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April 23, 2014

Design Thinking at the Collaboratory

by Hannah Koenig

In November 2013, the U.S. Department of State launched the Collaboratory, a new initiative in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). ECA runs educational and cultural exchange programs for American and international students, artists, athletes, business leaders, and more to promote mutual understanding through public diplomacy. The Collaboratory seeks to integrate technology into in-person exchange programs and to develop and pilot new ideas to enrich person-to-person exchanges using technology.

I am eager to serve as the Collaboratory’s Designer in Residence and Maharam STEAM Fellow beginning this summer. I will be responsible for getting involved with many of the Collaboratory’s initiatives. In addition to incorporating virtual technologies into existing in-person exchange programs, I’ll develop ideas for new programs centered around virtual exchange. I will spearhead the Collaboratory’s partnership with NASA’s Education Department with the goal of expanding NASA’s Digital Learning Network to an international audience. I’ll audit the Collaboratory from a design thinking perspective and write a report on my research and findings. Finally, I will assist the Collaboratory with branding and visual communications as the need arises.

This represents a unique opportunity to integrate design and design thinking into an organization early in its lifetime, with important implications for sustainability and the prevalence of visual problem solving within institutions. Furthermore, while design thinking in government is becoming a topic of interest amongst forward-thinking members of the public sector, design practitioners in government are still outnumbered by those who advocate for more traditional approaches to governance, especially at the strategy level. As a new initiative operating on the forefront of innovation at the State Department, the Collaboratory has recognized this need for design thinking from within. As the newest team member at the Collaboratory, it is my hope that our mutual belief in and enthusiasm for the power of design to change public policy will result in a productive partnership with lasting impact for public diplomacy and design thinking in government at large.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the U.S. Department of State.

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