Anna Whicher is Head of Policy at PDR, the International Design and Research Centre at Cardiff Metropolitan University. She has led European funded projects on integrating design into innovation policy (Sharing Experience Europe, SEE platform) and using design methods for public service development (The SPIDER Project). Most recently, she has been exploring how design methods can create an inclusive dialogue between citizens, community groups and politicians called ProtoPolicy. She is a board member of the Bureau of European Design Associations and an advisor to the Design Council on the Design for Europe platform.

Its spanish translation can be found here.

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“Design methods will only become well-known by government if we can speak the language of government, which is economics!”

How did you end up working with design in the public sector?

Through the SEE Platform, a network of 11 European partners collaborating to integrate design into innovation policy, I have seen a real need to involve citizens more effectively in the public policy process. Through the SEE Platform, we have led 112 hands-on workshops using design methods with over 1,000 policy-makers. Design can be a really difficult concept for government officials to grasp but by involving them in using design methods they gain a tangible understanding of the added value. As a result of workshops, research and advocacy the SEE partners have successfully integrated design into 18 policies and 48 programmes. Now we are moving from integrating design into policy to using design as a method for policy development.

What do you think is the role of design in the public sector?

There are many roles for design in the public sector – for public service development and for policy-making across multiple domains and at multi-levels of governance. Design is gaining increasing attention within the UK civil service as an approach to involving the public in re-designing new public services but also as a transparent and inclusive method for policy-making. Many people feel there is a disconnection between the public and the public policy process. The civil service has been experimenting with design methods to jointly develop policies and strategies with citizens but design as a method for inclusive policy-making is almost unheard of among politicians.

“If the Chilean Laboratorio de Gobierno can generate concrete evidence of design value in the public sector they will contribute to the global debate on better public governance.”

Could you recall a successful case where design has impact the public sector?

In a three-month pilot project ProtoPolicy, PDR explored how design fictions could enable politicians and civil servants to engage with citizens, imagine the future implications of policy initiatives and negotiate political questions. Design fictions are provocations such as products, service concepts, images and films that conceptualise future scenarios. Using design fictions in a political context is about provoking dialogue, engagement, raising questions and reflections on aspects of legislation.

For the purpose of the ProtoPolicy project we examined aspects of the Assisted Dying Bill. By engaging with community groups and older people in a number of workshops, the team created a design fiction in the form of a euthanasia wearable. This was of course not real but a prompt to stimulate constructive dialogue. The design fiction was then shared with civil servants and politicians at an event in Westminster.

On 11 September 2015, the UK Parliament voted against the Assisted Dying Bill to allow doctors to help terminally ill people end their lives by 330 to 118. The interviews with civil servants and politicians revealed that with additional research and advocacy design methods could be adopted as a tool for greater citizen engagement in decision-making processes. Design fictions were seen as innovative prompts that build empathy and provoke creative thinking among citizens much more than government reports or draft bills. In the research one politician stated: “Design methods would be a good way to involve constituents. I think the concept of co-design, where community groups, the public and politicians can jointly develop understanding of political issues is valuable.”

What are your suggestions for South America to promote this way of thinking and working in the public sector?

Evaluation is the key to a successful design project. Design methods will only become well-known by government if we can speak the language of government, which is economics! We need to understand the added value of a design approach and how design can result in a cost-saving and more effective public services and policies. However, evaluating design is not easy as design solutions often tend to be intangible. If the Chilean Laboratorio de Gobierno can generate concrete evidence of design value in the public sector they will contribute to the global debate on better public governance. This is a really exciting time for design around the world.