Anne Lind, the head of the national agency in Denmark that evaluates the insurance claims of injured workers and decides on their compensation, had a crisis on her hands. Oddly, it emerged from a project that had seemed to be on a path to success. The project employed design thinking in an effort to improve the services delivered by her organization. The members of her project team immersed themselves in the experiences of clients, establishing rapport and empathizing with them in a bid to see the world through their eyes.

The team interviewed and unobtrusively video-recorded clients as they described their situations and their experiences with the agency’s case management. The approach led to a surprising revelation: The agency’s processes were designed largely to serve its own wants and needs (to be efficient and to make claims assessment easy for the staff) rather than those of clients, who typically had gone through a traumatic event and were trying to return to a productive normal life.

The feedback was eye-opening and launched a major transformation, Lind told us. But it was also upsetting. Poignantly captured in some of the videos was the fact that many clients felt harmed by the agency’s actions. One person half-joked that he would need to be fully healthy to endure the stress of interacting with the agency.

(The design team was dismayed to discover that during the claims process, clients received an average of 23 letters from the agency and others, such as hospitals and employers.) Lind’s staffers had won productivity awards for the efficiency of their case-management processes and thought of themselves as competent professionals. They were shocked to hear such things from clients.

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