Digital professionals ‘un-plug’ and jam globally

By Belle Hogg posted 03-12-2021 03:56 PM


Imagine this, you get together with a group of digital professionals across government to hear the secret theme announced the morning of day 1 by GovJam HQ. Then you have 48 hours to brainstorm, research, come up with ideas, test them and develop further to submit the final pitch!

Global GovJam was co-created back in 2012 by 2 Australian government staff that I had the pleasure of working with, Mikaela Jade and Ruth Mirams. It has now spread across 200 cities and 15 000 participants worldwide.

GovJam provides a great way for people from different backgrounds, skills and mindsets to create innovative ideas using human-centred and agile methods.

This year, the innovation team at Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) registered to host a Canberra team as a ‘pilot’ to test. My awesome friend and fellow designer @Libby Heasman from DESE created a post on the Digital Profession members portal asking if anyone had participated in previous jams or had any wisdom to share. I happily answered and said yes please!

From this a team was pulled together of designers, policy experts and researchers, calling ourselves the ‘Ken Behrens’. We joined others from all over the world, including Austria, Canada, Germany, Russian and the United States of America.

So what is a jam?
Having run many design jams in government (not GovJam though), I am happy to talk your head off about it.
You know what a jam sesh is in music hey? You come together, don't know where it'll take you, bring your skills and experience and bounce off each other x a gazillion - well this is similar. There’s something special about the experience of creating things together which couldn’t have been done alone, especially in this government context where you take yourself out of the silos we work in and become one APS! And bringing those different perspectives of life and work into what we do and where it all goes is very cool.

Day 1: What was the secret theme?
**drum roll please**
On the morning of 16 November, the secret theme ‘un-plugged’ was announced to the group.

We looked at each other around the room and you could almost see the light bulbs going off.
At first, we did a rapid brainstorm around what the word un-plugged meant to us, themes emerged around digital detox, digital addiction, well-being, loneliness, digital children of the future and even unplugging from life (euthanasia). It was really broad. 

They we came up with some high level themes and gathered desktop research to discover more. The design questions included:

• How do we support people across the spectrum of digital and “human” skills?

• Building ethical digital experiences and duty of care

• How do we work and how do we understand who we’re designing for? (The whole experience)

• Accessibility and inclusive design in government services and products for those who may ‘slip through the cracks’

Day 2: the problem to solve and early solutions
The team crafted ‘how might we’ problem statements and then voted on the ones to move ahead with into the next phase of early solutions. These were:

  1. How might we ensure citizens who are un-plugged by choice or circumstance don’t slip through the gaps? (designing for the 100%)

  2. How might government harness the efficiencies of digital services/products while making them human and inclusive so that citizens can interact with government the way they want? (ethical digital design)

There were 8 early concepts worked on and found to have connections to each other so these were then prototyped using Lego serious play.

Monique Freeman Lego at govJam


Having to think about the idea in a 3 dimensional way was challenging I must say - I have never been an amazing Lego builder.  But wow it has great benefits and we created amazing discussions through these. It helped so much to articulate our ideas through storytelling as well as having fun at same time.

Day 3: voting and testing the chosen concept
The start of day 3, the team voted again and decided to work on 1 idea ‘The library of Australian people’. A storyboard was drawn up, research questions were written and people were recruited to test the idea with - it was super fast! We partnered up and went out and to test with staff and citizens.

One the people I worked with said about the experience "I loved being exposed to the design process and having a go at prototyping. And this was my first research interview experience!” I love hearing this.

The research findings were grouped and we discussed together where this would go next. We also decided to look at next steps for connecting the concept and outcomes with other areas in government working on similar ideas. Watch this space!

The final pitch was submitted to GovJam HQ and
focused on the disconnection between government and citizens (the unplugged). Our concept was about using the power of stories to create empathy and help understand the people we should be designing policy, products and services for.

‘The library of Australian people’ would hold real-life stories across common life events. The library's collection would evolve over time and reflect the sentiments and perceptions of Australians. The stories would be available as a range of content such as video, audio and text. Government agencies could use the resources to help understand and anticipate the impact of decisions by testing real-life scenarios.

At the end of day 3 we gathered to do a retrospective of the jam and the team learnt:

about rapid solution development and the design process including prototyping, testing and user research

you can recruit test participants fairly quick if you need to

that people want to be heard and give their feedback and views

how much amazing skills and experience are sitting out in the APS

how others approach and tackle problems form different perspectives

For me, the best part of the experience was having that
dedicated time to step out of my usual work environment, understand different perspectives, meet other practitioners and work on something meaningful. We could do these so much more on this wicked problems across government - not just solving problems but also building capability as we go.

You can watch the full video of images from the 3 day event here:

Me and my team mate @Monique Freeman from the APSC Digital Profession were both team members of the Ken Behren’s and are now taking the learnings from this event, mixed with our own design jam experiences to develop future events like this for Digital Profession members.

Got any questions? Please comment below...

Hope to jam with some of you in 2022!