learn more about the potential forms a solution may take. When you work with prototypes, it is essential to ask the right questions. What do you want to learn about? Is it the role of your product or service in the users’ life? Is it the emotional experience that your solution should facilitate for the users? Or is your focus rather on the techniques and functionalities that are required for your solution to work in practice?

Houde and Hill use this model to describe what prototypes might uncover. Before you begin to develop your prototype, you need to determine what it is you want to explore with your prototype.


1. Build, observe, and learn quickly

Sometimes, an important element in a change process may involve changing the physical form. In this case, a redesign can often be hampered by the need to sort out ideas, thoughts and materials completely before the change process can begin to unfold. Prototyping introduces an alternative approach.

Based on the service experience you want for to achieve for your users, you can use rough mock-ups as a quick way of changing and thus testing new forms before implementing the changes in real life. The point is to draft and shape your idea in easily accessible low-cost materials in order to test its viability.

Often, there is an added benefit in carrying out the changes in other materials than the ones intended for the finished version: Making it obvious that the prototype is a preliminary solution can help focus the feedback on the concept and the service content rather than the material and the finish. This use of rough prototyping is ideal in the early stages of a development process. Turning back to Houde and Hill’s ideas, what you are exploring here is the role of the prototype in relation to your user’s context.

Example: Rough prototyping in an day hospital service for elderly patients with dementia 
In France, the service design firm specializes in the hospital sector. One of their projects involved rethinking a day hospital for elderly patients, many of whom have dementia. Research and observation studies show that people with dementia find waiting rooms very difficult to deal with. They have trouble navigating in time and space and therefore often get lost or are confused about when their appointment begins.

With the use of rough prototyping, the service designers altered the waiting room to make it easier for the patients to navigate. Using mock-ups, they tested whether the use of colour-coded door frames might help the patients find the right door when it was time for them to see a doctor or a nurse.

They also changed the visual design of the clocks on the wall by colour-coding the various parts of the day; something that people with dementia generally have trouble sorting out. Before the project team went on to implement an extensive and costly redesign of the waiting room, they tested a range of different design options with the users. This helped them determine what had the biggest impact on the target group, and thus which elements to address.

hospital_demente_22At a day hospital for elderly patients in France, the entire service experience was redesigned. Quick mock-ups of the waiting room showed, for example, that the use of colour-coding on the clocks in the waiting room made it easier for the patients to keep track of time.


Learning: Use preliminary solutions that encourage dialogue about improvements
During the early stages of a development project, it may be helpful to work in different materials than the ones you intend to use for the actual solution. You should also give your prototype an unfinished appearance, without necessarily getting all the details right. Otherwise, you risk having your users provide feedback on the wrong aspects of the solution.

A cardboard mock-up can be an excellent means of testing a complicated IT solution. If you create a technical prototype that is too similar in appearance to your eventual proposal, that may cause the focus to shift from the role and function of the solution to technical details that are not finalised until a later stage.

2. Provotypes – when you want to know where to draw the line
While the purpose of a prototype is to present a real but unfinished version of a new solution, the purpose of a provotype is different. Provotypes are draft versions of solutions that are deliberately unrealistic. The purpose is to provoke a discussion with users, decision-makers and other actors about the most essential concerns in the development of new initiatives before the actual development process begins.

The method can help you prepare a change process where the focus has not yet been determined, because it can help your key decision-makers articulate the space of possibilities. What is fixed, and what is open to modification? Many new solutions come to nothing, because decision-makers or users feel that the changes are happening at a bad time or are difficult to reconcile with their other routines and behaviours. Involving the key actors at an early stage can help you make sure that the new solution is defined by the people who are going to use it and, ultimately, make it real.

Example: new service approach for the long-term unemployed
In a joint project with MindLab, Employment and Social Services in the Municipality of Odense (Denmark) wanted to find new ways for the service’s long-term unemployed clients to utilise each other’s resources in finding permanent employment. The social workers in the municipal service had lots of ideas for the clients to help each other through networking, but they needed specific examples to determine what a good initiative might look like in practice.

In this process, provotypes helped create a shared understanding of what the management team considered good or bad initiatives, which provided the staff with a good framework for developing local initiatives. The provotypes were introduced in a management team, where they helped the managers identify the right criteria for a good idea.

One provotype, for example, was ‘first pick’. In this provotype, the clients were given profiles of all the social workers and asked to pick the social worker they would prefer to be assigned to. None of the managers saw the approach as viable per se, but the provotype kicked off an important discussion about the current scope of the clients’ own choices and decisions.

Example: mobile phone use, shush!
Loud and intrusive phone conversations have become an invasive element throughout the public space, now that virtually everyone has a mobile device. When the innovation firm IDEO set out to explore how mobile phone use can become less of a nuisance, they turned to provotypes. The intention of their provotypes was to spark debate about the social impact of mobile phones.

In this case, they developed devices that did not look particularly like mobile phones, each representing extreme versions of tough and very physical responses to annoying mobile phone use. One example is the ‘electric shock mobile’, which gives the user an electric shock, depending on volume of his or her phone conversation.

Or how about a ‘knocking mobile’? Here, the user knocks on the phone to contact someone else. Now, the two can communicate, Morse-style, without speaking. The examples are extreme variants that are not viable, and which have no intention of being viable. Instead, the purpose is to spark provocation and initiate debate about mobile phone behaviour.

Learning: using everyday situations to test unrealistic provotypes
Think about who you would like to learn from, such as your end-users, your project team or a frontline employee. The provotype should enable the person to imagine an everyday situation where the provotype might be put to use. Then you can ask the person to tell you what specific impact the provotype would have for him or her. Would it alter the way they act, think or feel? In closing, you and the informant(s) can summarise what aspects of the provotype point to interesting possibilities as well as any negative consequences.

