Design for Policy: What’s Next?
Design is increasingly recognised as an innovative tool for the development and implementation of policy at varying levels of government. PDR has long been an advocate for the use of design for policy. We have a long history in providing design support for organisations, thus helping governments to meet their innovation investment policies.
Between 1994 and 2009, PDR ran a design support operation that became renowned across Europe as an example of best practice. Since 2005 we have been at the forefront of understanding the role of design in both innovation policies and the development and implementation of wider citizen-focused policies. We have undertaken this work in partnership with many interested design organisations, service delivery agencies and companies and governments across Europe. As a result, we have been part of the groundswell of European interest in Policy Labs, organisations that use creative methods to produce more innovative and citizen-focused policies.
However, the methods used in design are often qualitative and based on insights into the values of policy stakeholders. This potentially presents two problems for Governments in accepting design-led approaches: the outputs are not what they are used to basing decisions on (i.e. not quantitative); and, no accepted mechanism for assessing the outcomes of design-led policy development has yet emerged. This difficulty for Government assessment is a risk to the sustainability of the design approach. In order to move forward, build on the emerging support for the design approach and become an established, mainstream policy development tool, design must find a way of convincing governments of its effectiveness.
In order to begin to uncover what design needs to do next in the policy domain, Dr Anna Whicher, Head of Design & Innovation Policy at PDR hosted an event with significant interested parties at the Shard, London on 29th March 2017. 55 delegates of designers, civil servants, academics and service industry professionals engaged in discussions on the benefits and challenges of using a design approach to the development and implementation of policy. Expert insight was provided by Malcolm Beattie, Head of the NI Innovation Lab, Luke Jeavons, Head of Service Design at Ingeus a large government service delivery firm, and Julie Cunnington-Hill, Innovation Development Manager at Welsh Government. These speakers discussed how they came to use design and the impact that it has had within their operations, sparking a discussion with delegates on the key challenges that lay ahead.
The experts in the room, and the detailed cases on the realities of trying to use design, provided a fantastic starting point to answer the broad question set: Design Policy: What are the next steps? Although we cannot claim to have all the answers to these challenges, discussions such as these do present both research and practice agendas for the discipline of design. Some of the key lessons from the day included a need to improve our communication and adopt appropriate language for new audiences. Design has perpetually resisted definition, which hampers our ability as designers to explain how we bring about new innovative solutions. During the discussions, the point was raised that it takes more than Service Designers to design a new service. This, I think is exactly the point of design – designers don’t work in isolation. Whilst we may have difficulties in communicating the magic of design, we are very practiced at gaining an understanding of various stakeholder and user needs and communicating these needs as new designs that multiple parties can grasp. This leads nicely to another point raised in the discussion, “haven’t we been here before?”
During the 70s and 80s industrial design sought to demonstrate that design was more than aesthetics; during the 90s and 2000s User Centred Design emerged as a guiding development principle. These movements demonstrated the broad power of design and the importance of understanding the values of the users of designed objects. It would be worthwhile to Design for Policy (and Design for Politics, another notion that arose on the evening) to review the history of these movements and learn from the communication barriers they must have encountered and overcome.
Finally, for me the most important insight of the evening came from the experiences of Malcolm’s NI Innovation Lab. Malcolm spoke of the innovation circle, expressing his experience that the first half of the circle, coming up with new ideas is relatively easy (provided that you have the right people in place). However, the second-half, effectively implementing is painfully difficult. Why is this? Because the first half is delivered by creative people with good intentions, but the second half becomes a leadership and change management problem. This understanding, and finding ways to overcome these challenges, is vital if Design for Policy is ever to become a mainstream policy development approach. If innovation is to be described as the successful implementation of new ideas, it is in the second half of the cycle that design has the opportunity to demonstrate its value.