Civic Innovation & Design

Spark’s New Award For Improving Government

Ever since 2014, when President Obama established US digital services department, 18F, in response to the healthcare enrollment system failure, American governments have discovered design. In the last few years we have seen a big upsurge in innovation labs in governments at local, state, and federal level.

These labs, much like companies, come in every stripe and color. They function differently depending on the scope of challenges they’re tackling. Some are front-end developers and engineers focused on giving antiquated government online portals a face-lift, while others whose work is similar to that of design strategists, service designers, and user experience researchers–tackle the problems in government one issue at a time.

This is an international trend too, with labs and civic incubators in many nations. (There’s a good publication from UNDP that describes how these labs are being run in developing countries.) So we hope and expect to see work from our design friends around the world.

There’s a great level of progress in these labs derived from the design thinking that goes into their work. Indeed if you were to take stock of the work that government innovation labs are doing across America, you’ll see a lot of projects similar to Spark’s 2017 IBM entry.

For our first year Spark has decided to not create highly formal guidelines and protocols for this category. While the Spark mission and criteria are paramount considerations, we want to see and hear your ideas about this emerging and rapidly changing field. If you have something unique, let us know. We’d like to see your work.

In the sub-types for Civic Innovation, you might see designs that demonstrate the following (the list is not exhaustive):
– Community engagement
– Process innovation
– Civic product innovation
– Public campaign

Then, to gauge their design success we’ll be looking for documented evidence of social impact or its potential (depending on what stage of development the entry is in), as demonstrated by the extent to which their proposals/results are truly “citizen-centered” by design:
– Evidence of public satisfaction – Inclusive, equitable, and meaningful public outreach that goes beyond the ‘mandated consultation’.
– New or improved public service – For example, an easier way to access government service for the public; or a systems improvement such as a consolidated data collection strategy; or ways that government communicates with public.
– New or improved apps or products – Many governments create white-labelled mobile apps for the public to gather data, receive feedback, and communicate with citizens.

Spark Civic Innovation & Design will be inclusive and open to those working outside of government (like non-governmental humanitarian agency work, consultancies and community-based organizations) who are also solving public design challenges–such as homelessness, overcrowding, environmental toxins, infrastructure, etc.–but restricted to those that have bias towards public interest over commercialization and profit.

So—are you out there innovating and designing better government? Let’s see your best Sparks!

Spark Civic Advisor, Alexandra Jayeun Lee