How we use Visual Thinking approaches in designing e-Government

The Problem

Traditional approaches to system design don’t work well for complex e-government projects. There tends to be a lot of time and effort spent planning and designing systems based on unvalidated assumptions. There is a tendency to try to do too much and given the sheer size, scope and complexity of government systems, this is a recipe for disaster. For the last 2 decades failure rates in e-Government projects have hovered between 70%-80%. It doesn’t have to be that way.

For the last 2 years we have been working to design, develop and battle test a set of frameworks and methodologies that could be used to fix this issues.

The Answer

Our answer was to use a set of frameworks borrowed and modified from multiple disciplines and organise them into a coherent methodology with a focus on using a Visual Thinking approach rather than the traditional report writing approach that persists today.

What is Visual Thinking?

Visual thinking is a way to help organize thoughts, improve critical thinking and communicate complex ideas and concepts using Visual mediums rather than the traditional approach of writing text heavy reports emails etc. The approach helps us avoid potentially confusing information, misunderstanding, misinterpretation of complex ideas and concepts across teams of people from different disciplines. It focuses heavily on interactive workshops, the use of colors, drawings / pictures, visual templates and prototypes to structure critical thinking and validate our assumptions in sandboxed environments.

What’s the Benefit?

We’ve been able to design, develop, test and validate solutions to long standing, complex and difficult problems in a matter of hours or days with little risk and cost (as opposed to traditional approaches). This can be done quickly and efficiently when combined with a set of well understood visual templates that help guide thinking. That way a shared understanding of complex problems rapidly emerges amongst specialists from different disciplines.

This in turn helps us develop better solutions. We do this by using the visual templates to help structure the thinking around potential solutions. Solutions can come from technological, procedural, policy, legislative or economic mechanisms. Due to the collaborative nature of the workshop sessions participants are are able to design, develop and build off each others ideas to come up with much better solutions than if they had been developed in their divisional silos.

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