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CTM’s Office of Design and Delivery: Corporate workshops should not be awful

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

As Austin grows and city officials begin to question how their jobs are evolving to meet the demands of the tens of thousands of new residents every year, it stands to reason that the city of Austin would ask for guidance from larger municipalities around the country.

With the spirit of SXSW coursing through the city, the Communications and Technology Management Department’s Office of Design and Delivery Design Lab hosted a Civic Sessions conversation panel Monday, March 11, to talk about best policies that will help governments listen to and understand the needs of their citizens.

One of the more overlooked aspects of government is the training that goes into educating those who form it. Panelists on Monday chose to dive in and explore how continued learning inside the government is critical to ensuring that citizens and city staff are on the same page when it comes to policy. It turns out that one of the most effective ways to inspire new ideas and perspectives is through workshops.

However, Angela Hanson, innovation lead at OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation and a former Austin city employee, warned that a “workshop” cannot be the appropriate moniker and be expected to work.

Art Markman, director of IC² Institute and host of KUT’s “Two Guys on Your Head” agreed that learning in workshops and in life starts with a backward-to-forward approach.

“Figure out how you want people to be different at the end than they were at the beginning, and design around that,” he said. Learning, he emphasized, is an active process and one that must be repeated, often. “Your brain is efficient … or lazy,” he said.

Laura Trujillo, a content strategy practices lead at Austin’s Office of Design & Delivery, explained that recontextualizing actions to break rituals is an effective method to unlearn old habits and have city employees think through their processes. She does that in part by running what are called Funshops, where she asks employees to bob for apples of different sizes to replicate how difficult it can be to search for the right information in city archives.

According to Trujillo, there are 11,000 pages on Austin’s city website. “There’s this wild concept that we were trying to introduce, (which) is that the website is not a filing cabinet,” she said dryly. Although all of those files are there in an effort to encourage transparency, Trujillo explained that there is a point when transparency becomes cumbersome. “(We’re) trying to get people to think a little more critically about what needs to be in there,” she said.

While workshops are just one component of the continuing education that needs to occur to improve local governance, they are an important one because they foster an environment where individuals are willing to learn to change and encourage them to continue on their journey. After all, according to all the panelists, change is easy to start, but difficult to follow through and finish.

Photo by M.Fitzsimmons [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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