Prototyping a tool for co-designing policy interventions

adminCo-Design, homepage, Policy, Research, Toolkit

One of the aims of Open Practices is to apply design research methods in a policy context, specifically the design of policy interventions that enable sustainable behaviour change. The methods I am using are typical design tools such as user journey mapping and service blueprinting, design ethnography, contextual interviews, prototyping, personas, cultural probes. There are various “frameworks” that allow us to structure and manage design projects when using these methods. These tend to be point A to point B and tend to reflect a design process rather than a typical policy process.

I want to explore how it might be possible to reframe a design for policy project. I want to be able to account for the macro, meso and micro level issues while allowing policy makers, intermediaries, businesses, individuals to understand where design sits within the broader context of policy making. I would also like to make more explicit the theoretical framework that is used to interpret or analyse the data and insights that emerge from the design research process.

Why might we need this?

There are a few reasons why I am interested in this. One of the arguments made through the original Open Practices proposal a year and a half ago was that many policy interventions aimed at enabling sustainable behaviour change are either ineffective or there is little available evidence showing they have been effective. There are lots of reasons for this but one of the issues worth exploring is the possibility that the interventions have been informed by a fundamental attribution error which assumes that the individual or business is internally responsible for their “unsustainable behaviour”.

This is a view that is supported by various researchers looking at policy interventions for business and individuals. For example, my PhD examined policy interventions to enable sustainable design in smaller companies. I argued that previous policy interventions were mostly informed by a resource-based and linear view of the company which assumed that they behaved in a particular way because they lacked knowledge, tools, skills and money. While this may be a fundamental attribution error, I made the argument from the perspective of design being part of socio-technical innovation systems i.e. the factors that drive design and innovation as a function of business behaviour is determined by a dynamic and co-evolutionary interaction between the company and the wider innovation system.

There are many parallels between this multi-level and socio-technical view of design and innovation in business and some of the social practice theories of individual behaviour change. These theories tend to argue that behaviour is not internally determined through rational choice or by external factors alone but it is determined by a dynamic interaction between tangible and intangible elements. These elements can be material products, the social and cultural meanings we attribute to those products but also the competencies we have to form a practice around these.

The rationale for proposing co-design as a process of designing policy interventions was an assumption that co-creation may help policy makers, intermediaries, businesses, individuals individual gain a deeper insight into these sometimes hidden elements and touchpoints of the systems that impact on their daily lives. To achieve this the co-design activity needs to allow participants to explore the complexity of the policy challenge (e.g. multi-level perspectives) in a way that is not overly daunting or disempowering.

These theories of socio-technical systems and social practices tend to be relatively abstract but from my perspective they demand a view of designing policy interventions fort behaviour change that account for the macro, meso and micro level contexts and the dynamic relationship between these.

We need a policy design tool that supports this.

Prototyping a “tool”

There are plenty of tools we use to articulate the complexity of a policy domain or a specific policy challenge. For example, on Tuesday I built this system model of the behavioural and material drivers of waste and resource efficiency in business. This was just a simple exercise so I could learn Kumu and is based on a model made by Sustain. It is a basic model with very broad assumptions, no metrics and no specificity.

resource efficiency system

resource efficiency system

A system map like this can help me build a narrative around the specific policy challenge and identify possible areas where to intervene but it does not really not help articulate if you should intervene, why you should intervene, what you should do or who should be involved.

Because of this limitation of the existing tools, I want to develop some form of a tool that allow for the inclusion of these insights.My first prototype of this is a simple Canvas tool that builds on a key outputs from my PhD. It starts with a relatively simple structure that looks at the PRE – DURING – POST consideration of a policy intervention. “Pre” deals with the situation analysis, “During” deals with some aspects of the delivery of interventions and “Post” deals with the post intervention evaluation. This can accommodate longer term interventions where the evaluation is cyclical and formative.

This canvas looks specifically at interventions with businesses and I am developing an annotated guiding document and set of metrics that can inform the use of the tool.  I am also developing variations that look at interventions focussed on individual, household and community behaviour. This version will be structured and informed by behavioural insights.

I will be developing this over the coming months before testing it during workshops with public sector organisations in April. These workshops will look at how this canvas can help frame a project but also act as a supporting infrastructure for the project that will contain the inputs and insights gained from the other tools (e.g. journey mapping, service blueprinting, design ethnography)

At this stage I accept it is not the most accessible or intuitive but if you have any comments or criticisms please let me know.