3. When you modify factors in a complex system
Prototypes can also be an effective tool if you are rethinking or creating new, complex solutions. For example, extensive changes where you need to develop new work procedures or set up new and unfamiliar teamwork constellations.

Here, prototypes offer a quick way to test various scenarios and solutions before you begin to modify complex systems and practices for real. Prototyping your idea at an early stage gives you an idea of the consequences and shortcomings of your initiative, thus allowing you to adjust and fine-tune your ideas before you begin to make far-reaching changes in the ‘control room’ and introduce costly systemic changes.

A storyboard or a pre-visualisation in the form of simple visual representations of a future scenario can often help you convey the basic aspects of more complex proposals without having to sort out all the details yet. The storyboard concept originated in the film world, where it is used to get the flow of the film right before the much more costly phase where the actual filming begins.

This type of prototyping is really a visualisation exercise and often involves the use of drawings. Either as quick drafts or as more finished storyboards. You can use the storyboards as the basis for a dialogue with your users, inviting them to comment on their perception of the scenario. This lets you spot potentials or warning lights related to your proposed solution that you may have overlooked.

Example: developing a new cross-sectorial service for patients in Northern Zealand
Together with the surrounding municipalities, the regional hospital Nordsjællands Hospital has launched an initiative to develop a new service for the citizens in the region to prevent unnecessary hospitalisations, which are costly for the system and may be an unpleasant experience for the individual patients. The idea was to have parts of the treatment take place in the patients’ own home under supervision from municipal visiting nurses and others. The new service involves new procedures for the healthcare professionals and changes the distribution of responsibility between the hospital and the municipality.

Testing the service in practice involved competence development for the visiting nurses and designing a reception room for patients at the hospital, but prior to this phase, the concept was tested in the form of simple prototypes, where a local focus group was introduced to a storyboard illustrating the new procedures. Among other issues, the focus group participants’ feedback to the new treatment approach clarified the need to sort out the procedures concerning transport to and from hospital – who was going to arrange the transport, who was going to pay for it, and would the actual transport be provided by patient transport service or taxi? Similarly, healthcare professionals were introduced to a visual flow diagram representing the new procedures that were to be put in place at the hospital and in the municipalities. The service was adjusted and optimised in light of the input and questions that the prototype brought out.

Read more about the case here.

In cooperation with the surrounding municipalities, Nordsjællands Hospital set out to develop a new regional service that offered follow-up treatment to patients in their own home. In the development process, storyboards were used as a means of spotting shortcomings and potentials before testing the service in practice. In this case, the storyboard visualises how the patient would make the trip to and from the hospital.


Learning: Be clear about which aspects of the change you want to explore
A storyboard is an efficient device for visualising the new procedures and services that are going to be in place once the change has been implemented. It can be used as a mental exercise, helping the users of the new service or the staff imagine the future in practice. Before you create the storyboard, it is crucial that you specify exactly what it is you want to learn about. Use that as a basis for obtaining detailed feedback to aspects of your solution that you have already determined are critical to successful implementation.

4. When you want to be sure that the people who are going to make changes are able and willing
For new solutions to be successful, it is critical that the people who are ultimately going to realise them can see the point. Here, the prototype can serve as an important platform for creating a shared image of the possible futures that the participants are going to be involved in co-creating. The prototype can facilitate the decisive step where change is not just individual ideas or notions but a shared reference point that the actors can imagine in real life.

You can use the prototype to engage the most important actors in co-creating a new solution, developing, modifying and refining it in close cooperation. In other words, prototyping is crucial if you want to develop a shared awareness and a shared language for the implementation of the idea across the organisation. In this process, you have to be prepared to modify the expression of the prototype throughout. And the changes have to come from the people who are going to use the solution. It may be important to point out explicitly that the only thing that does not change is the issue that the shared effort is aimed at addressing. The essence of the prototype. The specific solution can and should be modified, as the process moves forward.

Example: Odense Municipality: from pre-packaged dinner kits to a new concept for meetings
One of the ambitions in the recent national reform of primary and lower secondary schools is to integrate play, learning and educational goals in new ways in longer and more varied school days. That requires increased cooperation among the teachers. Far too often, successful learning materials are not shared across classes and groups. Odense Municipality wanted to improve this situation, so in cooperation with the innovation unit MindLab, the municipal administration launched a project to facilitate knowledge sharing among teachers and across local schools.

The focus in the cooperation between the teachers and the municipal administration remained the same throughout: finding ways to facilitate knowledge sharing among colleagues and across schools. The prototype, however, was adjusted, reshaped and rethought throughout the process. The initial inspiration came from the subscription service where the private company Aarstiderne delivers ‘dinner kits’ in the form of recipes and quality ingredients to people’s home as a way of making everyday life a little easier for busy families. Perhaps the teachers could structure the sharing of teaching modules and successful materials and instruction methods by putting together a ‘kit’ that other teachers could use? When the teachers and municipal administration began the process, it became clear that even though the kit concept met a need, it would be difficult for the teachers to apply pre-packaged teaching kits in their classes. Typically, the teachers would take parts of the material and modify it to fit their own context. The critical point proved to be to come up with an inspiring and efficient concept that allowed the teachers to share knowledge about materials and teaching concepts.

