[Report] Applying design approaches to policy making

Applying Design Approaches to Policy Making: Discovering Policy Lab
Written by Lucy Kimbell
Illustrated by Holly Macdonald
Published by the University of Brighton
September 2015

This report reviews what design-based approaches bring to policy making.
It results from an academic fellowship in which the author was embedded for one year in Policy Lab, a specialist team based in the Cabinet Office of the UK government.
The report combines insights and quotations from ethnographic research and interviews as well as commentary from other contributors to the emerging community of practice around policy innovation.
Policy Lab was set up within the context of Civil Service reform and in particular the Open Policy Making agenda. Funded by and working with government departments, the Policy Lab team brings new methods and tools to policy making and supports their practical application by civil servants.

The key findings are that:

  • Policy Lab supports organisational learning, exploring future policy making capabilities that can be routinised
  • As well as providing practical help to departments, Policy Lab collaborates with them to develop hybrid new ways of working and to challenge existing ways of doing things in the ongoing mediation between politics, evidence and delivery
  • Its approach involves setting up collaborative projects which explore problems and generate solutions through iterative learning cycles
  • Its projects generate and build confidence in new insights and new policy ideas, which can then be developed via more conventional means leading to faster delivery and implementation
  • Insights into people’s worlds and their experiences of an issue re-order policy making and provide opportunities for challenging existing ways of doing things
  • Policy Lab supports civil servants and their stakeholders to collaborate more effectively through constructive participation