Bridging the gap between design and public policy

The UK Policy Design Community is calling for a bigger, more inclusive definition of design practice by commissioning a 'Public Design Review' that brings together the stewards of design and public value to try and define what this means.  

This is the “next big step” to ensuring design is creating systems and services that deliver the most public value, says Andrew Knight, Head of the UK Policy Design Community during an interview with Government Transformation Magazine. "There are so many different explanations and definitions of design, which has left the design community deeply fragmented. While the many definitions make sense to designers, to others it looks crazy.”

Without a well underwood proposition for design, Knight argues that itsakphoto2 (1) place in public policy making is limited. “Designers have a set of tools that allow them to interpret the world and respond to it through the lens of public intent and the systems and people that policies are supporting. However, the common experience of designers is they constantly have to justify why they're in the room and explain to people the basics of what design is.” 

Until designers get better at articulating why design is a fundamental tool for driving down investment cost and driving up public value, Knight is adamant that government's ability to deliver programmes and services that convey meaningful outcomes for citizens is reduced. “This is why we need to have a universal proposition that we all agree on – to really embed design into the core business of government.”

It is against this backdrop that the UK Policy Design Community has launched the ‘Public Design Review’. On the design side, all central government’s design practitioners are taking part, alongside national design institutions like the Design Council, Design Museum, Chartered Society of Designers, Arts and Humanities Research Council.

On the public value side are HM Treasury’s public spending experts and the National Audit Office. Experts in public design and value from universities (Central Saint Martins, UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, University of Manchester) are also taking part. 

“This is the first time all of the different types of designers across the public sector are coming together to work on something. This is a really important moment for us to finally build bridges between policy and delivery designers,” Knight says.

Going beyond user-centric design

For the last decade, design has been focused on developing user-centric services. However, Knight says this is “no longer a good enough argument” for top level decision-makers in government. Instead, he insists design now needs to be framed around what they're most interested in, which is public value. 

“Governments are starting to have a much more holistic concept of what value is. It’s moving away from efficiency and expanding to include other positive outcomes for citizens, such as commitment to sustainability and social responsibility,” Knight says. 

The Public Design Review is an attempt to reframe the concept of design with this in mind; ensuring there is a clear correlation between investing in design and producing public value,” Knight says. Findings from the review are expected to be published in Spring 2024.   

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