Citizen-Driven by Design

A Report from the 2017 Public Sector for the Future Summit

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Citizens around the world are demanding more responsive, more impactful, and less costly government. From the 2016 U.S. elections, to “Brexit,” to growing populist movements in Europe and across the globe, the central challenge for leaders now is making government better, faster, cheaper, and ultimately—citizen-driven by design.

Surging to the top of citizen-driven solutions is the intersection of behavioral economics, analytics, and design-thinking. When combined, these emerging strategies position leaders to better understand the needs of citizens, design better services, and leverage “nudge”1 solutions that have been proven to not only make services more beneficial for citizens, but also generate improved outcomes and public value.

Savvy leaders are already finding that nudge-based strategies increase the likelihood of accomplishing programmatic objectives more cost-efficiently and effectively than other strategies. Initiatives such as the U.K. Behavioral Insights Team, the U.S. Social and Behavioral Sciences Team, the Qatari Nudge Unit, and an array of state, local, and regional efforts around the globe are using simple tools to reduce costs and improve results in services such as education, consumer protection, tax collection, transportation, health, and beyond. Adding nudge-based strategies to the excutive toolkit is becoming an imperative as governments face resource constraints and citizens demand better outcomes.

This report distills the key findings from the 2017 Public Sector for the Future Summit at Harvard University. In particular, it features insights developed in partnership with Summit attendees that highlight how leaders can harness data and analytics, capitalize on lessons learned from behavioral economics, and understand and apply design thinking concepts. It also contains three practical examples—one on Illinois’ Innovation Incubator, one on Georgia’s Department of Administrative Services and statewide procurement, and another on California’s Department of General Services and greening fleet vehicles—that highlight how public sector organizations have embraced nudges, data and analytics, and design thinking as part of broader initiatives to improve citizen services and back-office operations.

What is the Nudge Loop?

Learn more about the framework being adopted in the Public Sector >

A letter from the Executive Director

Dr. Antonio Oftelie, Executive Director of Leadership for a Networked World, reflects on this year's summit and it's implications.

Read his letter here. >

Think of a nudge, if you would, as like a GPS device…. If you can decrease the cost of navigability, you can often turn lives around. And the GPS has two virtues. First is it preserves freedom of choice and second is it respects people’s own ends. It doesn’t tell you where to go. You decide that. It makes it clear for you how you can get to where you want to go, though if you wanted to take a different route, you’re perfectly able to.”
Cass Sunstein
Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard Law School

Report Insights

  1. Building the “Back Office” for New Outcomes: Nudge Solutions at the Georgia Department of Administrative Services

    In 2016, the Georgia Department of Administrative Services (DOAS) encountered what then-DOAS Commissioner Sid Johnson characterized as a “crisis situation.” , That August, news broke that a senior official from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI) had used an agency credit card to make over $87,000 in personal purchases; at least some of the purchases were made via Amazon. A subsequent investigation revealed a breakdown of internal controls, inadequate management oversight, and a broader sense that something had gone seriously awry. “The GBI routinely conducts investigations of misuse of purchasing cards. In this case, it was one of its own employees,” said GBI Director Vernon Keenan. “I [was] totally mortified that this occurred.”

  2. Transformation in Action: Illinois’ Innovation Incubators

    In March 2015 when Hardik Bhatt became the Chief Information Officer for the State of Illinois, he faced significant challenges.7 The state was spending approximately $1 billion annually on Information Technology (IT), yet it ranked in the bottom quartile nationally among state information technology departments. This spending was especially concerning because Illinois had been slow to recover from the Great Recession; in fact, it was one of the few states in the country experiencing population outflow. Finally, there was a sense of urgency. Bhatt estimated that Illinois’ IT system was 45 years behind where it should have been, but with the next gubernatorial election approaching in November 2018, he was only guaranteed a narrow window to pursue reform. Bhatt summarized, “We had to do an overall transformation of 45 years in four years.”

  3. “Relentlessly Incremental”: Greening California’s Fleet

    In 2011 and 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown issued a pair of executive orders that created both an opportunity and a dilemma for the Office of Fleet and Asset Management (OFAM) in the state’s Department of General Services (DGS). Brown directed OFAM—which oversees the state’s 50,000 vehicles—to reduce its fleet by 7,000 vehicles, increase the proportion of light duty fleet purchases that are Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) to 25 percent by 2020, and cut statewide petroleum use by 50 percent by 2030. On the one hand, this meant that OFAM had the chance to make a significant contribution to the mission of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, it raised difficult questions. How would OFAM balance “green goals” and departmental needs (e.g., public safety vehicles with special performance requirements)? In addition, how would the division remain competitive with other suppliers (e.g., rental car agencies)? “If we just have a green fleet and vehicles that people don’t like at a higher cost, they’re not going to go to us,” said DGS Director Daniel Kim. “Our costs escalate and then that’s just a vicious cycle.”

