MIT GOV/LAB’s Governance Innovation team is embedding two Designer-Researchers in government offices in Nigeria and Sierra Leone to explore pathways to governance innovation, while co-designing solutions to public service challenges. 

As a designer-researcher with the Freetown City Council (FCC), Sierra Leone, André Arruda will be working closely with the Urban Planning Delivery Unit to identify existing roadblocks to innovation, and co-develop solutions that could be replicated in other agencies. Additionally, he will document his experiences collaborating with the FCC to develop case studies for use in comparable settings. Through his work, André will be helping to refine the Lean Governance Innovation Design (LGID) approach that integrates elements of design, actor-network theory, behavioral science, negotiation, and other disciplines. LGID aims to de-risk, declutter, and demystify the process of innovation in the public sector to transform it into a low-cost, fast, and easy to run process that enables better governance.

Image: André leading a workshop on future challenges for the Brazilian government, during the 2022 Innovation Week. Credits: Raquel Martins.

André speaks with MIT GOV/LAB Policy & Communications Associate Akshat Singh about his educational and professional background, his interest in governance innovation and design, and his expectations refining the LGID approach in Sierra Leone.

Akshat: Could you tell me about your academic background and how you got interested in the design and innovation space?

André: Soon after graduating with a degree in industrial design, I started working in the strategic design space in the private sector.While attending the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan, Italy, I started learning about trend design, or the study combining futurology, and design, so I was able to learn about future processes, technology, and design at the same time. 

At the beginning of my masters, I didn’t know that I wanted to work in the design, innovation, and governance space. I discovered that my own city was developing a long term plan about the future of our municipality. I got interested in looking at how design can improve this plan. At the end of my masters, I was invited by my government to refine this long term plan and over four years, I worked and developed this strategy. Later, I also got the opportunity to work closely with bureaucrats in Colombia and saw how the government was using designers  to co-design and implement innovative collaborative solutions. I found this very impressive. This is how I got motivated to start working in this space. 

Akshat: Governance innovation can mean different things to different people. How would  you define governance innovation? 

André: I believe innovation is about solving problems in a new way. Governance innovation  is creating new solutions that governments can use to be more efficient and transparent. When I think about innovation in governance, I think about governments that are open to bringing new ideas to solve existing problems. Governments generally have one specific problem that they are looking to solve but I believe design can help us solve problems at different levels.  

Akshat: What are some challenges that you have faced while working in the governance innovation space, and in particular in the public sector?

André: In my experience, problems in the public and private sector are similar. At the end of the day, we have to influence key stakeholders. In politics it will be the minister, in the private sector it will be the CEO. The major difference between the two is  bureaucracy. In the private sector, decision making is usually simpler. Government decision making takes longer and the decisions impact a larger number of people. It’s very difficult to implement innovations in the government, because before implementing a solution, we have to properly assess the impact of the solutions, which takes time and resources. 

Akshat: What about governance innovation excites you the most? 

André: I am interested in looking at how design can foster innovation at the government level. I strongly believe that as a designer-innovator, the highest level I can contribute to is in the government. This is as when we talk about major drivers of change (social, technological, environmental, economic and political),the most important driver that makes or breaks the progress of others is the political. In this way, I understand that the application of innovation at the governmental level can create profound impacts on the other levels of research and solutions and therefore, at some level we will need to prioritize it to create change in the long term.

Header Image: Joshua Hanson on Unspash.