Roundtable: Applying Human-Centered Design for Innovation and Decision-Making in Public Sector Challenges
(Innovations in Science and Technology)

Thursday, November 8, 2018: 1:45 PM-3:15 PM
8228 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Moderators:  Garth Jensen, NSWC Carderock Division
Speakers:  Liana Dragoman1, Will Yang2, Robert Burack3 and Nicole Bennett2, (1)City of Philadelphia(2)U.S. Department of Health and Human Services(3)Brocade Studio

Human-centered design (HCD) is a creative and strategic processes to address challenging problems. HCD serves as a complimentary tool for decision-makers, implementers, program planners, and researchers to ensure approaches are co-designed with people, fit their needs, and consider their environment. HCD draws from multiple disciplines, such as management and business, product design and manufacturing, and the behavioral sciences and anthropology. It works to understand the root causes of problems, and then iteratively design solutions that meet user needs by quickly generating and testing ideas and concepts.

HCD has gained traction and demonstrated impact across the public sector, from local municipalities to the federal government (Liedtka, Salzman, & Azer, 2017; Aragon, R. et al, 2017). The purpose of this round table session is to discuss the mechanics of HCD along with similar approaches such as service design, explore how using HCD has led to effective solutions for public sector challenges, and how it can enhance decision-making when paired with traditional approaches, like quantitative analysis. Additionally, panelists will consider the limitations of the HCD approach and explore questions such as what evidence is there for HCD and how does the application of HCD lead to evidence?

The session will convene HCD leaders with direct implementation experience who, collectively, have: spearheaded federal government innovation labs (The Lab at OPM and the HHS IDEA Lab); participated in the first government-wide design challenge ( and the Better Government Movement with 18F at the General Services Administrative (GSA); trained over 2,500 government employees in HCD approaches; and integrated design thinking into a large federal grant program.  More specifically, projects covered by individuals at the HCD Public Sector Round Table will include: reimagining access to civil legal assistance in Texas and Virginia; infusing HCD into the work of Chief Data Officers across 25 U.S. municipalities, in partnership with Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation; working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in response to Zika in Puerto Rico; supporting innovative teen pregnancy prevention projects using HCD, in partnership with IDEO and LUMA; employing a participatory city design lab that embeds itself in neighborhoods to co-create city services; and encouraging new approaches to address domestic violence in the Department of Defense through the application of HCD.  Participants will leave the session with a deeper understanding of HCD tools, tangible examples of public sector HCD application, references and resources, and opportunities to advance the practice and integrate HCD methods.


Liedtka, J., Salzman, R., & Azer, D. (2017). Design Thinking for the Greater Good: Innovation in the Social Sector. Retrieved from

Aragon, R., Schneider, J., Yang, W., et al. (2017). Impact of Innovation Initiatives in a Federal Government Agency: Measuring and Understanding the Influence of Culture and Employee Attitudes. The Public Sector Innovation Journal, Volume 22(1), 2017, article 1.