One of the most successful initiatives that came out of the process was ‘speed sharing’: a meeting format where teachers can share experiences. That method is now part of the service that the municipal Child and Youth Service offers to municipal schools; in addition, many teachers are also organising speed sharing themselves. The teachers who were involved in developing the concept contribute actively in spreading it to schools throughout the municipality.

Odense Municipality joined forces with municipal schools in an effort to provide enhanced conditions for sharing successful teaching materials. Here, the prototype that began as a teaching kit, inspired by weekly dinner kits, evolved into a new concept for knowledge sharing across schools. The prototype helped refine the solution and was developed in a joint effort involving teachers and municipal administrators


Learning: Draw inspiration from other industries, and make sure to document your learning throughout the process 

When you release your prototypes into the hands of your target group, it is important to think about how you are going to document the many insights that occur during the trials. Perhaps you are personally present, able to take photos and notes. Sometimes, the development process is entirely in the hands of the target group. When that is the case, it may be helpful to develop templates to give the participants to help them summarise their thoughts and reflections during the process. You should also consider how you might use the prototype as a basis for engaging your target group. It may be helpful to seek inspiration from other industries and to find formats that are easy to recognise and likely to spark new inspiration when they are applied to the target group’s own field.

5. When you have the basic outline of an idea but need to sort out the details
Perhaps you find yourself in a situation where you have confirmation that your idea has a significant potential, and that your concept is sound, but need to sort out the details. In this scenario, prototypes can be an excellent medium for exploring what it will take to achieve the intended user experience when someone interacts with your product or your service.

If, for example, you are developing a new system for private waste sorting, prototypes can help you get a sense of which design devices can most effectively ensure that people sort their household waste as intended. Should you be focusing on colour-coding, graphic icons or the materials used to make the bins? By testing variants of the same concept you can explore what details you should implement in order to support the optimal practical use of your solution.

Example: redesigning Falck’s first aid kit
When Falck, working with the design agency Designit, set out to redesign their first aid kit, prototypes were used to explore ways to improve the user experience of the kit. Falck wanted to address the unfortunate scenario where the first aid kit is always hard to find when you need it, and when you finally locate it, the content seems confusing, and it is hard to identify exactly the compression bandage or the plaster that you need.

The new first aid kit should make it easy to take quick and efficient action in an emergency situation. Therefore, the visual expression of the kit was refined to make it suitable for a more visible placement in the home. The case itself was divided into easily accessible spaces dedicated to the most common injuries such as cuts and burns, to make it easy and quick for the user to find what they need.

Potential users of the first aid kit were presented with prototypes representing different versions of the new kit. The prototypes had the character of mock-ups in the form of simple foam board models that were not fully functioning but had sufficient functionality to give an impression of the end-product. On this basis, Falck was able to modify details in the design and visual expression of the case before the final decision was made about materials. Read more about the case here.

Here, a user is testing a prototype of a new first aid kit. By testing various materials, colour codes and graphic expressions, Falck was able to assess and adjust the format and visual expression of the kit. The bottom photo shows the end-result of the design process: the new first aid kit, which Falck put into production in 2013 and continues to offer as part of Falck First Aid.


Only use prototypes if you are ready to make changes 

You should only use prototypes if you are prepared to modify and adapt your idea or solution. If you have already ordered the materials for a new product, or if you have already paid for the development of a new interface for your digital service, you are less likely to be open to the insights that prototyping can generate. You should not be blindly guided by the feedback that your prototype generates but use it to spot flaws and shortcomings that it would be helpful to adjust before your end-product is ready to go into production.

Read more about prototypes:
Buchenau, Marion; Suri, Jane Fulton (2000): Experience Prototyping, IDEO, 2000. Link:

Coughlan, Peter; Suri, Jane Fulton; Canales, Katherine (2007), Prototypes as (Design) Tools for Behavioral and Organizational Change, The Journal of Applied Behavioral Service, Vol. 43 No. 1, March 2007. Link:

Halse, Joachim; Brandt, Eva; Clark, Brendon; Binder, Thomas (2010): Rehearsing the future. The Danish Design School Press, 2010. Link:

Halse, Joachim (2014), Tools of Ideation: Evocative Visualization and Playful Modelling as Drivers of the Policy Process. In: Bason, Christian (2014), Design for Policy, Gower Publishing Limited, 2014. Link:

Houde, Stephanie; Hill, Charles: What do Prototypes Prototype? Link:

Kelly, Tom: Prototyping is the Shortland of Design. Design Management Journal, vol. 12, no. 3. 2001. Link:

Mazé, Ramia: “Forms and Politics of Design Futures”, paper for the seminar “Ethnographies of the Possible”, 10 April 2014, Aarhus, DK. The Research Network for Design Anthropology.


This article has previously been posted on Kforum.

Who should hold the risk in public and social innovation?

MindLab’s Head of Research Jesper Christiansen did an immersive residency at the Canadian start-up lab InWithForward. With Sarah Schulman, he explored the concepts of risk, accountability, power, and politics. The reflections come out in terms of 3 blog posts. This is Part II in the writing series (see part I and part III). Here, Sarah and Jesper each sketch out an answer to the question: Who should hold the risk in public and social innovation?


Jesper’s Response

As an innovation lab, there is high tendency to be considered as a consultant: someone that comes in to facilitate a certain part of a process, deliver a piece of research or develop a ‘proof of concept’. At MindLab, we have always emphasized the different nature of being an internal innovation unit. We need to be able to move beyond the project and into real partnership – away from ‘one-off’ detached delivery to continuous, collaborative innovation efforts.

