Ambiguity and Uncertainty Conference Call for Papers – Chengdu China, November 27-18, 2014

By |October 8th, 2014|Uncategorized|0 Comments

“Agility and Resilience in Policy-Making: Coping with Uncertainty and Ambiguity”
Hosted by Center for Public Policy Innovation Studies, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

The concept of uncertainty has been developed and modeled in different disciplines such as the physical and mathematical sciences, engineering, economics, philosophy and psychology. But the linkage between uncertainty and policy-making has not been explored fully beyond such familiar but vague concepts as “bounded rationality” and the need to deal with “unstructured” or “wicked” problems. As a result critical questions in developing policy designs capable of dealing with different levels and types of uncertainty remained unanswered.
Most efforts towards reduction of uncertainties in policy-making to date have focused on overcoming knowledge gaps and gathering and mobilizing more information on policy problems and potential solutions. But this step by itself is often inadequate as policy-making uncertainties beyond cognitive or knowledge limits emanate from other factors such as the complexity of multiple stakeholders involved in policy processes and the presence of multiple alternative future scenarios. Significant challenges for policy design stem from the different perspectives, interpretations, interests and preferences brought to bear on policy-makers and policy-making by the many individuals and groups associated with the policy issue in question, and efforts towards seamless integration of knowledge between the academic and policymaking communities are also marred by the presence of different perspectives, timescales, vocabularies for concepts and processes, making the transmission of knowledge difficult. And policy designs themselves have generally become more challenging and difficult to formulate and implement as the interdependence and complexity of systems has increased along with the emergence new sets and possible combinations of policy [...]

‘Design thinking’: virtual and real platforms

By |May 19th, 2014|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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. 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)1 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 [...]

New book: ‘Design for Policy’

By |May 19th, 2014|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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”1. 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)2 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 [...]

The UK government launches a new Policy Lab

By |May 19th, 2014|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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”1. 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)2 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 [...]

Role of Evidence in Policy Design

By |January 23rd, 2014|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The Alliance for Useful Evidence1 is an open–access network that was launched in October 2011 with the aim of enhancing both the “demand for and supply of evidence for social policy and practice”. The Alliance comprises of 1,600 individuals from government agencies, universities, charities, business and local authorities in the UK and globally. What really though is the role of evidence in policy design? The key questions for policy designers include what constitutes evidence, who generates evidence, who uses it, how they use it, and how easy is it for users to understand evidence provided to them? Also, how does one ensure that users do not ‘cherry pick’ evidence to their advantage or to support policies or actions that were to be taken anyway (sometimes alluded to as ‘policy-based evidence’ when research findings are used to support premeditated policies). The Alliance organized a seminar in 2012 inviting experts to provide their insights on “What is ‘good’ evidence” (see video link here2)
Efforts towards enhancing the quality and size of the evidence base is based on the expectation that better evidence equates to ‘better policies’ and policy solutions. However in the real-world policymakers are limited by many factors including multi-stakeholder perspectives that challenge the design and adoption of policies solely based on evidence (Head, 2010)3. Evidence notwithstanding, has some limitations of its own. A recent editorial in Nature by Sutherland et al (2013)4 present “Twenty [...]

‘Designing’ a Course on Public Policy Design

By |December 18th, 2013|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The California College of Arts (CCA) recently launched an MBA in Public Policy Design1. This program builds on the curriculum of an existing MBA program in Design Strategy at CCA and was launched in 2008, focusing on “design methods, sustainability, systems thinking, finance, entrepreneurship, and generative leadership”. The Associate Chair of the MBA Program Will Semmes shares that the Program “offers a project-based curriculum that provides future leaders with the skills, knowledge, and techniques they’ll need to make positive, constructive changes happen.”  The Program faculty considers that being in San Francisco Bay Area they are well situated in the midst of a culture strongly supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, multi-stakeholder partnerships and strong local initiatives and leadership. The curriculum of the MBA in Public Policy Design emphasizes team-based solutions that coalesces specific aspects of business management, sustainability, systems thinking, and design-thinking (see Figure). The curriculum is designed to help students grasp different tools and gain exposure to diverse perspectives related to markets, governments, organizations, and individuals.
Figure: Curriculum of MBA in Public Policy Design at CCA2

Design thinking is prevalent in courses being offered by engineering, management and business Schools.  Policy design in various forms has also been a part of the curriculum of public policy courses but this is the first time a full-fledged course on policy design itself has been launched at the school.
The launch of this MBA Program at CCA makes one wonder regarding an ‘ideal’ structure and format of a course on policy design? Some relevant questions pertain to the following three aspects. Firstly how would the contents of a course on policy design differ depending on the level at which [...]

