Radical incrementalism : systems design in the public sector : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a Master of Design at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand

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Across the globe, governments increasingly struggle to address wicked and complex issues such as climate change and rising inequality alongside challenges of the 21st century such as COVID-19. In Aotearoa/New Zealand, public sector transformation projects rarely meet expectations as we work to solve these challenges with traditional solutions from our past. Over the past decade, human centred design and similar practices have emerged, and in the intersection with systems thinking, these tools have created opportunities to imagine different futures. With the desire in the public sector to innovate, the challenge remains in effective implementation which require significant evolution in mindsets, capability, and ways of working. This exegesis aims to add to the knowledge base of public sector innovation by providing insights and reflections on the bringing about radical but incremental change through using design and systems thinking methodologies. The exegesis describes and reflects on four public-sector design projects that sought to make change for and with communities. The first three case studies provide a snapshot of the evolution of the projects with challenges, supports and reflections from each. The fourth case study documents the design of a new strategic investment approach. The exegesis culminates in collated lessons learned from all four case studies to provide an annotated checklist that will provide guidance to others embarked in these vital but challenging ways of working in the public sector. Transformation of systems and structures require solutions with the agility to adapt to cultures, timeframes and lessons, and to be responsive to the needs of the people they serve. These case studies demonstrate the challenge of innovating in the public sector, and while radical transformation isn’t always the result, the incremental processes documented here offer examples of how to move towards the vision of the public sector working in a different way for the benefit of children, whānau and communities in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
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