This is cultural change in how the public sector traditionally involves different sets of methods and processes to creatively ‘disturb’ its practice. As an internal innovation unit, we are formally public servants. This is something that we surprisingly have to remind our colleagues and ourselves of quite frequently. Perhaps it is because the staff of MindLab don’t fit the formal job description of public servants? Or perhaps it has more to do with the informal identification mechanisms of what it means to be serving the public? Both of which are relevant when we explore the role of a lab in the larger public or social innovation effort as well as in what way a lab is held accountable for the outcomes that are created.

We often talk about our work in terms of an evolution from ‘projects’ to ‘partnerships’. The notion of partnership is to highlight that we wish to build continuously on a diverse set of activities that will help our owners to succeed in creating good outcomes. We also wish to build long-lasting relationships with our partner organizations where a real collaborative exchange can begin emerge – which we consider one of the most important foundations of building capacity from within.

However, this partnership is an unequal one as well. As a lab, we are also saying that we are per definition not the ones that have the ultimate responsibility for the successful creation of outcomes. It is important that the responsibility remain with our colleagues that are directly tasked with developing policies or ensure successful implementation of these.

This is an important distinction for us. Not only because it is a way of managing expectations in light of our limited resource capacity. But also, more importantly, it is also a way of emphasizing that an innovation lab is not about creating a parallel development practice termed ‘innovation’ within public organizations. Actually, the real value-creation is about embedding innovation methodologies and practices within the existing operations.

So our ministerial and municipal owners are not just ‘owners’ of MindLab. They are ‘innovation leaders’ or ‘innovation partners’. They are tasked with the incredibly complex challenge of reforming public service systems. Our task is to help build the capacity for them to succeed in this endeavor. This is the partnership that we are engaged in.

In this sense, you could say that it does not live up definitions of partnership where you share the risk equally. But you could also say that this kind of partnership is reflecting a vision of contributing to the continuous creation of public outcomes. As a lab, we should supplement or reinvent the existing bureaucratic structures to increase the legitimacy and effectiveness of public interventions. Our role isn’t necessarily to redistribute power relationships or task responsibilities.

Maybe this is also a question of the difference between ‘public sector’ and ‘social’ innovation? Between changing the existing system or creating a new one?


Sarah’s Response

Words like coordination, collaboration and partnership abound with ambiguity. We all agree that change cannot happen alone. That we require meaningful relationships with multiple stakeholders in order to move from innovative ideas to actual realities. And yet, believing in the value of relationships is not the same as structuring those relationships so they yield transformative results. (I wrote a far too lengthy PhD on the topic, which you can read here at your own risk).

Where coordination is about stakeholders aligning their activities (a homeless shelter offering legal services one day a week), collaboration is about stakeholders aligning their outcomes and activities (the homeless & legal services both trying to get members housed). We see partnership as a step beyond. It’s about stakeholders sharing resources, outcomes, and activities. It’s about everyone putting some real skin in the game.

Our past projects, whilst always framed as partnerships, had no collective accountability mechanisms. When the funding ran dry, the design team faded away, and no one had the same ownership over seeing the solution come to fruition. Or, in the best case scenario, the design team felt real attachment to seeing the solution live, but were relegated to the margins of systems. Solutions went forward as separate social enterprises, rather than as instruments for wider systems change.

When we started InWithForward, we were determined to try and build that collective responsibility. We would not be consultants with briefs set from our funders. We would not come in for short amounts of time and deliver recommendations or proofs of concepts. We would put some of our own resource on the table to equalize the power relations, and demonstrate our commitment to longer-term change. We would be accountable, with our partners, for measurable change amongst end users and practitioners.

Over the past two years, we lucked out and found four extraordinary organizations (with Chief Executives, senior leadership, and boards) who want change as badly as we do. These are particularly reflective organizations (Burnaby Association for Community InclusionposAbilitiesSimon Fraser Society for Community Living and West Neighbourhood House) who can acknowledge their strengths, but not be content with them. They get that social organizations should be vehicles for social change, rather than self-perpetuating entities. We found them by sticking our necks out, and offering up our time and critique pro-bono. We knew that if organizations welcomed us without strings attached, and then offered to act on the ethnographic data we collected, we were on to a different kind of partnership.

In the last 18 months, the partnership with BACI, posAbilities, and SFSCL has taken us down some highways, back-lane ways, and plenty of dead-ends. We’ve had no map – and instead, have made lots and lots of course corrections along the way to get us closer to an unfinished destination: a future where Research & Development is a permanent function and where organizations are serving much more as a platform for developing solutions, rather than delivering services.

It turns out that being a partner engenders totally different feelings than being a project manager or innovation expert. When you know that you are in it for the long-term, you make different decisions in the short-term. When you know that everyone is sharing in the financial risk, you open yourself up to a different level of vulnerability. When you see your partners as courageous people – not just effective professionals – you put a different level of investment and grit into the mix. A level of investment and grit that we hope are important preconditions for innovation to last. No more one-hit wonders.


Inside or out? IWF vs. Mindlab

MindLab’s Head of Research Jesper Christiansen did an immersive residency at the Canadian start-up lab InWithForward. With Sarah Schulman, he explored the concepts of risk, accountability, power, and politics. The reflections come out in terms of 3 blog posts. This is Part II in the writing series (see part II and part III). In the ‘opening statement’, Jesper and Sarah discuss what a public sector lab have to learn from a small start-up – and vice versa.


Top-down? Bottom-up? Inside? Outside? New? Established? Every map of social innovation differentiates labs accordingly. InWithForward never fits neatly on the map. We’re outside government, but inside service delivery organizations. We start bottom-up, with the intention of reshaping the top. We’re a new organization, but building on more than a decade of practice in five countries. At first glance, MindLab appears to be the total opposite: an established and embedded lab within Denmark’s public sector, influencing top-down strategy, and regaling international imaginations.