“Changing the behavior requires three things... capability, motivation and license model. But, you need to think about whether you’re capable. Have you actually made the organization able to change? Have you educated them enough? Have you done the things that allow them to change? Because if you haven’t done that, change isn’t going to happen.”
Dr. Robert Huckman
Albert J. Weatherhead III Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School


Expectations for government services, programs, and outcomes have shifted. This has created a disparity between what public sector organizations were designed to accomplish, and what constituents and citizens now want them to achieve. As a result, the old operating models are no longer sufficient to build legitimacy and trust. Citizens are questioning the value derived from their taxes and from their investments in public institutions. While this shift creates new challenges, it can also serve as a catalyst for making governments better, faster, and cheaper.

To drive enterprise-wide transformations, leaders are now relying on a new set of tools—strategies that create a pull rather than a push. Across the country and around the world, public sector visionaries are harnessing data, analytics, nudges and design thinking. The discussions at The 2017 Public Sector for the Future Summit: Citizen-Driven by Design pointed to three critical steps that public sector leaders can take to capitalize on these approaches:

Position Your Organization to Thrive with Data and Analytics: First, leaders must work across agencies and sectors to lay a foundation that will enable their organizations to thrive in a digital world. As a case in point, Illinois took steps to redesign and reconstruct government operations to use data and evidence to gather citizen-insights that could inform service delivery. This required a new governance model, strong collaboration, clear metrics, common platforms, and outsiders’ perspectives.

Experiment with Nudge Strategies: With data and analytics to draw on, public institutions can begin to experiment with nudge strategies. With clear and compelling goals in place, the Georgia Department of Administration was able to learn from private sector partners at Amazon, and redesign procurement systems to lead users towards better decisions with strategies such as default settings and warnings.

As You Redesign, Create Effective Feedback Loops: Once new approaches are in place, organizations must establish continual feedback loops to measure progress, assess impact, and identify new opportunities to create sustainable change. In California, the Department of General Services had to ensure people felt comfortable speaking up, sharing quirky ideas, and disagreeing, to accurately assess what strategies were working and what opportunities still existed.

While the world is still learning about the application of data, analytics, behavioral economics, and design thinking to the public sector, it’s clear that these approaches can yield powerful results. We hope the success stories, lessons learned, and insights from early adopters found in this report inspire you to adopt these strategies, and we’re looking forward to hearing about your journey to become more citizen-centric!

The Executive Leadership Group

Leadership for a Networked World, and the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard would like to thank the Executive Leadership Group for their vision and ideas that aided the development of this Summit.

Hardik Bhatt
State of Illinois
Leslie Brunelli
VP and CFO
University of South Carolina
Stu Davis
CIO and Assistant Director
Ohio Department of Administrative Services
Sid Johnson
Public Service Faculty
Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia
Chris Liu
State of Washington Department of Enterprise Services
Matt Massman
Minnesota Department of Administration
Sharon Minnich
Secretary, Office of Administration
Pennsylvania Office of the Governor
Bob Oglesby
Commissioner of the Dept. of General Services,
State of Tennessee
Scott Pattison
Executive Director
National Governors Association
Mike Teller
Idaho Tax Commission
John Traylor
Executive Deputy Comptroller for Operations
New York Office of the State Comptroller
Sean Vinck
Commonwealth of Massachusetts

In Collaboration with

Accenture is a leading global professional services company, providing a broad range of services and solutions in strategy, consulting, digital, technology and operations. Combining unmatched experience and specialized skills across more than 40 industries and all business functions – underpinned by the world’s largest delivery network – Accenture works at the intersection of business and technology to help clients improve their performance and create sustainable value for their stakeholders. With more than 394,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, Accenture drives innovation to improve the way the world works and lives. Visit us at

Hosted by

Leadership for a Networked World’s applied research, student innovation challenge, and on-campus summit programs are an initiative of Dr. Antonio M. Oftelie, Innovation Fellow at the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH), part of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. TECH is a hub for students, faculty, alumni, and government and industry leaders to learn together, collaborate, and innovate. LNW accelerates these efforts by connecting leaders across sectors and developing cutting-edge thought leadership on innovation and organizational transformation.

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