Data visualisation & policy
Yesterday I visited HM Treasury for Visual Camp. This was an event that brought together designers and policy makers to explore how we can use visualisation to improve what we do and how we do it. Prior to the event I submitted two options/scenarios to explore. The organisers asked me to introduce one of these – “explaining policy to designers and design to policymakers”.
There were three parts to this scenario.
- There is a broad lack of understanding of design in policy circles. Policy makers understand innovation (especially technical innovation) but they don’t have the tools to understand design from a policy perspective.
- Designers don’t really understand policy. As designers are moving into new spaces such as social innovation it is becoming clear that there is a lack of understanding of policy process and delivery (power & control)
- Policy makers could benefit from design. We need to innovate on how we shape and deliver policy and strategic design tools can help with this.
Unexpectedly I had to facilitate a workshop on this scenario…. with zero preparation. My own fault for not having time to plan. Luckily I had a nice group of people from policy makers (dept. BIS, Lambeth Council etc.), Designers, NGO’s that use designers, a student, a systems analyst and a leadership consultant. The worksop began with an open dialogue on what designers and policy makers actually do and the various constraints and challenges they face. The discussion moved towards how do we create an appropriate dialogue between designers and policy makers. To facilitate this we individually drew pictures explaining what we think the design process looks like. This was an interesting exercise and there was a mix of divergent and convergent thinking models and emergent processes. It became clear that most people held a similar view of the design process and that in reality it isn’t dissimilar from the policy making process.
Towards the end of the session we realised that many of the barriers to understanding were mostly based on perceptions and preconceptions. We knew at this point that visualisation could help overcome these barriers. As a group, we broke the mould on what visualisations we should use and one of the group suggested that we develop a ‘mash-up up video programme’ using recorded dialogues from designers and policy makers. The purpose of the video would be to use visual story-telling to show the overlap between design and policy processes. At this point the group started getting creative and proposing a series of TV programme formats that would encourage active mobility between design and policy e.g. wife swap and faking it.
Someone then introduced the idea of games and play. There was a proposal for a modified version of the old game Operation in which you have a series of body parts of a designer and a policy makers and you have to create the idealised model of what each could be. Each of the ideas put forward had the potential to be evolved into a nice platform of transmedia storytelling.
What did I learn?
Before the event I assumed that the design process was very similar to but not a replacement for policy making process. I also believed there are areas where design can enhance or make the process more effective and meaningful for people. This still seems to be the case. If I look at the fundamentals of good policy making (as suggested by Inst. of Government) we see a number of areas where good strategic design can play a role and overlap. e.g.
- Clarity on goals / design as a tool for foresight, strategic insights
- Open and evidence-based idea generation / design as a tool for prototyping and concept generation
- Rigorous policy design / design as a tool for process
- Responsive external engagement / design as a tool for communication, user insights, engagement
- Thorough appraisal / design as a tool for sense-making
- Clarity on the role of central government and accountabilities / design as a communication platform
- Establishment of effective mechanisms for feedback and evaluation / design as a communication platform
Overall I found the event interesting but had I know that I was to facilitate a workshop I would have prepared something for it. While it was enjoyable and we made some progress I know that better facilitation would have drawn out some very effective insights and suggestions from the group of people with me. Hopefully there will be future events through which these initial ideas can be developed.Tweet