We’ve spent the last three weeks learning from one another, and recognizing that we are moving towards a similar theory of change. That getting to the systems change we both desire requires much more than a project-based approach. That the job to be done is building Research & Development capacity, and mobilizing movements – of civil servants, of practitioners, of families, of individuals. Yes, we start at different places – reflecting some distinct values around politics & power – but ultimately we’re each trying to tear down the boundary line between policy and practice, and recast implementation as innovation.


​Why would MindLab seek inspiration from IWF?

Jesper’s response:

As an internal public sector lab, funded entirely by three ministries and a municipality, the premise of most of MindLab’s activities is to work from within public administration. This form of organization means that a significant part of the legitimacy of MindLab comes from its ability to enable better stewardship of political intentions and embed itself within existing structures and knowledge practices in order to improve them over time. While maintaining the emphasis on the qualitative experience of people, the main purpose of MindLab is therefore to make government better and more legitimate.

But being a centralized lab has its limits. While the task of reforming public services has become more urgent, frequent and complex, the ever-present policy challenge is to generate the right kind of intelligence and energy for changing public service systems.

When MindLab In 2014 included Odense municipality as part of its funding partners, it was with the intent of creating a site of local experimentation to enable outcomes-focused and practice-oriented feedback mechanisms. However, we are far from illustrating the any substantial alternative to top-down instruction and regulation. So while we as a centralized lab is a way of actively contribute to a new capacity in government to make the state more connected, legitimate and effective, we have a lot to learn about how to create better outcomes through bottom-up development processes.

InWithForward is pioneering new approaches within this domain. They are working directly with people and service providers to change outcomes and behavior through experimental co-design, social movements and peer-to-peer influences. And they are ambitiously attempting to design service systems that correspond with actualities of people in their communities and let this define the very intent of the new public service system. Both of which seems to be a significant part of what it could mean to develop public policies in the future.


​Why would IWF seek inspiration from MindLab?

Sarah’s response:

Aaron just graduated from high school, and is living in the gap between the special education system and the adult community living system. He’s been offered the suite of disability policy instruments: an individualized budget, an employment program, a day program. And yet none of these instruments have managed to draw out Aaron’s real potential – as a comedian or storyteller.

We’ve spent the last nine-months working closely with young adults like Aaron, and co-designing a range of new practice to build Aaron, his family, and staff’s capacities. We want to spread this new practice – without it getting perverted by the system’s existing contracting and measurement process. At the same time, we want to reshape how policymakers see the nature of the problem to be solved and revise the very intent of the solutions they design.

The question is, how? How do we really get to the big P policy change? Without such policy spawning plenty of low-fidelity practice knock-offs? When do we invest in bringing policymakers aboard? And when do we invest in the bottom-up movement of individuals and families that will demand change? Or do we do both at the same time?

One answer seems to be re-defining the role of the middle layer in all of this: the service deliverers. We initially partnered with service deliverers because we had a hunch that they could be a key lever for both bottom-up and top-down change. But, how do we reposition them from being contractors or implementers to being suppliers of policy intelligence, holders of risk, and movement builders?

MindLab has a track record of supplying policy intelligence, holding the risk for experimentation, and building internal movements of civil servants – all from a centralized unit. Their job is to find better ways to bring to life political intent. We see our job as finding ways to revise political intent. All by offering a viable alternative.

So who should get to set the agenda for change? Who should own the risk and have the accountability for change? What are the really practical ways to bring people along for the journey?

In the weeks to come, we’ll be publishing our joint responses. And arguing that we must start to think beyond the “lab” and taking a more networked approach to change: where we’re working to engage and mobilize the enthused at the bottom, the middle, and the top.


This has previously been posted on InWithForward.

Make Room for Innovation

How do we create the ideal setting for exploration, creativity, and innovation? And why doesn’t it automatically happen in our offices during a regular workday? Our work setting has a huge impact on how we think and interact, and by changing it we can make an ideal environment for innovation.

This was one of the ideas behind the Design for Europe seminar “Immersion in Public Design” that MindLab co-hosted with La 27e Region in Paris. We invited co-workers from ministries, a municipality, and innovation experts to work together on projects in the garden of the French Ministry of Public Affairs.

By changing the atmosphere and surroundings, a setting was created where civil servants could reflect on their projects without restraint or pre-assumptions. As it turns out, there is a lot of potential for innovation when one leaves offices, daily tasks, and even phones behind. By taking the time to ignore routinized approaches to challenges, a new sense of enthusiasm and perspective arises. As the civil servants are very familiar with their field, there is a potential for them to explore it in new ways and make better solutions for citizens. Our experience is that this potential is realized in the right atmosphere.

An important insight regards the way we work with several projects simultaneously, jumping from one to another. Continuously switching from one assignment to another is unproductive and lacks a clear direction. Taking two days away from the desk and directing focus towards a single assignment turned out to enable new kinds of in-depth discussions. Hence working on projects sequentially instead of simultaneously enhances focus and provides a new perspective.

Taking the trip to the seminar from Copenhagen to Paris meant that day-to-day office culture was left behind for a while.  The question is how far the culture extends? To exemplify, MindLab works side by side with civil servant, and our lab is located within the building of the Ministry of Business and Growth. If we host a one day workshop at our premises, co-workers and participants would still answer their phones and check their email. In Paris however, this was changed as everyone were out of office in an unfamiliar setting. An experience of being away from daily tasks creates focus and makes room for innovative thoughts. Does it mean that you have to travel abroad? It’s not necessary to flee the country, but leaving the office culture from time to time gives space to approach tasks differently.