The first issue of the Annual Review of Policy Design is published

By |December 16th, 2013|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The first issue of the new open-access Annual Review of Policy Design has been published and is available online at . The Review publishes original articles and reprints of current and classic pieces dealing with policy design research and theory.
The articles that feature in the Review are categorized into 1) Original Research on policy design, 2) Recently Appeared articles, 3) Classic Articles and 4) Discussions, Reports and Commentary on policy design. The first issue of the Review features original research articles that cover design and innovation in the public sector, matching of tools and goals in policy portfolios, evidence-driven policy design in complex adaptive systems and the concept of policy patching and packaging in policy formulation. Recently appeared articles included in this Review focus on a formal definition of the design concept, applying design theory to public policy and design principles for renewable energy programs in developing countries. The Classic pieces include those from 1970s by Hillier and Learman (1973) and Anderson (1971) on comparative policy analysis and design of alternatives in organizational contexts respectively. Two reports have been considered in this Review. One is on evidence-based reintegration programme design, prepared by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research and the other is a report on ‘Design for Public Good’ prepared by SEE (Sharing Experience Europe Policy Innovation Design) platform. SEE is a network of eleven European partners sharing knowledge and experience on how design can be integrated into regional and national policies to boost innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainability and socio-economic development.

When is precaution the best design solution?

By |October 25th, 2013|Uncategorized|0 Comments

A series of interesting articles came up recently in the Guardian and presented differing viewpoints on the precautionary principle, which puts many policymakers in a conundrum especially while planning for the long-term. In one of the articles Andy Stirling1 highlights as to why the precautionary principle matters. Stirling suggests that it is important to consider various future policy options instead of using precaution as an excuse for not taking any action. He argues that doing the same requires “understanding, rather than denial, of the real nature of uncertainty”. He highlights that taking precaution suggests that we are not only considering risk but also uncertainty, whether it is owing to lack of empirical evidence, inherent complexity of an issue or system, differing scientific views, element of surprise etc. Stirling argues that the imminent pressure from policymakers about ‘justifying a decision’ makes scientists continue to ‘micro-correct’ their results and offering “risk-based prescriptions” by overlooking the precautionary principle that provides room to address uncertainty.
Tracey Brown2 on the other hand suggests that the precautionary principle “stops innovation in its tracks”. She argues that the principle makes us stop or ban something supposedly harmful and subsequent believe that we are safe from harm. She argues that the precautionary principle is built on our present knowledge of the world, which includes our present doubts, fears and biases. So in resisting change for the fear of the unknown we are resisting deviations from the status quo even if that itself is a huge problem that needs urgent attention, Brown argues. She says that we need big changes and some risks for pressing problems such as food [...]

Can an ‘open data revolution’ lead to innovation in policy design?

By |October 15th, 2013|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The lack of access to detailed public data can often limit the best of research across the world. Is providing open access to governmental data the answer to fuel innovation in the public sector and policy design? A recent blog article by Casey Coleman1, Chief Information Officer of United States (US)’s General Services Administrator discusses about US Administration’s new Open data policy which suggests that open data is “publicly available data structured in a way that enables the data to be fully discoverable and usable by end users”. Coleman refers to apps on smartphones as a way that products are being created using government data for the public benefit. Much of this data is available on government websites. In Europe as well, the idea of making public data accessible has been rapidly gaining momentum. In her speech early this year2, European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said, that “The open data revolution is all about individuals and entrepreneurs and that includes the giving them a role in policy design”. Kroes refers to data as “the new oil” as it is a “fuel for innovation, powering and energizing” Europe’s economy. She argues that open public data can enable transparency and improve public services. She does caution though that this data revolution would come at a cost and would need a thoughtful framework within which to operate. A framework that can ensure that data is openly available for multiple uses over time with similar rules of operation across datasets and users and that respects privacy, confidentiality and security concerns. The European Commission has already started making headway in this direction by gradually [...]

Welcome to the Design Blog

By |September 1st, 2013|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Over the coming months, this blog will update the readers with advancements in research on design thinking with respect to policy design, and avenues where design thinking can aid in policy design. For example, Thailand held a Design lab workshop in March 20131 which was set as “a platform for participants from all sectors to share ideas and discuss the country’s challenges in order to develop a national framework”.

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