Camilla Buchanan is Policy Advisor at the Design Council in the UK. In this piece, Camilla briefly explains their experience in the process of design capacity building for public servants. This article was written specially for Diseño Público opening a series of futures collaborations.

The Design Council is working with a central government department to shape a change in legislation involving complex stakeholder groups.

A significant amount of design innovation work has been focused on frontline service challenges in the UK. The Design Council has contributed to this considerably through its design-led coaching service for the public sector (http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-services/service-transformation).

Interest in design as a methodology for better connecting new ideas with end user needs has now grown significantly within central government. The major driver is the Cabinet Office’s Civil Service Reform Plan (2012), and the Design Council has delivered training sessions to nearly 400 central government civil servants in the past 18 months.

But knowledge of how and when design adds value to policy development is limited and there are very few examples.

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Case Study

The Design Council is working with a central government department to shape a change in legislation involving complex stakeholder groups. This is building important insights on where design methods can aid legislation development and how to position and support design work with policy teams.

Through the project, the client aims to reduce bureaucracy and improve transparency and the stakeholder experience. The client was interested in working with the Design Council because of its emphasis on stakeholder engagement at early project stages.

Phase 1 of the legislation project involved face-to-face consultation with different stakeholder groups and workshops bringing them together for the first time. Work is now moving into Phase 2, where the ideas generated in Phase 1 will be selected and shaped into design briefs, before the final implementation phase.

From Phase 1 there are early insights on how design can aid legislation development. These include:

  • Human insights: in-depth interviews with stakeholder groups involved them more closely than through text-based public consultation, surfacing much richer insights.
  • Building trust: by engaging with stakeholders directly the department has built far greater trust.
  • Eroding disciplinary boundaries: methods such as ‘personas’ used in the workshops, created a common approach for stakeholders and exposed them to the views of other groups.
  • Visualisation: an experience map was created of the legislative process; this brought complex transactions together in one visualisation enabling the process to be understood quickly and barriers within it to be identified.
  • Accelerated ideas generation: there are now additional options for changes to the legislation from generative design.

The legislation project and recent Design Council training in central government also indicate how to present and support a design-led project with a policy team. Insights include:

  • Ongoing support: much ‘catalytic’ design training work has taken place in central government, introducing teams to methods. Embedding this requires ongoing support.
  • Language: reflecting the language used by the policy team was important in presenting opportunities from Phase 1.
  • Space: for the policy team bringing together stakeholders in a neutral space for was important for the workshops.
  • Evidence: as interest in design moves up to strategic levels in government, more focus is needed on capturing evidence of impact and how design methods work alongside the types of evidence used by policy makers such as large data sets.

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Conclusion

Much work has taken place the ‘catalytic’ stage in design for policy makers but ongoing support is needed to embed learning outside of training. More evidence of impact is also needed, along with clear examples of design uses in policy projects. Lessons on how to articulate this work, spaces used, gaining endorsement from leadership and ways to support uptake of new methods introduced in training session are also required in order for it to take hold.

Camilla Buchanan, Policy Advisor Design Council UK. http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/ Photo credits: Design Council UK ©