In summary, a potential arises when you create room for creativity and innovation. Not only a physical, but also a mental space is created, where there is time for immersion and to leave other assignments behind. It enables a possibility to approach questions and challenges in a new way, and similarly to consider solutions innovatively.


In June, MindLab hosted the Design for Europe seminar, “Immersion in Public Design”, with the French innovation lab, la 27e Region. MindLab reflects on thoughts prior to the seminar and how to host an event with civil servants and leading experts in fields as innovation, design, and public sector innovation.


Using a Seminar as a Lab

In the planning stages, we decided to make an attempt of creating a seminar that functioned as a lab in itself. We wanted to engage participants to work together in more exciting ways by exploring and creating hands-on prototypes for future practice of public policy and decision making. By using participatory design methods, we encouraged the experts to work with civil servants and designers discussing on-going projects. Hence the design tools were meant to provide and develop a common language where experts, civil servants and designers can discuss current projects and investigate in future visions.


Process Matters

In MindLab, we often use “user journeys” as a method to visualize a citizen’s contact with authorities. It provides an understanding of how a group of users experience the progress through the system, and not just the end result. It’s a central point to design that the procress is just as important as the result.

In spite of it being a commonly used method in our projects, we have never applied it to our own projects. We did so initially at a MindLab strategy seminar. In a Danish forest, the MindLab team created physical project journeys using a variety of materials such as dock tape, colored leashes, paper, stickers, etc. This inspired La 27e Region to test one of their project journeys in a park in Paris. After these sessions, we decided to develop an event focussing on the process.


Testing Design Tools

We created journeys based on projects that MindLab and La 27e Region had picked out with civil servants and designers; some are already finished while others are going to be central for future work. In the light of user-centered design, experts and project-owners worked closely together asking themselves questions like

-How did the project develop?
-Who was involved?
-What was challenging?
-Was the end result innovative enough?
-Is the organization ready for new ways of working?

They mapped their answers on a physical timeline and used the questions to map all steps, potentials, and pitfalls. The questions facilitated the visualization of the service journey that has been undertaken throughout the project. We experienced that by making projects visual and tangible, it became more engaging and easier to understand the scope and potential of a project. The possibility to physically walk around the process or see years of work illustrated is a vital tool in using project journeys as a method.



We experienced a great portion of honesty and engagement from the participants. This helped us pointing out where the most interesting parts of the journeys were, and how we could learn from them in order to improve future projects. An insight among many was that a lot of documents are seemingly written and sent from one office or desk to another while lots of meetings are held without creating any or very little actual value. Maybe we could write fewer emails and talk face to face in involving ways?

It was also clear that location matters. The event took off in the inspiring and mythical garden of The Ministry of Public Affairs in the heart of Paris, where Marie Antoinette’s dog is allegedly buried. There is a saying “the problem is hidden where the dog is buried” which help encouraging us to create an event where we dared to talk open about the problems needed to be solved. We believe that the space and the fresh air that we worked in has a huge impact on our mood, and it sets an ideal scene for a hands-on approach. It created a fruitful atmosphere for innovation labs, civil servants, public managers, academics, and designers to work together and join forces to inspire and exchange knowledge. The location was a framed expectation for something big/great to happen.


Altogether, we had some exciting and educational days in Paris, where design tools resulted in fruitful conversations and exciting investigations of future scenarios. This was also the aim of the seminar; to dissect and understand tricky moments of current development practice and get inspired by similar problems from participants from around the world, in order to develop new approaches and tools in public policy.


In recent years, there has been increased recognition of the complex character of public problems, whether we look at reforms in labour markets, healthcare, education or social services. But have our institutions and their development practices evolved alongside our understanding of these complex problems?

To address this question, there has been an increasing focus on how do you build human-centered methodologies into the core functions of government. One potential way of going about this has been the use of human-centered design labs. But embedding the explorative and experimental approaches of design is a hard challenge and requires an ongoing learning process about how to transform public service systems and bureaucratic structures from a human-centered approach.

To facilitate this shared learning process, MindLab has – with helpful support from Design for Europe – developed a dialogue tool inspired by service journeys often used to illustrate the concrete interaction between the citizen and the system. But rather than zooming in on the citizen as a user, we have made the public design lab itself the ‘user’ of the journey to learn about the evolution of a public design lab. This focus is meant to enable a forward-oriented assessment of the usefulness of public design lab. In particular, it is a way of exploring the purpose, role and mandate in order to learn about the factors and conditions that expand the space of possibility and legitimize the methods and contributions of the lab work.

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Consequently, viewing (and reviewing) the whole journey of a public design lab can reveal a number of constructive insights about and forward-oriented reflections on future attention points and possibilities. These include

1)  Challenges and premises. Identifying the main challenges and premises of the establishing and supporting the lab work.
2) Decisive moments. Concrete moments, situations and factors that had a decisive importance the opportunity space of the lab.
3) Enabling conditions. Illustrations of under which conditions and in which contexts that lab work is carried out – and the strategies and actions that could be used in that light.
4) Context analysis. Exposing the organizational and structural challenges involved in setting up and running lab work in public sector contexts.
5) Expected outputs and outcomes. Expected outputs and outcomes of the lab work – and the processes needed in order to make these possible
6) Legitimizing factors. Factors of legitimization to ensure government support and the ‘uptake’ of new ideas and concepts as well as enabling the ongoing process of capacity building
7) Future scenarios. Shared understanding of useful reference point from which to imagine the future journey of the design lab and create strategic scenarios in order to formulate realistic potentials and goals (including vision, purpose and role of the lab).
8) Strategic considerations and decisions. Illustrating the concrete change and transformation processes that need to take place in order to ensure the labs existence and value-creation (including reflection on the governance model, methodological approach, activities and impact assessment for the lab).

