For many years, governance has always followed a top down approach, where monarchs, political elite and those in power pass down instructions to peasants, workers or civilians. Thus, many governments have failed their people. This then raise the question of what needs to be done to make governance work for the people? To provide answers to this important question, this article highlights the role that design thinking methodology can play to rethink governance, and make government meet the needs and aspirations of the masses.
The dawn of democracy was envisaged to change governance by empowering citizens to elect representatives and thus in directly enable them to participate in the decision-making process. However, many years since democracy was first conceived in classical Greece, government is still not working for the people, elected representatives are undistinguishable from kings and Lords, and have become part of the ruling class that is disconnected with the aspirations of those who have elected them.
No doubt, democracy has greatly transformed the world, creating opportunities for citizens to participate in the election of public representatives, air their views and concerns. Moreover, democracy is also believed to be the ideal universal system of governing because it protects human rights. However, democracy has dismally failed to change class system and translate the “Dēmokratía” (rule of the commoners) to benefit commoners. Thus, uplift the masses from poverty and increase citizen participation both in the civic affairs and decision-making process.
Though the concept that citizens should be involved in governance has been part of the democratic process, electing representatives every 4 or 5 years is not enough. Hence, we need to reimagine how government and citizens can collaborate together to solve societal challenges and fix fundamental issues broken in our democracy.
As a human-centered approach to innovation that focuses on merging people’s needs and possibilities of digital technologies, design thinking can be a viable strategy to rethink and remodel governance to work for the people. Additionally, a design driven approach can enhance public decision making, make citizens feel part of process and take ownership of government initiatives.
Whether the topic is drought, tribalism, health or education reform, design thinking approach can help bring about collective solutions. Moreover, it can help enhance how we approach and engage in national discussions and debates. I think what is missing from our national discussions and engagements is empathy, politicians think they know what citizens want; using their majority to push for policies that serves their interest best, neglecting the aspirations of the citizens.
Design thinking can bring about different perspective to policy making. Through design thinking, we will be able to look at the different needs of our people, generate new ideas to enrich policy making and solve societal challenges. Though, those in government will argue that consultations with the public on policy formulations are always done. This claim can be refuted because information sharing sessions is not enough, citizens need their concerns to be addressed and incorporated in the policies.
For example, in 2014 when the third constitutional amendments were made that increased the number of seats in parliament and created further positions in government.
One can ask simple questions, who were these amendments intended on empowering and were the concerns of citizens considered? I will leave this to you to answer. However, decisions to amend the constitution thus increase parliamentary seats and create new positions in government has led dire consequences on our economy, which are affecting citizens today. Hence in future, different strategies should be adopted to increase citizen participation in policy formulation.
What makes design thinking approach different from other traditional approaches to problem solving is that at the core the approach is the ability to share and understand another person’ feelings. This is important because, the problems politicians and those in government are trying to solve is not their own – neither are they affected by them. Therefore, for government to effectively respond and solve these problems, it needs to understand the group of people or society and what is important to them. I am certain that an increased parliament and cabinet was/is not the aspiration of the Namibian people.
Design thinking has been practiced in business for many years, and has helped transform and shape the private sector world for decades. From big companies, such as Apple, Google to small companies that develop websites. These successes can be easily translated into the public service. Thus, we should put our egos a side, and collectedly work together meet the needs and aspirations of the Namibian people.
Yes, making design thinking the culture of the Namibian house will take time but together we can achieve it.
Of course, creating human-centered governance means overcoming established hierarchies and protocols. Such a development will be a major threat for those who like power, as this will certainly shift the conventional balance of power. If citizens are regarded as a danger to governance processes any design thinking approach is likely to fail. Thus, adopting design thinking strategies in Namibia requires one important characteristic of public representatives: trusting its citizens.
No doubt, government will require different viewpoints to solve current and future challenges. Design thinking provide us with strategies to harness our collective brilliances. Therefore, it’s up to us to use our collective brilliances to build an inclusive Namibian house, one not based on rhetoric but real emancipation for our people. Or we can use our individual brilliance to break one another.
*Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude), MSc. Computer Science & PhD Candidate (Computer Science)