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Policy Design

Design has long since entered the realm of the public sector. From service design for public service suppliers, to system design in directorates and in connection with the formulation of White Papers. All this has resulted in the growth of a completely new discipline: policy design.

Policy design is basically the use of design methodology in developing policy. It refers to the development of policy as a system, as well as the manner in which a public body carries out its mandate.

Design methodology has proved itself to be especially well suited in areas where several different public bodies are responsible for various elements in a policy domain. Requirements and problems tend to arise across or beyond the customary policy framework. In such instances we have to lift the problem out of its usual setting and systems in order to find solutions.

Policy design across directorate boundaries

The driving licence dilemma: Conditions for the right to drive is one example of such a project. Here the Directorate of Public Roads, the National Police Directorate, the Heath Directorate and the Directorate of eHealth are all responsible for administering the rights of citizens to drive motor vehicles. This is a policy area that demands a high level of public resources. “Entanglement” is the term we tend to use to describe such complex and extensive areas of administrative policy.

In a project supported by Stimulab, and in conjunction with Rambøll, we have worked together with the above four directorates in order to come up with new solutions that transcend organisational limits and areas of responsibility.

One result produced by these efforts is a common understanding of the problem. Such understanding increases the willingness of a directorate to allocate its resources to solving a problem that will perhaps bear fruit in a completely different directorate, and in another link of the value chain.

On the basis of this understanding, the parties can jointly arrive at specific solutions that produce substantial benefits and a much-improved overall administrative policy-making. But such solutions do not come about by themselves. We are dependent on the right terms of reference if we are to bring about change. In the project relating to driving licences, the Directorate of Public Roads chose to carry on with the work following on from the first phase, while Rambøll and Halogen were hired to lend support to the programme over the next three to five years.

From the first line to departmental employees

On another project, we applied policy design to help the Ministry of Justice, the Police Directorate and the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration to work together with the voluntary sector to achieve a more humane treatment for victims of human trafficking. In conjunction with Rambøll, we helped to highlight the systems underpinning the services. The parties gained an improved understanding of the problems and the project members, from the first line to the ministerial employees, were jointly able to come up with solutions firmly rooted in their knowledge of their own field of work.

When design links up with political policy making

In connection with a new quality reform for the elderly, we worked together with the Ministry of Health and Care Services and applied design methodology to record the insights of users at all levels of the administrative system: from users, next-of-kin and health-care workers, to managers, politicians and the civil servants in the ministry. Our work was transferred directly into the government White Paper Living life to the full.

In 2018, the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation commissioned us, again along with Rambøll, to execute our biggest policy design project to date, namely the formulation of a new White Paper on innovation in the public sector. On this project we compare various types of knowledge and look at the phenomena from different angles. The project began with an in-depth review of Norwegian and international research into innovation in the public sector, an appraisal of current needs, and a strategic forecast to identify the emergence of challenges in the period up to 2040.

Combining design disciplines and other specialist fields

Policy design consists of several diverse disciplines. First and foremost, the field builds on service design and system-oriented design, whilst also embracing UX and interaction design in shaping first-line services.

Policy design is also about working together with completely different areas of expertise, for example within management consulting, forecasting and benefits realisation. We are witnessing the growth of in-house milieux and the development of new forms of procurement. Design is more and more considered to be part of the solution.

In our experience, design is best when there is smooth collaboration with other disciplines. Just as a policy represents the carrying-out of a mandate and the system in itself, we can say that design is both a process and a result. Other shared features that are conducive to the affinity between the design discipline and policy formulation, are the ability to work on matters of great complexity and the desire to improve the lives of users and citizens.

Design is rapidly gaining ground as a methodical contribution to policy development in Norway – more rapidly than in other countries with which we usually compare ourselves. But there remain a number of elements in need of clarification: Where do the interfaces lie? How can design be used in the best possible way? How might the design discipline mature so that it can become better at meeting policy requirements?

Do no hesitate to get in touch in order to discuss how we can work with you and apply policy design in your organisation!

For more information, please contact

Adrian Paulsen

+47 98 89 29 58