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A Design Thinking Approach to Crisis Response

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A Design Thinking Approach to Crisis Response

Calgary Public Library, Atla.

Operations & Management | 2020 | Top Innovator

Innovation Synopsis

With a unique operational structure in place to prioritize design thinking, the Calgary Public Library was able to quickly pivot in the face of COVID-19 and employ the fundamentals of this approach to respond to community needs during the pandemic, create a safe and rapid path to reopening and launch long-term service innovations.


During its closure, CPL had to respond to the crisis and ensure a continuity of service, but also position the organization for the future. It leveraged its foundational commitment to design thinking to determine priority areas to focus efforts and deploy targeted resources. The result was a multi-tiered response of crisis communications, urgent community supports, critical baseline service and staffing and a path to reopening that enabled some locations to open just 10 days after the lockdown was lifted.

Key Elements of Innovation

Service Design led an inter-departmental virtual charette to identify key community needs. The result was a project charter that was refined to 11 critical projects and led to innovations like original content, contactless services, virtual learning supports and more. This later evolved into the Path to Reopening. The pace of change required a compressed process to support new interdisciplinary teams to launch and refine services safely. Design thinking enabled staff to seek innovative solutions and show resiliency.

Achieved Outcomes

The rapid implementation of multiple supports allowed CPL to safely pivot and reopen services to address immediate needs, while establishing infrastructure that will enhance services long-term. CPL provided insight and knowledge to dozens of other systems, including health and safety measures, communication methods, reopening models and new service ideas. Benefits include a 33% jump in digital circulation, 119,833 views of Library at Home content and the perfect chance to launch Fine Free as an urgent support.