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Design Thinking for DOLE

“You have to have the humility to take a pause and ask ‘does this help the people we serve?’” – Mary Grace L. Riguer, OIC-Executive Director of ILS-DOLE

Whichever country you work in, most people would think working with the government might be tricky. In our experience, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Motivated by a strong desire to provide better services to both the people she works for and the people she works with, Mary Grace L. Rigeur, the OIC-Executive Director of Institute for Labor Studies at the Department of Labor and Employment (ILS-DOLE) will stop at nothing to ensure she achieves that goal: “Public office is public trust, it’s not about getting a salary. We exist to serve the public. That’s the beauty of the human-centered approach.”

In March of 2017, Mary Grace, her team and over 50 other people under the umbrella of ILS-DOLE took part in a Design Thinking training day provided by On-Off Group. She was introduced to the concept over 2 years ago when she began reading books on Design Thinking and Innovation and also attended a conference in Singapore.

Having been with ILS-DOLE for many years, Mary Grace has developed a deep understanding of innovation shortcomings in government: “Sometimes government projects are launched without being thought through clearly and properly. Implementation can also be tricky due to political issues.”

design thinking philippinesGetting Started

After making contact via email on January 19th, it was decided the best first step for ILS-DOLE would be a free introduction to Design Thinking workshop in order to begin to understand how it could be useful. 12 days later, on the 31st of January, On-Off Group were in their office:

“We did a short 2-hour introduction workshop which helped us get the acceptance we needed from the Assistant Secretary to push through with the project. The workshop was eye-opening.”, said Mary Grace. “I used to think design was just design, I didn’t know anything about the upstream part starting with using empathy to create impact and creating a strategy for innovation.”

The introduction workshop was well received internally and Mary Grace, supported earnestly by her team Bernard Paul M. Mangulabnan and Maria Isabel D. Artajo, immediately asked us to continue the program with a one day Design Thinking workshop for ILS-DOLE employees which we ran in March 2017.

Bernard, who has worked on many research projects with ILS-DOLE, recognizes: “There’s sometimes a deficiency in empathizing with clients and often things are created based on assumptions. With Design Thinking, you need to set those assumptions aside.”

design thinking philippinesA full day workshop

The subsequent full day workshop took participants through the major stages of Design Thinking beginning with an identification of problems faced by stakeholders and the organization itself and ending with participants prototyping actual solutions. To show how other governments around the world have adopted Design Thinking, case studies, such as the UK Government’s Policy Lab and the were introduced.

Introducing the program on the day of the event, Mary Grace said: “We at the ILS believe that Design Thinking will be of great help to DOLE in two key areas: (1) organizing intra-, inter-agency, or tripartite consultations in ways that DOLE can generate the best ideas from group-based discussions; and (2) program design and delivery that puts our stakeholders at the center of focus.”

Bernard added: “The common theme among the workshop feedback was that it was engaging and fun.”

Indeed, those who attended the workshop thoroughly enjoyed it, saying:

“This new kind of thinking will help us to be more concerned with our stakeholders.”

“It is innovative. It encourages you to think outside the box.”

“It is a tool to inspire success and build long-lasting relationships with our clients and partners.”

“Ideation is fun!”

“The workshop was awesome!”

“I can’t emphasize how sorely important ‘suspending judgement’ is nowadays.”

Design Thinking Olympics

Inspired by a similar, longer program On-Off Group had run, August 3rd and 4th marks the kick-off of a 2-month Design Thinking program to be undertaken by all DOLE offices from all over the Philippines, internally called the “Design Thinking Olympics” designed to promote human-centered public sector innovation. On-Off Group has been engaged to lead the training and ongoing support for this program.

Bernard described the reasoning behind the program: “We’re planning to cascade what we have learned to the regional offices, the front liners since they’re the ones who really interact with our clients. Throughout the program, we want to focus specifically on solving problems in employment facilitation, job matching and linkages between industry and workers, among others.”

Mary Grace added: “We want attendees to recognize that we need innovation in our policies and to show them a framework they can depend on. We have reformulated our core values and are fully committed to pursuing innovation through Design Thinking in our research organization. We want to develop a culture of innovation.”

Working with On-Off Group

On working with On-Off Group, Mary Grace said: “We’re used to engaging in partnerships with organizations outside, even international organizations but the difference with your group is that you are readily accessible, and the support we get from you is highly commendable and highly appreciated. We see the mutual gains between the both of us: we learn a lot about the concepts and frameworks, you learn about the government.”

She continued: “We believe that Design Thinking helps us improve our service for our clients and to improve the quality of their lives. But whether we use Design Thinking or not – it’s about making things better for our clients. Often, we try to satisfy our own needs but the human-centered approach helps us go back to the fundamentals and focus on stakeholder needs. We always need to evaluate what we’re doing and improve it. Sometimes, you have to have the humility to take a pause and ask ‘does this help the people we serve?’”.

If you’d like to know more about this or to run a similar program for your organization, get in touch with us via the contact form below. 

Phil Smithson

The owner of On-Off Group, Phil is passionate about human-centered design and designing better end-to-end customer experiences.
Phil Smithson

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