A few weeks ago I attended the conference local design public in Lille, run by the French region’s innovation platform La27e Region. I was asked to contribute to the opening session with a brief presentation intriguingly titled “Dear public managers: A few good reasons to transform our management culture.”
Preparing for this, I found it disturbingly easy to point out a number of problematic characteristics of our current culture. Here is what I said:
“Dear public managers. We need to transform the management culture in public organisations because too often, what you say is:
“Citizens need to understand the system”, not “We need to understand citizens”.
“I am just here to manage the law and the budget”, not “I am here to make a positive impact for citizens and society.”
“I wish all the changes would go away and that my job would just be stable and secure”, not “My job is about adapting to the changes happening in our economy and society, and to create a more resilient public sector.”
“I must control how my employees use their time and resources”, not “I must create an environment that authorizes my employees to continuously experiment, fail, learn and find better solutions”.
“Citizen involvement is about doing quantitative satisfaction surveys”, not “citizen involvement is about going up really close, using ethnography, video, audio and graphics to see for ourselves how citizens experience public services — and then to involve them in exploring new solutions.”
“As long as my boss and our political masters are happy, I am doing a good job”, not “I am systematically documenting that my organisation produces better outcomes – and I am absolutely adamant at improving them.”
“It is the fault of other stakeholders, the economy, globalisation and the weather that our organisation is failing to meet its goals”, not “We need to work smarter and more effectively with our stakeholders to affect more change, in spite of external circumstances”.
“We develop new policies by thinking, writing, holding meetings, and occassionally briefing interest organisations about our plans”, not “We co-design policies, collaborating at a very early stage across government departments, with stakeholders and with end-users to explore problems and possible solutions, using new media, graphic illustrations, and models. We don’t ‘consult’ on policy. We run policy workshops.”
“Design is superficial branding and styling”, not “design is about applying deeply human approaches to value-creation for citizens and society, combining graphics, products, services and systems in more effective ways that meet our needs today and in the future.”
Dear public managers. Our management culture needs to change because we have too little empathy for those we serve, not enough appetite for trying out new approaches, and because we have insufficient ability to document and learn from our results.
We need to transform our management culture so more decision-makers say, ‘I take responsibility for creating a better future that makes everyone better off — whatever it takes!’”