Policy & Politics Highlights collection on our NEW special issue just published on ‘Policy-making as designing’: free to access from 1 Feb – 30th April 2020.

Sarah BrownSarah Brown,
Journal Manager of Policy & Politics

In a slight departure from our usual format highlighting 3 of our most topical articles, this quarter’s highlights collection focuses on our new special issue just published on

Policy-making as designing: the added value of design thinking for public administration and public policy

In recent years, policy makers have shown increasing interest in harnessing design approaches to address policy problems. Design methods can offer innovative perspectives on persistent policy problems (e.g. climate change; ageing population; urbanization etc.). Given the enormous influx of design toolboxes, design approaches and design steps, the search is on for an ‘ultimate’ design approach for public sector problems. But there are different approaches that can be used, and which have different strengths.

Our recent special issue identifies three rather different  approaches in public sector design.

  1. Design as optimisation.

This approach is built on principles such as expertise, objectivity and rationality. Traditional ‘evidence-based’ policy-making is often based on these principles. Design is about finding the best solution to a specific problem, within limits and therefore it is about optimisation. Citizens or service-users are not generally part of the design process.

  1. Design as exploration.

This approach is based on principles such as experimentation, ideation and exploration. Currently it is popular among policy makers and public servants because it provides room for trial and error. With this approach, the focus of the design is still about finding the best solution to a problem, but how to arrive at this solution differs. Very often, citizens are involved as stakeholders in the design process to participate and test out newly developed services.

3. Design as co-creation (co-design).

This approach emphasises collaboration with many other actors (e.g. citizens, businesses, NGOs) in the formulation of policy or public services, and at every step of the design process, from problem definition to prototype formulation and testing.  Rather than creating evidence-based policy, this approach generates energy-based policy, in which stakeholders become shareholders of the policy problemIn doing so, co-creation focuses not on finding the best (technical) solution to a certain problem, but rather the most legitimate solution.

Given the often complex nature of policy problems, this special issue proposes that design may benefit from a combination of all three approaches. For instance, complicated technical aspects, such as what kind of alternative technology can be developed to reduce CO2 emissions, may benefit from a lot of technical expertise and substantial knowledge (‘design as optimization’). However, these technologies need to be applied in and fine-tuned for a specific political, policy and social context. Questions about who will cover the investment costs or what kind of efforts are required from other stakeholders such as businesses or citizens are just as important as having the suitable technology. Therefore, making these shareholders part of the design process (design as co-creation) is necessary to create the necessary social capital needed to organise support and ownership. Living labs and scenario drafting (design as exploration), where shareholders are challenged to think ‘outside-the-box’ and for the common interest, may be valuable tools which produce innovative business models or arrangements that enable implementation.

In summary. given the complex nature of public sector problems, this special issue argues that a suitable design approach should be about using different design approaches.  Featuring a range of different examples showing how different design approaches are being implemented, the issue shows that there is much to learn about how we make the best use of design to improve public policy  and public services for the future.

Click and download the full special issue by following the link below:

Policy & Politics Special Issue: 48.1 ‘Policy-making as designing: the added value of design thinking for public administration and public policy‘ Guest edited by Arwin van Buuren, Jenny M Lewis and B Guy Peters Available at: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/tpp/pap/2020/00000048/00000001

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