This method could easily be used for the journey of any design lab to learn both about its own evolution and potential as well as enable illustrations of variety of different processes (positive and negative) that should part of the collective reflection in this field.

By embedding human-centred design in the central administration of government, there is a significant potential for public sector design labs to systematically improve and transform the core change capacity in government. The lab journey dialogue tool can contribute to a collective learning process focusing on how labs can provide dedicated spaces for discovering and applying new ways of addressing problems and turn new ideas into practical outcomes.

For inspiration, see MindLab’s journey as a design lab here.


Redesigning the culture and functionality of government

Previously posted on Design For Europe

What does pursuing the common good as a public servant actually entail? In recent years, there has been increased recognition of the complex character of public problems, whether we look at reforms in labour markets, healthcare, education or social services. But have the working practices of public servants evolved alongside our understanding of these complex problems? And what happens to the legitimacy of our democratic decision-making processes if public policies fail to deal with public problems?

Working as an internal cross-governmental design lab, MindLab has experimented a great deal in recent years with the human-centered design of public services, policies and governance models to create better outcomes, productivity and democratic value. Design approaches offer a practice-oriented, human-centred and holistic perspective, as well as an iterative process of learning-through-action. This enables a more dynamic approach to public policy that involves citizens and frontline workers, as well as local authorities and communities, in a collective effort to develop and implement policy ideas.

By embedding human-centred design in the central administration of government, public sector design labs can play a part in systematically shifting the culture of decision-making and public policy. A lab can provide a dedicated space for discovering and applying new ways to address problems and design processes to turn new ideas into practical outcomes.

In particular, a lab carefully examines and considers the context, experience and circumstance to be influenced and then explore and experiment with new solutions. At the same time, the lab is systematically providing new insights and learning to inform existing decision-making processes. Over time this helps create a new professional approach to change-making activities.


To work in this way, the dedicated space of a lab must cut across different levels and aspects of government. At MindLab we combine a number of different approaches in each project. These include:

1. Service design
Changing the ‘front-end’ of public services – using the lab to  explore how different outcomes could be created in the interactions between citizens and the public sector.

2. Policy design
Working with public policy – using the lab to allow for experimentation in the development and implementation of large-scale laws, reforms, policies, regulatory efforts and other change-making initiatives that target the public.

3. Governance design
Working with the back-end governance systems – using the lab to explore and rethink system logics and relationships of accountability in order to create a more outcome-focused operation and support of public service systems.

4. Capacity building
Improving the design and change-management skills of government through project collaborations – using the lab to rethink new decision-making practices and knowledge management processes.

5. Scaling labs
Learning about and experimenting with local solutions in order to understand how to create large-scale impact – using the lab to enable what works locally to have systemic impact.




MindLab bringing the citizens into the policy process

These different aspects of change-making activity represent ways of enabling experimentally proven societal change to occur as a consequence of public interventions. Change should not be ‘bottom-up’ or ‘top-down’, but should create and build on a productive dynamic between ideas (or policies) and their potential impact (practice).

Using design thinking and design methodologies as part of government interventions not only aims to develop new human-centered service systems, but it also becomes a process of experimenting with the very functioning and culture of government itself. This includes procedural, administrative, political and democratic processes and practices, the failures of which are talked about far less than the ‘solutions’ at the frontline.

A significant part of the functioning of government is the culture of decision-making and the professional expertise of public servants. Whether government interventions come in the form of laws, reforms, policies, regulations or the like, they have to be dealt with on the basis of their actual functionality: different processes of creating change in society. Consequently, public servants are ‘change agents’ (not solely analysts) responsible for enabling and processing political intentions and ideas in ways that will increase the likelihood of their intended impact.

We need to understand the role of the public servant in this light. And design approaches, methodologies and attitudes have the potential to influence the culture of planning, leadership and management of public servants. Design can leverage a new kind of knowledge management based on experimentation and prototyping that enables public policy to systematically research, rehearse and refine new concepts, ideas and/or intentions. All of which – I would argue – allow political intentions to become more human and practice-oriented, and thereby increase the legitimacy of public interventions.

Creating better service in France

MindLab’s Rie Maktabi is blogging from the French innovation lab “La 27e Region” in Paris. The point of the collaboration between the two labs is to exchange ideas and knowledge and to inspire one another.

My first project is part of the program: “La Résidence”. It takes place at “Hôpital  Nord” which is a public hospital placed in the North of Marseille. A team of Service Designers, Sociologist and Urban architects that goes three times for one week during six months, to discover better innovative solutions, by prototyping possible solutions with the users…


This is week one.


And this is week two, where the prototyping in the hospital begins.

Reflections on week 1 at “La Résidence” at “Hôpital Nord”:

When we came to the hospital entrance, people were standing outside to get fresh air, call a relative or simply wait to be consulted. As I entered, I stepped on a marble floor with long cracks and when I looked up, a poster with an invitation to the Hospitals 50 years birthday were waving in the air. It appeared as if the hospital had not been touched much since its birth. A lot of yellow signs in the brown interior were trying to get my attention. I did not know where to start. Maybe it’s because of my poor French, but it seemed confusing. Every administrative step had a place in the reception in a small glass box with chairs fixed in lines on the floor, inviting you to sit and wait, without any sign telling you, how long the waiting time were. It reminded me of a railway station, except there you have digital displays that tell you what to expect. The only digital solution in the reception hall was a sign that showed which number could take a seat in one of the service boxes.

