The Value of Prototyping in the Public Sector

Photo by Daniel Lombardi

A couple of weeks ago, Peer Insight and our partner, Quintan Wiktorowicz, hosted a half-day prototyping session for public sector employees at the George Washington University's Center for Excellence in Public Leadership.  We had participants join us from organizations across the non-profit and public sectors including The World Bank, Peace Corps, Department of Homeland Security, USAID and the U.S. State Department. 

As we were designing the curriculum and selecting tools to share with the workshop attendees, I was reminded of the value of prototypes regardless of application. When it comes down to it, a prototype is anything that elicits feedback and inspires iteration Further, the primary objective of a prototype is to create a constructive conversation.

We often think of a prototype as a polished 3D version of a product or Beta version of a mobile app, but anything can be a prototype, from a sketch on a scrap of paper to a diagram on a whiteboard to a role play of an experience. But remember, it only really becomes a prototype when you share it with someone else for feedback. As often as possible, that feedback should come from your actual end-users.  

While low-fidelity prototyping can be a difficult undertaking to implement in any business, public or private, it can be particularly difficult in the public sector where both resources and permission are low and employees are judged solely on project outcomes rather than the knowledge gained along the way.

So, what are the relevant benefits of prototyping to public sector organizations? 

  • Prototyping enables the government to make “small bets fast” instead of going all in with big bets
  • Prototyping and co-creation allows for spending control— you are enabled to make incremental investments based on evidence that solutions are truly effective
  • Innovation (often a product of the design thinking process) is not about risk taking; it is about risk reduction
  • Prototyping creates immediate value through insights from users— you don't have to wait months or years to see if you played your cards right

How have you applied prototyping in your daily work? In what situations does it work best? The worst?

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