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 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.