Skip to main content

Events library

Events library

Join our community

This page is our archive of events for the policy design community. We use this blog to talk about the work of the multidisciplinary policy design community. We share 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 subscribe to this blog. If you work for the UK's government, then you can you join the policy design community. If you don't work for the UK government, then join our AHRC Design and Policy Network.

Homegrowing Service Design

7th March 2024 - Recruiting service designers is hard. So is bringing in contract resource when budgets are tight. But there are a lot of people in government who could be reskilled.

Jen Staves' session focuses on a real example of trying to reskill business analysts as service designers, offering insight into the benefits and challenges of this approach, and the considerations she would take forward in future.

Jen Staves is Deputy Director for Strategic Design at HMRC, working on Making Tax Digital. Before this, she was head of User Centred Design at HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

She has been a career-long advocate for effective public design, working in both the public and charitable sectors. She was Head of Content Design at DfE Digital, Content Lead at the Department for International Trade, and spent 11 years as a Digital and Content lead at the Wellcome Trust.

As a senior leader in HMRC Digital, Jen brings a unique perspective on the trials and tribulations of homegrowing effective design capability. She will lead a discussion on the challenges of training in-house designers from other disciplines, and reflect on her tips for delivering outstanding public service design.

8 February 2024 - School Citizen Assemblies (SCAs) empower young people and communities to tackle complex challenges and achieve transformative change through a creative process of research, understanding, collaboration, critical thinking and compassion. With schools acting as hubs for change, they assemble young people, experts and stakeholders to take collaborative action and create effective solutions. The session with Chris McLean explores the links between the SCA and policymaking and how policymakers work with citizens to co-design public solutions to address a diverse set of needs and across different stakeholders.

Chris McLean is an academic and educationalist based within the Alliance Manchester Business School at the University of Manchester. She has a keen interest co-creative design, change, curriculum design, assessment, civic engagement, and sustainable education. Chris is academic lead of the University of Manchester School Governors Initiative and she leads the RSA Innovative Education Network.

Welsh Future Generations

11th January 2024 - The Well-being of Future Generations Act requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change. Wales is leading the world in this work and has been incredibly influential globally, including at the United Nations.

Derek Walker is the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.

Jacob Dafydd Ellis is the Director for External Relations and Culture at the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. He is a Public Affairs and International Relations specialist, driven by a desire to see the needs of future generations placed at the centre of policy making. He combines experience at the United Nations, World Cities Culture Forum and One Young World with over a decade spent as a charity trustee for organisations such as Scouts Cymru, Literature Wales and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru.

Download the slides here.

The Enabling Ecosystem

14th December 2023 - Design projects do not succeed in a vacuum; successful projects are technically sound, but also take account of the prevailing ecosystem. If you haven't understood the ecosystem you operate in, your project is very likely to fail. Successful design projects in the public sector requires more than just skill in a design methodologies, it needs self-awareness, situational and contextual alertness, and a clear view of the ecosystem in which you are operating and constant attention on the implementation challenge. Malcolm Beattie shares his insights after 10 years leading the Northern Ireland Innovation Lab.

Malcolm Beattie has been the Head of the Northern Ireland Public Sector Innovation Lab since 2014. The Innovation Lab sits within the Public Service Reform Division of the Department of Finance (DoF). The Lab responds to challenges where effective service provision for the public has proved most difficult. And it aims to be a centre of innovation excellence in the public sector in Northern Ireland. In 2014, at the behest of the then Northern Ireland Minister of Finance, Malcolm established the Innovation Lab and has led it since playing a pivotal role in its evolution, expansion and in the development and application of the different methodologies currently in use. He is co-creator of the key methodology designed to assist in policy development, which has at its heart user-centred collaborative stake-holder engagement to tackle complex public sector policy and business challenges – these are known Strategic Insight Labs.

Download Malcolm's slides here.

Current Debates and Future Directions for Research in the UK

17th November 2023: The final event of the AHRC Design & Policy Network marking the launch of its report and recommendations Design and Policy: Current Debates and Future Directions for Research in the UK.

Empowering Communities: Exploring Participation Requests

9th November 2023: Cara Broadley discusses her research in Social Studios, in which she developed participatory design methods to connect with communities from across Scotland who had engaged with Participation Requests – an aspect of The Community Empowerment Act (2015) that aims to help people to influence services and decisions at a neighbourhood scale. Encompassing both hybrid and digital approaches, these methods have enabled participants to reflect upon their own experiences of harnessing national policy for addressing local issues.

Cara Broadley is a Research Fellow in Design for Policy at the School of Innovation and Technology at The Glasgow School of Art.

Designing with public purpose, for everyday life

12th October 2023 - Dan Hill shares tangible, useful, and inspiring examples of his work over the last two decades at the forefront of ‘strategic design’, indicating how the traditional tools of design can be reoriented towards our shared big picture challenges—climate action, social justice, public health, dignified housing, meaningful living environments—whilst also remaining grounded, participative, and adaptable to the patterns of everyday life. Often drawing from work in and around the intersection of cities, governance, technology and culture, and across UK, Sweden, Finland, and Australia, Dan explores how public purpose, from both inside and outside of government, can provide a compass for design, and in return, how strategic design might be able to refine the public policy toolkit.

