At the core of the Design for Government course that Mazé teaches are real projects commissioned by Finland's ministries and public authorities. Students tackle these projects from day one of the course, which also includes tuition in service design, behavioral and organizational change, ethics, and political theory.
While Finland has one of the world's highest levels of trust between a government and its citizens, this trust has been eroding in recent years. In response, the Finnish government is looking for ways to make governance more interactive, and enable citizens to play a more central role in planning public policy and services. This is where Mazé's students come in.
'One of the main challenges when design moves into the public sector is that it's not just serving the market consumer – who represents a narrow and typically affluent part of the population – but it needs to consider all citizens', says Mazé. 'Public service means considering diverse abilities and ages, many socio-economic conditions, and even future generations. It's a very different idea about whose interests we serve as designers.'
In addition to the Design for Government course, which collaborates with Finland's ministries, the Design for Services course, led by Professor Tuuli Mattelmäki, works with the country's local municipalities. Aalto University's design education, knowledge and impact thus span two parts of the public sector with very different ways of thinking about design.
"Service design is widely practiced in the municipalities of the greater Helsinki region, but design has only recently entered at the state level of governance. It's already making a big impact though," says Mazé.
"Design at the municipal level is much closer to the citizens, simply because of physical proximity. But design in ministries is often much further removed from the people – geographically, culturally and socio-economically. The design challenge is to find ways to bridge this gap."
Helping civil servants
One of the Design for Government briefs, called ‘Civil Servant 2.0’, asked students to study new ways in which Finnish civil servants could work together. Multiple ministries had seen the drawbacks of working in siloes, and they came together to do something about it.
"Despite the desire to be more citizen-centric, civil servants often work in a context that structurally and culturally inhibits them from doing what they think needs to be done," says Mazé. “Collaborating with universities brings a fresh perspective and new tools.”
After several weeks of research, Mazé's students proposed and designed an education program with a peer-learning component and a match-making tool that paired civil servants up with one another. The proposal also included a roadmap for integrating these within the ministries' hiring and promotion practices.
One of this year’s briefs from Finland's Ministry of Finance asks students to help in defining the role of Artificial Intelligence in making government services more efficient and human-centered. The project – which looks at the design of public services from the perspective of life events like marriage, family and retirement – will form part of Finland's European Union presidency period that begins on July 1st, 2019.