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Gearing up the Level of Systems Oriented Design in Public Sector: Case, experiences, and learning from Stimulab innovation program

Format: Papers, RSD7, Topic: Policy & Governance

Adrian Paulsen, Benedicte Wildhagen, and Birger Sevaldson

The paper will present the Stimulab program, a program for innovation in the public sector in Norway. The design of the Stimulab program was inspired by amongst others, Systems Oriented Design (SOD) approaches and techniques. This turned out to be useful in general and a requirement for success for the most complex projects in the program.
We will present two cases in the framework of Stimulab, especially with the design consultancy Halogen. These two projects were especially challenging because they were crossing institutional barriers and contained multiple stakeholders. In the end, we will present a discussion on what kind of learnings and generalizations this has lead to.


Public sector needs to strengthen innovative capabilities to be able to solve citizens needs and reduce management resources.

To increase public sector use of service design and to bring forward more examples of public innovation, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation established a two-year trial program in 2016. The task of developing the program was assigned to the Agency for Public Management and eGovernment (Difi). Due to the emphasis on design they entered into a partnership with DOGA. The result of our collaboration is the experimental program StimuLab.

Since improving complex public issues can lead to substantial socioeconomic benefits, the Difi DOGA team decided to emphasize such issues, as they tend to be left untouched due to their level of complexity, e.g. sectoral responsibility, lack of financing and coordination challenges. The DOGA partner was aware of how SOD can bring a much needed, richer understanding of a given challenge, including relationships and regulations embedded in complex issues, somewhat risky choice. This was of vital importance to the project. The StimuLab platform The program provides cross-disciplinary support, guidance and financial resources for innovative public projects. In this way, StimuLab is testing new ways of working to improve services, systems, procedures, regulations or the exercise of authority on state- and municipality levels.

The Stimulab platform was built around the following elements:

Difi + DOGA as catalyst – utilize existing public ecosystem for innovation in new ways.

a. Stimulating cooperation across sectors and levels of government

b. Finding the flex in regulations and procurement processes

c. Focus on impact, but be explorative

d. Reduce risk and catalyze innovation

Utilize the market and make demands for competence configuration to handle complex issues – required skills: (Systemic) Design methods in the lead, Change management, Impact assessment.

Method for Complexity: StimuLab rethinks how we apply design methods to explore complex public issues.

a. Demand for a Trippel Diamond approach, emphasizing the DIAGNOSE PHASE, to ensure a systemic understanding of the situation and exploring & reframing of challenge.

These elements were informing the selection of public actors to be invited to the project and they were forming the call for project assignments that went out to the service design companies in the Oslo area and that was defined in the contracts.

StimuLab grant to procure experts:

  • 2016 – 2017 NOK 5 + 5 mill.
    2018 NOK 10 mill.

Two Cases

Halogen, in collaboration with Rambøll Management Consulting, qualified to take on two cases from the Stimulab pool of public service providers. The projects were presenting very different topics, organizations and types of case owners but shared a very high level of complexity. The main challenge was the need for crossing disciplines and silos to induce change. How to frame the project in a way that allowed for cross-disciplinary work was a major challenge. They both had been through a variety of different attempts of improving their respective service systems, but there had been few successfully implemented changes over the last 5-10 years.

Through applying SOD as a central methodology, supported by service design, KPI1`s and change management – the teams could visually frame the challenges and focus efforts on leverage points in the organizations. Co-creative methods give shape to both interventions and the contextual support needed to create a healthier working environment around the projects in terms of collaboration, communication, financial and legal issues and regarding the relationship between the actors involved. SOD brings a richer understanding of the elements the given service is built on and the relations holding the elements together. It helps the teams think broader on what and how interventions can be shaped.

The first project initiated was a project around how to manage citizens’ right to drive (Førerett). This project is still ongoing. The second project was around the governmental initiatives to reduce human trafficking in Norway, this project is being politically decided on as this abstract is written.

License to drive – SOD supported changes

Four directorates moved from working in parallel and unsynchronized disconnect to actually co-creating a seemingly marginal and unimportant service of reassigning driving licences to people who have lost them for medical or legal issues. The process of systemically untangling and innovating in this cross-institutional problematique turned out to be both interesting and relevant for a larger audience within the government.

Lack of political attention has shifted through realizing there are significant organizational and economical savings to be made and the cross-directorate collaboration has inspired a renewed funding for a long-term development program with political support.

Human trafficking – SOD supported changes

One department, municipal actors and a network of NGO`s lacking a clear organization are now being re-organized with a focus on the victims of human trafficking.

Lack of collaboration and leadership is being addressed through a reorganization and implementation of better service delivery frameworks, collaboration channels to strengthening each other’s efforts.

The previous change initiatives where little cocreation had been applied is being addressed with a renewed focus and understanding of why and how services can be improved together.


We are starting to find ways to untangle and co-design services for very fragmented systems that cross disciplines and organizational silos. Systemic approaches and in this case SOD is required to achieve success in such cases. The current migration of service design into public services needs to be able to distinct the relatively ordinary (though complicated) projects from those that are truly complex. The challenge in the complex problems lies on the systemic level and it is often an issue caused by missing relations and assumptions on how flexible the systems that enable the given service are. SOD brings a promising perspective and methodology for co-designing relations and connections across organisational and professional boundaries.




Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2018
Title: Gearing up the Level of Systems Oriented Design in Public Sector: Case, experiences, and learning from Stimulab innovation program
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
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First published: 2 October 2018
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