Professor Dan Hill is Director of Melbourne School of Design, in the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne. Prior to Melbourne, Dan was the Director of Strategic Design at Vinnova, the Swedish government’s innovation agency. A designer and urbanist, his previous leadership roles include Arup in Australia and the UK, Fabrica in Treviso, Italy, SITRA's Helsinki Design Lab in Finland, the UK government's Future Cities Catapult, and the BBC in London. Dan is a Visiting Professor and Advisory Board member at UCL's Institute for Innovation and Public Practice and a founder member of the Council on Urban Initiatives, a joint venture between UN HABITAT, LSE and UCL. He was one of the inaugural Design Advocates for the Mayor of London and a Trustee of Participatory City Foundation, and is now on the Advisory Group of Open Systems Lab. Dan is the author of the books 'Dark Matter & Trojan horses: A strategic design playbook' (Strelka Press, 2012) and 'Designing missions' (Vinnova, 2022).

Download Dan's slides here.

Designing and designers

14th September 2023 - Professor Lucy Kimbell shares findings and insights from studies of design that open up perspectives on what design is, what designers do and the outcomes using design approaches might lead to or shape. Rather than a homogenous, single practice, design is revealed to have different characteristics depending on the context it has emerged and developed in. This has implications for those building capabilities in design in service organisations and policymaking.

Lucy is Professor of Contemporary Design Practices at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London and director of strategic design consultancy Fieldstudio Design Ltd. Previous roles include AHRC Design Research Fellow in Policy Lab in the Cabinet Office and Clark Fellow in Design Leadership at Said Business School, University of Oxford. Lucy’s research explores the emergence and practices of design practices in organisational, social and public policy contexts through books such as Service Innovation Handbook (2014) and academic journal articles. She is co-director of a new Sustainable Transitions through Democratic Design Doctoral Network and convenes the AHRC funded Design and Policy Research Network. Previous to joining academia she worked as an artist, digital designer and creative entrepreneur.

Design and Public Policy – Future Directions for Research and Practice

6th September 2023 - The fourth and final workshop of our AHRC Design and Policy Network that brings together researchers and practitioners to talk about design and policy. This workshop included presentations from:

  • Professor Catherine Durose (University of Liverpool) set out a heuristic for understanding three different types of relationships between design and policy
  • Professor Michael Barzelay (London School of Economics) also rejected a reductivist idea of ‘design’ as a toolkit. Instead, Michael suggested that design, as a professional field, has some ‘essential’ elements as a framework for creating systems that work well
  • Associate Professor Marzia Mortati (Politecnio di Milano) emphasised that part of the value of design is that, while policy and design touch everyone, policy can seem intangible; in contrast, design can be highly tangible
  • Noel Hatch (Head of Policy Design, Research and Partnerships at the London Borough of Newham), and co-ordinator of the London Strategy and Policy Network, said Local authorities have some key levers they can use to promote design in local policy-making, centring on devolving power, and building healthy alternative forms of power.

Read about the event and watch the presentations here.

Making space for innovation in fast-paced government projects

10th August 2023 - Many government digital projects are done in short bursts based on the service standard for Discovery (learning about the problem) and Alpha (testing out solutions) with teams that often are thrown together and expected to work out complex problems with people of varying backgrounds, skills and experience. Working toward high-stake outcomes, continuously learning about the problem and the solutions of services, products and policy changes is challenging to say the least and difficult to achieve. How might we simplify the process of experimenting and create concrete evidence to support ministerial & policy decisions all while being more creative and innovative in how we solve those problems?

Ryan Haney specialises in design-driven innovation through rapid product discovery and validation. As an experienced Service & Product Designer, User Researcher and Product Manager he is focused on the delivery of value for users and organisations to create impact. Currently, he runs Happygeneralist LTD and is a full-time consultant for Product Management, Service & UX Design specialising in Lean hypothesis testing and innovation, focusing on behavioural change and collaborative design. Previously he designed innovative solutions working for Aiimi, FIFA, Redgate Software, and a number of Government departments including UKHO, ACAS, DFE and MOJ. Passionate about creating things, including communities, he created Collab Lab, a Meetup in Cambridge and Zurich aimed at practising, testing and pushing the boundaries of collaboration and innovation techniques and methods. He also helped to create the conference UX Scotland and has been the programme chair for UX Ireland and UX Cambridge.

How do we lead and deliver successful services, sustainably?

8th June 2023 - Kate Tarling, author of the best-selling book The Service Organization, talks about why making better services ultimately means making better service organisations.

