Hang on you’re thinking, this is a blog all about policy design…well it is, but you can’t really talk about designing public policy without discussing delivery. We’ve got a strategy to transform policymaking but making an impact – a real, on the ground, make a difference, impact – on people’s lives, is nearly always going to depend on delivering great products and great services. And delivery is hard.
Good delivery means getting the right balance between policy design and policy implementation. Or, to put it another way, between the art of design (a reflexive, imaginative and sometimes even playful process) and the science of delivery (where there’s more attention on things like metrics, tracking and reviews).
Design and delivery
Here in the Department for Education, our Delivery Unit is now home to the User Centred Policy Design team, which probably makes us a bit different. Maybe even unique. We think we’re currently the only government department with this set-up (if we’re not, please tell us, we’d love to talk to you). It puts us in a great position to look at look at how design and delivery might add-up.
We started work a couple of months ago, beginning with some implementation of our own. We’ve delivered a new offer that junks the jargon and helps us explain the practical value of design to policymakers. Plus we're opening-up more of the great methods, frameworks and useful hacks that are out already there and usable, but just need to be used more widely by teams.
That’s been the easy part. The harder side is working out how to bring together design and delivery – the arty bit and the scientific bit – in a way that’s experimental but also has some rigour behind it and, above all, gives us the sort of actionable insights we can learn from. Insights that tell us what could add-up or have a multiplier effect and what strengthens our ability to deliver change.
And that’s why we’ve come up with our own equivalent of a lesson plan.
Creating a lesson plan
When you look at the ‘Deliverology’ model developed by Sir Michael Barber there are five big components to a delivery culture – showing ambition, being focused, having clarity, urgency and what usually gets labelled ‘irreversibility’ – and seeing it in this way makes the science and the formula much easier to understand.
And the more we’ve thought about it, the more we’ve come round to the idea that so much of this is really all about behaviours. Just as public policy is very often about how people behave, so multidisciplinary working is about behaviour and, in particular, about building systems that allow teams to ask the right questions.
We’re big advocates of framing problems. That’s all about asking questions. It’s engaging for policymakers, it unpacks incentives and it helps create a design outlook where the emphasis is on investing time to understand problems. It’s a good system. It works. We just want to make it a better system by looking at how we blend creative, messy, non-linear aspects of design thinking, with the ability to consistently ask and answer the right delivery-based questions.
Like any effective lesson plan, we’ve set out our objectives, created some test activities and started to think about how we assess what we learn.
Putting it to the test
As a team, we’ll quite often find ourselves acting as a first receiver for some big, strategic, policy problems. Some of them aren’t going to be a great fit for a User-Centred Design approach and we’re comfortable with this.
The challenge we’ve set ourselves is how to align policy design thinking with a stronger delivery focus: the art and the science. So, with some inspiration from Ben Holliday, here are three tests we’ve developed, each of them based on combining system questions to give us a multiplier effect:
- What problem are we trying to solve and are we being ambitious enough? This is all about motivations and starting with an understanding of why we’re being asked to design something and, at the same time, introducing a delivery mindset from the start, by asking when people (citizens) will see a difference because of this work and how we’ll know.
- How are we planning to do it and where do we concentrate our efforts? This connects a core Deliverology question (‘how are we going to do this?’) with a culture (prioritising a smaller part of a big problem) and design focus that actively engages with discovery and actionable insights.
- How can we track progress and what are our key metrics? We thought hard about this as the creative, exploratory aspects of design can conspire against clearly defined targets, but knowing whether you’re on track and what you can do to stay on track is essential to delivery practice (we also have some brilliant analysts in the team, so help is at hand with this).
So, there we are, a set of questions, system-based, strongly linked to behaviours and all about making a start. It’s an experiment, there’s more for us to do and learning to apply. Good policy design always needs a great delivery strategy.
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