Art Works Blog

Learning from Abroad: When Government Meets Design

Interest has grown significantly from governments around the world in design as a methodology for connecting new ideas with people’s needs, reducing risk, and shaping public services and policies.
In late 2013, I was fortunate to undertake a study trip to America looking at how design methods are being used in federal and state government. This tour took me to Boston, New York, Washington, San Francisco, and L.A.
Businesses in the U.S. have pioneered the use of design as a strategic tool but interestingly, many people I met estimated that the application of design to service and policy challenges in U.S. government is 5-10 years behind some EU (European Union) countries. However, the trip suggested that the role of design as a tool for public sector innovation in the U.S. is changing and a raft of research centers, labs, and not-for-profits are leading some of the world’s most advanced thinking on how design methods can be used to tackle ‘super-wicked’ problems. These include ChangeLabs, DesignMatters, School of Design Strategies at Parson’s New School, and The Lab @ Office of Personnel Management.
The trip also revealed a fascinating network of people working on some of the newest and most exciting challenges for designers, and for non-designers using design methods--where the subject and results of the design process could be new platforms, organizational cultures, or systems.
When the National Endowment for the Arts asked the Design Council to put together a webinar on how governments are using design as part of their ‘Learning from Abroad’ series it was a brilliant opportunity to connect people from this network with those in the U.K.

Organizations like the NEA that provide an international forum for discussing design in the public sector are vital because whilst there is a growing community of research and practice there are significant knowledge gaps.

The panel for the webinar session When Government Meets Design (May 7 at 1:00pm ET/6:00pm GMT) represents some of the most exciting design work taking place in the U.K. and U.S. governments. Speakers are: Camilla Buchanan, Policy Advisor, Design Council U.K. (moderating); Chelsea Mauldin, Director, The Public Policy Lab, New York; and Beatrice Andrews, Senior Policy Advisor, Policy Lab, Cabinet Office U.K.

The session will share insights on how design is being used to create public services around the people who use them, to introduce new methods into the civil service skill set, and as a tool to aid the process of public policy development. Some of our initial questions are:

1. How can we build the evidence base and what are the best measures of design in government?
2. Are there common design principles and methods in frontline projects (on the service implementation level) and in strategic projects (on the policy-level)?
3. How do design methods work in political contexts and in conjunction with other innovation approaches, such as behavioural insights?
4. What are the spaces, language and on-going support required for non-designers using design?
5. What training is needed for designers to work in non-design environments?

We will also be thinking about areas for further research and work, and would welcome wider views. We invite you not only to listen in but also to contribute
to the Q&A.

Camilla Buchanan is a Policy Advisor with the Design Council, London, U.K. The When Government Meets Design webinar is free, but you must register in advance here.

Missed the first Learning Abroad webinar on the 2013-14 World Design Impact Prize? Click through for the kick-off blog post and the webinar archive.

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