All organizations are becoming service organizations. But most weren’t built to deliver services successfully, end to end — and the human, operational, and financial impacts are abundantly clear. Yet default working practices (governance, planning, funding, leadership, reporting, programme and team structures) inside large organizations haven’t changed. Rather than modernise just one service at a time, it’s the underlying organizational conditions that need to be transformed — anything less is futile.

Multiplied: How Digital Transformation Can Deliver More Impact for the Public Sector

11th May 2023 In this session, Ben Holliday introduces ideas from his book Multiplied: How Digital Transformation Can Deliver More Impact for the Public Sector. Ben talks about the opportunities of using new ways of working, tools and methods to support policy work.

Ben Holliday is Chief Designer at TPXimpact. With over 20 years' experience in design and digital transformation he works with organisations, change programmes and teams to deliver modern digital products and services.‍ Ben previously worked in the Civil Service as Head of User Centred Design at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). In this role he led work in digital programmes as well as initiatives to bring together digital and policy teams, including work in collaboration with Policy Lab (Cabinet Office).

You can read a report of the event here and download Ben's slides here.

What does policymaking look like?

13th April 2023 In this session Professor Paul Cairney, a Professor of Politics and Policy at the University of Stirling, explores how academics and practitioners visualize policymaking. He expands on his post for the Public Policy Design blog.

The classic ‘policy cycle’ image is well known in policy and academia despite not summing up what governments actually do. More realistic images may describe policymaking complexity more accurately, but do they also help practitioners to engage in policymaking?

Cairney outlines a series of images derived from policy process theories, to show how academics explain key aspects of policymaking with reference to metaphors, flow diagrams, and visualizations of data. He then encourages participants to share images that they find useful to explain how they might engage effectively in policymaking.

Download Paul's slides here.

Democracy, Design and Public Policy: potential and pitfalls

17th February 2023 Step back and consider the potential, and possible pitfalls, of design approaches being used instrumentally to deliver civic participation and the broader opportunities for understanding democratic design...

  • To what extent can design help democracy?
  • How can democratic thinking challenge design or suggest or demand new forms of design?
  • With the emphasis on visioning, materialisation and visualisation associated with design, is there a danger of ‘design for democracy’ over-emphasising formal matters?
  • Or, through that focus on generativity, aesthetics and experience, can design approaches propose new qualities for democracy and challenge assumptions of who (or what) counts as a participant in democratic deliberation?

The workshop began with provocations from three invited speakers. Design researcher Joyce Yee is Professor of Design and Social Innovation at Northumbria University, co-author of Transformations by Design and currently working on a social innovation project across Asia. Political theorist Michael Saward is Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick and author of the recent book Democratic Design (2022) (see book launch here). Catherine Greig is founder of architecture and design studio MakeGood, which works with people in local communities to shape change.

Read about the event and watch the presentations here.

Policy Lab's experimental design methods

27th October 2022 - Policy Lab launch a set of 12 experimental method cards introducing public sector innovators to new concepts and initiating the sharing of new knowledge across practitioners, nationally and internationally. They introduce a range of concepts from Moral Imaginings to Engaging through the Metaverse - exploring why and how these methods could be relevant in the policy making of today and tomorrow and how they could be integrated into policy development.

Policy Lab was founded in 2014, its mission has been to explore the cutting edge of policy design practice: to radically improve policymaking through design, innovation and people-centred approaches. Back then, applying design thinking to a policy challenge was a very new and different way to frame, research and solve policy problems. Today these methods have been adopted by officials - user centred design, service design and systems thinking are now part of the latest Policy Professions Standards and there are teams across the civil service pursuing these methods.

Untapped potential from design research for public policy

3rd October 2022 Ever wondered how ideas from design research could be used in policy development? In this, the second of four events hosted by our new Design and Policy Network, we explore opportunities for policy from design approaches. We map some of the untapped potential for the use of design in relation to public policy processes, grounded in concepts from design research.

Each of our events begins with invited provocations from three guest speakers each from different backgrounds in design research, policy practice, and political science. This time, provocations come from: Carl DiSalvo (Georgia Institute of Technology), Professor Catherine Durose (Heseltine Institute for Public Policy, Practice and Place at the University of Liverpool), and Andrew Knight (Head of UK Policy Design community, UK Civil Service). The session will be co-chaired by Professor Lucy Kimbell (University of Arts London) and Professor Liz Richardson (University of Manchester).

Read a report of the event here.

Tensions and resistances in the field of design in policy

15th June 2022 If design approaches are so useful in policymaking, why haven’t they been more widely adopted? Are people who talk about ‘policy design’ all talking about the same thing? Is ‘design’ a helpful concept when considering the messy reality of political process? Is there enough space in policy systems and practices to effectively enable the radical cultural changes we need to arrive at more sustainable ways of living? These were some of the challenging questions addressed at this event.

The speakers at this event are: Dr Carla Groom (Deputy Director for Behavioural Science, Department for Work & Pensions), Professor Paul Cairney (University of Stirling),  Professor Ann Light (University of Sussex Malmo University),

Read a report of the event and watch video of the speakers here.