Applying design-thinking methodology to tackle complex policy problems

Iwona Hamulecka-Greene
Australia Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

Emma Johnson
Australia Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

Necia Fisher
Australia Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

Michael Beahan
Australia Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

Evidence suggests collaboration is important to innovation. Collaborative businesses – including those that work with Publicly Funded Research Organisations (PFROs) – are three times more likely to show annual productivity growth than their non-innovative counterparts. PFROs offer resources and expertise that can be difficult for business to generate in-house or otherwise access. PFROs benefit from collaboration through in-creased research impact and income. Despite the benefits of collaboration, Australia performs poorly in business-research collaboration (BRC).

In 2017-18, the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (DIIS) undertook a qualitative research project, utilising the Human Centred Design methodology and expertise of its internal innovation lab BizLab, on the drivers and barriers for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) when collaborating with PFROs, and potential Government approaches to mitigate them.

The first (Discover) phase (April-June 2017) was focused on building an understanding of user (SME) needs and motivations. The process identified a number of key needs of businesses before they were positioned to effectively collaborate, including:
a) drivers for businesses to collaborate,
b) awareness of collaboration and government programs to support collaboration,
c) methods of identifying and engaging with collaborative partners, and
d) upskilling researchers on business acumen.

This Discover project was presented at the UIIN conference in London in June 2018.

The second (Create) phase (September-November 2017 and March-May 2018) built on the learnings from the Discover through a process of continual refinement: from ideas raised by stakeholders, to concepts, to prototypes, and finally validated policy concepts with delivery potential. Direct engagement with business, research and government stakeholders was a key feature of the policy development process.

The purpose of the Create research was to work with end-users to develop potential solutions to the challenges identified in the Discover phase. Industry, research, and other stakeholders helped DIIS develop ideas, refine them into policy concepts, and then test the concepts.
The initial Ideation process with users and other stakeholders produced over 350 ideas that over time were prioritised and refined into 11 concepts. These 11 concepts were user tested and after incorporating the feedback from participants, further narrowed down to nine prototypes in three categories: Awareness Raising, Introductory Activities and Advisory. Based on these prototypes, DIIS is now developing a suite of measures for potential adoption.

DIIS has produced reports on each phase of this project available at