How can service design help us make better policy?

I have been thinking recently about why policy makers would want to adopt more design-led ways of working. The benefits of this are obvious to designers of course, but we can forgive policy makers who are unfamiliar with design a little scepticism.

As I see it, we face two major risks when we develop policy that will potentially affect the lives of millions of people. And service design could well mitigate both of them.

There is a risk that we implement policies without understanding the lives, motivations and cultures of the people they affect.

This could lead to changes that do not produce the outcomes we want for people or for government. They may even have damaging unintended consequences for the people they are designed for.

Service design starts with the user. Before going anywhere near a solution, we invest time to understand the problem(s) that need to be solved. We also research the needs and expectations of the real people who are affected by them.

Service design is also about prototyping and starting small. Prototypes help us test our ideas and assumptions with real people and build solutions iteratively as we gather new insights.

Applied to policy work you can see how these things can help us avoid cultural disconnect.

There is also a risk that we design policies without understanding the real world implications of actually implementing them.

This could lead to inefficient or even unworkable policies that waste taxpayers’ money. This is sometimes referred to as operational disconnect.

Service design is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach. This means breaking down silos and bringing people together from a number of disciplines to solve a problem together. Disciplines like design, operational delivery, digital, data, technology, analysis and even lawyers and commercial experts.

By involving a wider field of experts in policy design from the very beginning, including the people who will ultimately be needed to make it a reality, we stand a better chance of achieving the desired policy outcomes in a more efficient way.

I am testing these theories in my work with policy makers at the moment, inspired by the likes of Policy Lab, FutureGov and Uscreates, who recently shared some of their techniques in a great BBC Radio 4 series called The Fix.

Please get in touch if you would like to know more or share your own experiences.

4 thoughts on “How can service design help us make better policy?

Add yours

  1. Love to talk more about these challenges which I am also exploring in my advisory work and research with public sector and other players in Australia. I will be in London in September and would be keen to make contact if that worked.

  2. That’s a good post – thanks.
    In Derbyshire, we’ve been looking at these same challenges at a neighbourhood scale – defining policy which is led by communities (of place or practice) & enabling them to engage with public sector organisations as peers. Let’s all keep talking – learning together as we ‘do’… 🙂

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