In the last blog entry we discussed about academic writing on policy design in the form of books and journal articles. In this piece we would like to draw attention to another source of useful reference material available online in the form of pieces written by practitioners, ‘designers’ including academics in the form of design blogs such as this one and documentation of meet-ups that engage diverse stakeholders interested in or applying design thinking. A recent example of the former is the US-based Policy Lab. Policydesign.org is a blog and research portal developed and hosted by The Policy Lab “to bring new, important, and well-researched ideas to public knowledge in order to build a shared basis for cooperative and professional practice on designing policy, programs and projects”. The latest introductory piece in the blog focuses on ‘Why Policy Design’ (Miller and Rudnick, 2014) and describes policy design as “a means of crafting solutions to complex problems within or for administrative systems”. The authors argue that there is a need to move beyond simply studying policy decision-making to improving the practice of policy design.
Most of the Design Labs being set up by governments as well as autonomous entities consider exchange of ideas and collaboration as a pivotal element to the development of these Labs. An initiative called DesignMeets was launched in Canada in 2010 with a similar intention of bringing together Canadian designers “from all walks of life”. DesignMeets organizes regular meet-ups with the aim of fostering interdisciplinary collaboration between local designers, encouraging dialogue and sharing of perspectives on specific themes. These meet-ups are usually held once every few months in various cities with an attendance of 75-100 local designers from a variety of fields (graphic, industrial, interior design, architecture etc.). One of the recent meet-ups held in November 2013 focused on “how politicians and governments should go about designing policies and public consultation processes that engage, rather than alienate, residents and voters?” Such meetups can not only help build a repository of ideas on better design solutions for issues that are considered relevant by local communities but also help create models of stakeholder engagement and deliberation on critical design issues related to policy development.
A new book titled ‘Design for Policy’ edited by Christian Bason, Director, MindLab Copenhagen has been released recently and is the first publication to “chart the emergence of collaborative design approaches to innovation in public policy”. This book provides a detailed analysis of “design as a tool for addressing public problems and capturing opportunities for achieving better and more efficient societal outcomes”, with contributions from academics, design practitioners and public managers. The book’s target audience is government departments, public service organizations and institutions, design and public management schools, think tanks and consultancies to help them “understand and use design as a tool for public sector reform and innovation”. The book covers the global context of the rise of design for policy, provides case studies of the application of design to policy making, and includes a guide to specific policy design tools along with a roadmap for use of design in government.
The author Christian Bason in his earlier books on social innovation, design and leadership, and “Leading Public Sector Innovation: Co-creating for a Better Society” highlights the role of public managers as “designers of innovation and change processes, involving both citizens and the government”. Bason (2013) suggests that public managers can facilitate and commission design work, they can act as designers themselves, and lastly they are themselves “affected by the design work as it unfolds and impacts their organisation”. In doing so, Bason demarcates between “managers as designers and managers absorbing design” and highlights the importance of an ‘attitude’ to encourage, learn and embrace design thinking into policy development.
One of the initial pieces on this blog focused on the development of a curriculum for a graduate level course in policy design. A central part of curriculum design is structuring of the literature and reference material. Journals are also encouraging the submission of pieces that present ideas and applications of ‘labs’. For example, the Solutions journal launched in 2010 as a bi-monthly publication aims at ‘solutions-driven innovation’ and has an Idea Lab to highlight the latest ideas shaping how we respond to the problems of the 21st century. The Solutions journal aims at bringing forth “bold and innovative ideas for solving the world’s integrated ecological, social, and economic problems” and providing “a forum for developing and discussing seriously creative ideas to solve society’s most pressing problems in an integrated way”. Submissions to such Idea Labs and books such as Design for Policy can contribute towards a useful resource base for students, scholars and practitioners with the intent of introducing design thinking in their research and practice.
In recent years many ‘Design Labs’ have been launched. While some of these Labs have been spearheaded by not-for-profit institutes, some have been government initiatives. Initiatives that fall in the latter category include the MindLab in Denmark, Helsinki Design Lab (Finland) and DesignGov (Australia). Initiated along similar lines, the U.K. Cabinet Office recently launched a new Policy Lab to “test how design principles and methods can improve the pace, quality and deliverability of policy in the Civil Service”. Though efforts towards ‘design training’ were initiated in 2013 effective integration of learning in policy development were still lacking. The development of the new policy lab also lends support to the Civil Service Reform Plan (2012) in the U.K. that aims to build efficiency, accountability, unity, transparency and collaborative working in the public sector.
The Design Council is an independent charity which is also the UK Government’s advisor on design issues and standards at a national level. The Design Council works in a collaborative mode with diverse stakeholders to work towards innovative solutions for pressing socio-economic issues. While recognizing the critical role of ‘design thinking’ in policy development, the Design Council emphasizes the need for empirical evidence of impact and to build the “knowledge of how and when design adds value to policy development”- a gap that the new Policy Lab aims to cover.
Perks (2013) in an article in the Design Week– a unique source of news and commentary on design issues- cautions that while considering the benefits of ‘good design’ for policymaking, the likelihood of unintended effects should not be ignored. For example in the process of promoting good design practice, designers and policymakers might want to stimulate specific stakeholder behaviour that is considered ‘appropriate’. However this might result in the “designers losing their objectivity” and a render a myopic view of the context in which the problem arises by losing sight of stakeholder’s preferences, views and acceptability of the design solutions.
The launch of these design labs spearheaded by the government is an indication that policymakers are ready to innovate, collaborate and experiment as they are dealing with increasingly complex policy environments. While ‘design thinking’ is being leveraged by country governments in a variety of policy settings and sectors especially service delivery such as health care though its conscious application and related stakeholder engagement is still limited to developed country contexts. Although elements of design thinking might already be a part of current policy development in both developed and developing country contexts, failure to consciously integrate it into policy development can result in a failure to recognize and correct faulty or redundant policies in a timely manner and adjust, adapt or even potentially redesign in some cases.