People to People: Design Thinking at State Department

October 15, 2014

Inclusivity, transparency, and a people-first collaborative approach are the values on which the Collaboratory, an initiative at the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), was built upon. By looking at exchange programs through a participatory lens based on user design and design thinking principles, we create a culture of creativity and innovation in the workplace. Design thinking is a creative process to identify and solve problems with the end user in mind from the outset.

During the week of September 7, 2014, we showed our ECA colleagues how they can incorporate this approach into their work every day. Two new workshops on design thinking were organized so our colleagues could contribute ideas and tackle a work-related design challenge as a team. They were encouraged to share existing knowledge about the challenge, brainstorm collaborative solutions, and prototype one of their ideas.


Woman writing on board full of post-it notes An ECA employee works on a prototype of her idea during the design thinking workshop.

At the end of the sessions, participants presented their prototypes to their colleagues and discussed how to improve on their ideas. The explosion of post-it notes covering the walls was evidence of the participants’ focus and creativity! They acknowledged how new work methods, such as design thinking, allow State Department teams to tap into their creativity and better perform in today's networked world.  As one of the participants remarked in a survey response following the workshop, “Brainstorming is fun! I’m more creative than I thought.”

As a convener for the Bureau and Department, the Collaboratory is always looking to work with other bureaus, agencies, companies, and organizations to foster partnerships, collaboration, and keep abreast of the ever-evolving field of educational and cultural diplomacy. See the Collaboratory page for more information on this new initiative.

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