One of the big questions we have been asking since starting our work is, “Which questions are amenable to design thinking and which are not, and why?” We wondered if certain types of governance problems are best addressed with alternative methods of problem solving, or how we should use the tools of design thinking differently depending on the types of problems we want to solve. In order to help us test the limits of using design thinking to address governance challenges, we aimed high with our workshop last month in Jamaica and crafted a design challenge around a complicated, systemic problem: praedial larceny.
The Jamaican government estimates praedial larceny accounts for $5B ($50M USD) in losses for the country’s agriculture sector and is one of the biggest issues facing farmers across Jamaica. Addressing the problem requires engaging many actors within the Jamaican government; key stakeholders included the Ministry of Agriculture, the Jamaican Agricultural Society (JAS), the Rural Agriculture Development Agency (RADA), the police, the judiciary, and the Cabinet office. Each of these stakeholders engages with other agencies regularly, as well as critical actors across the agriculture industry: farmers, buyers, vendors, exporters, local community leaders, and the criminals themselves.
The current approach to praedial larceny has not been very effective. Farmers in Jamaica must be registered, and the registration process collects and stores key information in a central database (managed by RADA). In addition, farmers must now provide official receipts when selling their produce (managed by JAS). This allows police to stop agricultural products in transport, ask for an official receipt, and verify that the produce come from a registered farmer with RADA officials. Farmers find this process onerous and question its efficacy, as receipts are not required to follow products all the way through the distribution chain. Illiteracy in some cases may also hinder the uptake of the system. Many farmers also feel that enforcement is the real problem and point to the police for better solutions. For all these reasons and more, it is estimated that only about 5,000 of Jamaica’s 200,000 farmers are using the receipt book system.
As we worked with RADA (our key partner) to help craft a design challenge, we resisted their instinct to focus narrowly on improvements to the current database and receipt system. In general, we’ve found it much more impactful to step back from a particular solution to the broader problem, revealing insights and opportunities that would have otherwise been missed.
Given the complexity of praedial larceny, it was challenging to craft a design challenge for a three-day workshop. Because design thinking focuses on a clearly defined user, we had to focus our design challenge around specific touch points within the broader system. Now that we have done three separate workshops, we realize that moving from a general problem area to a specific design challenge involves at least two key steps: first, developing an understanding of the overall system and identifying key areas to hone in on; and second, taking into account who the innovator is and what capabilities he/she has to address the issue.
After several conversations with the RADA team, we decided to focus our design challenge around several key constituencies within the system, with the central government as the key implementer: Redesign how one of the following key stakeholders — farmers, communities, police, or vendors — engage (with RADA) in combatting praedial larceny, in an environment where resources are limited, enforcement is perceived as insufficient, and farmers feel overburdened by the current approach.
This exercise helped to clarify some of the bigger questions on using design thinking for governance that we’d been grappling with. When using human centered design in the private sector, or even in service delivery, the human interaction point is often clear: an organization and its customer. For issues like praedial larceny, however, a multitude of human interactions are at play. There are interactions within government, across government agencies and between political leaders and bureaucrats. There are interactions between government and the citizens it serves, though different government agencies engage different end-users. One must first analyze this complex system to identify which interactions are bottlenecks or important points of leverage to change dynamics in the system. Design thinking doesn’t focus on these systemic issues, but it seems essential to have some awareness of how other parts of the system work before designing for a single end user. The tools of design thinking can then be harnessed to generate innovative ways of approach any one of these interactions.
The value of design thinking for these sorts of systemic problems is something we will continue to explore as we turn to our spring prototypes.