Design special issue highlights collection – free to access from 31 July 2020 – 31 October 2020

Sarah BrownSarah Brown
Journal Manager, Policy & Politics

This quarter’s highlights collection brings to you a selection of articles from our incredibly popular special issue on Policymaking as designing: the added value of design thinking for public administration and public policy.

Published earlier this year, this special issue brings together a collection of papers that have taken design of public policy and administration seriously, in a variety of different and practical ways. The papers demonstrate that not only are there many examples of design approaches being implemented, but that there is much to learn about how we make the best use of these to improve public policy and administration and the design of public services.

The introduction to the special issue, by Arwin Van Buuren, Jenny Lewis, Guy Peters and William Voorberg, identifies three ideal-types of design approaches currently characterising the discipline: design as optimisation, design as exploration and design as co-creation.  As the authors show, each of these ideal-types is based on different underlying principles about what constitutes ‘good’ design in terms of the design process and anticipated policy outcomes.  Given the complex nature of so many contemporary policy problems, the authors ask whether policy design would benefit from a combination of all three design approaches; and call for more rigorous empirical analyses of these approaches to further develop public administration as a design science.

Building on this, our second featured article from our special issue on design is ‘Applying design in public administration: a literature review to explore the state of the art by Margot Hermus, Arwin van Buuren and Victor Bekkers.  Via a state-of-the-art analysis of public sector design processes, the authors find that design processes commonly focus on new ideas or (sources of) knowledge, a better understanding of the situation in which the design is applied, or on the implementation phase of the design process.   In total, the authors identify six design approaches, varying from traditional scientific and informational approaches to innovative, user-driven and thus more ‘inspirational’ approaches.  In turn, the authors develop a typology of design approaches, which provides the basis for systematic analysis of the conditions under which different approaches can exploit the potential of design in public administration.

The third featured article from our special issue on design isWhen design meets power: Design thinking, public sector innovation and the politics of policymaking, by Jenny M Lewis, Michael McGann and Emma Blomkamp, which focusses on what happens when design thinking comes into contact with power and politics.  It argues that policymakers need to learn how to incorporate the insights and practices from design thinking into policy.  At the same time, though, it also argues that designers also need to learn how to deal with the politics of the policy process.  The authors suggest that if both sets of actors are willing to learn from each other, there should be significant benefits for policy design and all those affected by it.

Our final featured article in this highlights collection from our special issue on design is ‘Applying design science in public policy and administration research’ by Georges Romme and Albert Meijer. In this article, the authors argue that, since public policy researchers are increasingly called upon by governments to help craft solutions to complex challenges, scholars need to rethink their usual ‘bystander’ approach to designing policy and engage in experimentation and interventions that can help to improve governance systems.  To assist scholars in this, the article proposes a ‘Design Science’ framework that involves four key activities: creating, assessing, justifying and theorising. The authors illustrate the merits and challenges of this framework via two case studies from the Netherlands, and demonstrate how their design science framework enables the integration of traditional validation-oriented research with newer intervention-oriented approaches.

I hope you enjoyed reading this selection of articles from our popular special issue on policy design. If you want to read the other articles in the issue, please visit our website for the full contents list.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:

van Buuren, Arwin; Lewis, Jenny M; Guy Peters, B; Voorberg, William (2020) ‘Improving public policy and administration: exploring the potential of design‘,  Policy & Politics, DOI:

Hermus, Margot; van Buuren, Arwin; Bekkers, Victor (2020) ‘Applying design in public administration: a literature review to explore the state of the art‘,  Policy & Politics, DOI:

Lewis, Jenny M; McGann, Michael; Blomkamp, Emma (2020) ‘When design meets power: design thinking, public sector innovation and the politics of policymaking[Open Access], Policy & Politics, DOI:

Romme, A Georges L; Meijer, Albert (2020) ‘Applying design science in public policy and administration research‘,  Policy & Politics, DOI:


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