The first service at the hospital

I went to the first service desk, which is called: “Etiquette.” It’s a service, where you have to pay for your treatment. Even if you are picked up by an ambulance or the doctor is waiting for you, you need to wait in line and get your social security confirmed and pay for everything before entering. As I was eating lunch, an old lady entered the reception hall on an ambulance bed with three ambulance rescuers and her husband, waiting for her “etiquette” even though she was lying in pain and needed to be treated as quickly as possible.

There seemed to be a lack of logic in placing this procedure in such a vulnerable and urgent situation. I asked the headmaster of the “Etiquette” department, if this procedure could not be at the end of the hospital visit instead? She told me that they were afraid that people would leave the hospital without paying.

What is “La 27e Region”?

“La 27e Région” is a public innovation lab for local and national administrations in particular. They work with social innovation, service design and social sciences and aim to use their methods to radically change the way public policies are designed. The team consists of service designers, political science practitioners and project managers. So far, “La 27e Région” has conducted more than twenty action-research experiments in partnership with nine regional administrations within three different programs, “Territoires en Résidences”, “Re acteur Public“ and “La Transfo”.

The concept:

3 weeks in the field.

  1. Week: Observation. Get to know the hospital and its surroundings.
  2. Week: Prototype with the staff and users of the Hospital.
  3. Week: Propose solutions for the Hospital.

– We live with the citizens of North of Marseille and work at the Hospital for one week full time, three times during the next six months.

Read Rie’s previous post here.

MindLab goes to Paris!

MindLab’s Rie Maktabi will for the next six months be blogging from the French innovation lab “La 27e Region” in Paris. The point of the collaboration between the two labs is to exchange ideas and knowledge and to inspire one another.

What is “La 27e Region”?

“La 27e Région” is a public innovation lab for local and national administrations in particular. They work with social innovation, service design and social sciences and aim to use their methods to radically change the way public policies are designed. The team consists of service designers, political science practitioners and project managers. So far, “La 27e Région” has conducted more than twenty action-research experiments in partnership with nine regional administrations within three different programs, “Territoires en Résidences”, “Re acteur Public“ and “La Transfo”.

They are also a physical space, called “Superpublic”- shared with young freelance service designers and entrepreneurs and the ministry called SGMAP,  who all adds to the creative atmosphere, where innovation and new collaborations are part of the everyday life. They host conferences, book launches, workshops and training sessions.

“La 27e Region” has been inspired by MindLab when developing their innovation lab, and I’m sure that we can get as much inspiration from them as well.

Let’s exchange ideas and knowledge!

I’m curious on how they work with their methodology, and I’m excited about trying out all sorts of methods during the next months. I’m also looking forward to discover how the culture and the French society deal with the problems that we struggle with at home, for instance education, healthcare and unemployment. The French government does not have a gov-lab as MindLab. It is going to be interesting to find out why they do not and how far they are from getting one. I’m very fund of the idea of developing this “Superpublic” -CO-working place for service designers and entrepreneurs. All these input from “outside” makes the environment even more inspiring.

Service design is in Denmark a new way of dealing with design. Implementing design in public administrations is new to the government and for the designers. My colleague Laura, who works as service designer at “La 27e Region”, told me that they have to ask for a master program in Service design at her university “l’Ecole Nationale de Création Industrielle” just as we did the at my university at “The Royal Danish Academy of Design“. Because this approach is so new, exchanging methods and experiences becomes even more essential for our profession.

Projects to join

I’m going to take part of several projects, during my stay at “La 27e Region”:

La Territoires en Résidence – at “Hopital Nord”

A multidisciplinary team is going to some place in France to discover possible better solutions for a specific case. This time it’s a team of Service Designers, Sociologist and Urban architects that goes the hospital “Hopital Nord” placed in the North of Marseille. The team goes three times for one week during six months, to discover better innovative solutions, by prototyping possible solutions with the users.

Re acteur Publique – La Pointeuse

La Pointeuse is part the new program “Re acteur Publique”. The project seeks to shape the future of public administrations, by the use of service design tools. “La 27e Region” propose a platform for experimentation, collaboration and creative thinking through workshops with carefully selected participants (researchers, experts and people who work in specific in the field.) All knowledge that is gained from the workshop, is then shared on a meeting with a broader scope of civil servants in order to spread the knowledge and get more reflections and reactions. The idea is that they get so inspired, that they will go home and test some new ideas.The project is facilitated and designed by “La 27e Region” and the service design company “Plaussible Possible”, who also have their working space at “Superpublic.”

Design for Europe

The English Lab NESTA host an event called “Design for Europe”, which seeks to focus on how and why implementing design is a great tool to generate innovative and creative solutions. “MindLab” and “La 27e Region” are going to host an event together here in Paris, where existing Labs are invited to join forces for inspire and exchange knowledge.

The Innovation guide

MindLab is working on a new “Innovation Guide” that gives the possibility to public administration and others, to get inspired on how to gain new ideas and how to involve the end-user in the process, by using Service Design methods. I will describe the methods I discover here at “La 27e Region” and at “Super Public” in order to inspire the making of the new Innovation Guide.

I’m very excited to be part of “La 27e Region” and I’m looking forward to investigate their approach, methods and to be a part of this inspiring studio space “Super Public”. Each month I will make a blog post and a visual postcard – sharing my observations, inspiration, thoughts and new ideas. – Stay tuned…

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