Applying design thinking outside the corporate sphere in civil society is one of our great challenges--and opportunities. Chicago's mayor Daley is into using design to solve education, transportation and other problems and I believe the mayors of San Francisco and New York (and of course Portland, OR) are open to it as well.
But Europe is way ahead. The Brits, Danes, Dutch and Scandanavians are using design to solve major socio-economic problems and we need to follow what they are doing and apply it here in the US. A recent conference in Northumbria University, put on by the Centre for Design Research, at the School of Design, brought a host of speakers to talk about delivering better services through design.
I talked with Tamara Giltsoff of live/work, a British service design/innovation firm, recently. The firms moto is "you are what you use, not what you own." Love it. live/work was at the conference. Tamara showed me how the local government in that rural area of Britain hired live/work to help solve a major transporation problem. An increasingly elderly population needed to get around and many couldn't drive and/or afford taxis to go everywhere. Instead of looking at the number of physical buses/cabs/cars available, live/work asked about availability of movement at any given time. How many seats were open in the various means of transportation in the morning, afternoon and evening? Then it suggested putting each into a computer so that a person needing a ride to a doctor at say 11AM, could check in and order up whatever is available. Prices could be negotiated, subsidized, paid in full, whatever.
I don't know how feasible the concept really is but it is beautiful design thinking that we should apply to our own transportation and education issues. It is not the things--the cars or school buildings that are a problem but the flow, the movement, the content of the issue that should be addressed. And not the ownership, but the use.
Live/work also worked with Streetcar to launch the flexible car rental company that rents cars by the hour in London. It's a growing trend in the US as well.
Why can't government use design thinking to solve problems?