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Understanding Civic Design

What is civic design?

Civic design is a creative approach to solving public sector problems that seeks to deeply understand a challenge and the people most closely experiencing it, and then co-design and test solutions. The Civic Design team works side-by-side with teams across Montgomery County Government to scope a problem and make fast, tangible improvements that impact those we serve.

What kind of challenge is a good candidate for civic design?

Civic design may be a helpful approach to solving challenges in which:
The challenge is not fully defined or understood; the solution is not already clear
Humans—and their motivations, behaviors and needs—are the driving force of the project
The focus goes beyond improving efficiency and efficacy to providing a better experience
The challenge is complex, and the solution is not straightforward
The impact would be of real value to the community you serve. Don’t worry about it being too mundane or ordinary!

What does a civic design project look like?

While no two design projects are the same, they generally incorporate some or all of the following components of the design process. This process is nonlinear, iterative, and at times messy!

Understand the Problem

HUMANIZE. We help teams engage the people most impacted by the problem, exercising empathy to understand the needs and experiences of those involved to put them at the center of the solution-making process.
What are the needs and desires of the people who are experiencing the problem? How can we ensure they are co-designers in the process?
DEFINE. We work closely with MCG and resident stakeholders to make sense of the research and reframe the problem. Involving all stakeholders in this step and drawing quality insights are crucial for developing meaningful solutions.
Which of the needs identified above are we solving for? What are the root causes? What is the context?

Explore Solutions

IDEATE. Bringing to bear the data from research, we help teams unleash their imagination and generate ideas to address the specific root cause(s) they have identified.
What could we do?
PROTOTYPE. We help teams choose from among their best ideas to develop simple, cost-effective prototypes to test.
What do we do? How will we know if it works?
TEST AND REFINE. We support teams to test their prototype(s) and determine whether and how to make any modifications before they go live.
Does the prototype work? What did we learn about what modifications are necessary?

Deliver the Change

IMPLEMENT. We set teams up for success with implementation by providing clear action items and establishing a plan to monitor progress.
How will stakeholders know and understand how the changes affect them? How will we know if the change had the intended impact?

What can you expect from partnering with Civic Design?

Exposure to new perspectives and fresh approaches to address challenges your team faces
Deeper understanding of the needs of the populations you are working with
Insights about how to innovate or intervene in a particular challenge
Solutions that are effective, scalable, and sustainable over the long term
Skills and strategies to understand and respond to future challenges
Support from the Civic Design team from problem definition to solution implementation
Civic design projects are most successful when department teams bringing forth the challenge:
Have leaders who are committed to actively supporting the project
Can dedicate staff to work side-by-side with the Civic Design team during the project
Are willing to engage stakeholders through the implementation stages of the project


. If you’re not sure how to articulate your challenge, no problem! Do your best and we can hash it out together.

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