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Do you need multidisciplinary policy design?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: PublicPolicyDesign, Research

People working together to solve a problem

The question of how to bring experts together to tackle the problems of the day is not a new one. From the 1854 Northcote-Trevelyan Report to the 1968 Fulton’s Committee Report to the present day’s reform efforts, the Civil Service is always challenging itself to get the right people in the room and find ways for them to work together constructively.

Today senior policymakers say they want more access to multidisciplinary policy design teams to build policymaking muscle on their patch. This is at a time when ministers are demanding rapid design and deployment of public services that deliver exceptionally high levels of public value.

This blog post sets out the value of multidisciplinary policy design based on the views of people from labs in the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Home Office, HM Revenue & Customs, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, and the Ministry of Justice.

What is a multidisciplinary policy design team?

Multidisciplinary policy design teams bring together subject matter experts with technical experts to deliver policy intent:

  • subject matter experts are people - often policymakers - with deep domain knowledge on an issue of national interest
  • technical experts are people who are skilled in a particular aspect of delivering policies or services and their practice tends to cover skills like research, analysis, design, delivery or build.

These people work together to ensure that the maximum amount of public value is delivered by balancing the needs of government, the user of the policy or service, and what is deliverable. They are usually single-focused and work on one problem at a time. They often manage projects using agile methodologies, and they draw on leading-edge design techniques from human-centred design and systems thinking.

Why you need a multidisciplinary policy design team

Multidisciplinary policy design teams specialise in finding and delivering public value. Their deep research and design work boosts the credibility and reputation of senior policymakers.

A self-assessment for you…

Do your policy initiatives always hit the mark first time?

Multidisciplinary policy design teams specialise in policy inception. They do this by first establishing policy intent based on citizen or system based outcomes, not by just making plans to deliver prescribed solutions like a website. They also specialise in making sense of complex environments through systems thinking.

Do your policy initiatives land well with citizens?

Multidisciplinary policy design teams specialise in understanding what people who use your policies and services need, and how they will respond to any interventions. They can help you improve citizens’ uptake, completion rate and satisfaction with your policy or service.

Do your policy initiatives always get efficiently and effectively delivered?

There are many well documented cases where policymakers have failed to deliver the right thing in the right way (see The Blunders of Our Governments). This can tie up public money and effort for years. Multidisciplinary teams specialise in prioritising how to deliver value fast and join-up policy and delivery into end-to-end services.

Are you delivering public value?

HM Treasury has introduced a new public value framework to help departments measure the effectiveness of public spending in improving outcomes and to “set the agenda for dialogue” between itself and departments. Multidisciplinary policy design teams specialise in finding and leveraging this public value. HM Treasury sees public value through 4 lenses:

  1. the clarity and ambitiousness of a given goal, as well as the progress that has been made towards it
  2. how effective the programme is at managing inputs (forecasting, benchmarking, etc.)
  3. the level of citizen engagement (how legitimate it is seen to be as a use of taxpayer money, the level of user participation, and engagement from key stakeholders)
  4. and the extent to which it develops system capacity as a whole (increasing levels of innovation, workforce capacity, work across organisational boundaries, etc.).

A future with multidisciplinary policy design

The policy design community wants to see a future where public leaders have access to multidisciplinary teams that enable subject matter experts and technical experts to work together on rapidly diagnosing problems and opportunities.

It believes that clearly understanding the intent, problem space and theory of change at the inception of a policy can ensure that ministers are provided with the highest quality advice.

Policies and services can offer the public greater value if they are tried and tested to check whether they are needed, deliverable and will deliver the intent, all before the government invests in building them.

The community thinks that the policy and delivery functions of government should be joined up and that policies and services should be designed end-to-end from the perspective of people that use them, regardless of traditional silos. This would give the Civil Service deep pools of knowledge and patterns that can be curated based around the users of those policies or services, and cross-policy systems issues.

And it's important for civil servants too. Let’s not forget that multidisciplinary policy design teams are a fulfilling place for people to work together. Officials - of all types - who work in these teams routinely say that they are great places to work because of their diversity, depth and pace of work. The community wants to share the sense of satisfaction and purpose that they find in their job by focusing on delivering meaningful change for citizens, not bureaucratic processes.

Join our community

We use this blog to talk about the work of the multidisciplinary policy design community. We intend to share more stories about our work, the thinking behind it and what policymaking might look like in the future. If you would like to read more, then please sign up for updates. Join the conversation by commenting below.

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