When I was first approached to write a blog about innovative policy development approaches around the world I was a bit excited (I’m an international affairs nerd – I love seeing what other countries are doing and how we can learn from it). And then I had questions...
What are innovative policy development approaches exactly?
So, what are they? Well according to my good friend Wikipedia*… no not really. Unfortunately, there was no Wiki page on “innovative policy development” or “innovative policy approaches”. Instead, I found the answer peppered throughout a number of different blogs and websites. The general consensus seems to be that innovative and inclusive policy development approaches include the following methodologies:
Co-designing with stakeholders
User-centred/customer-centred design – iterative design process where users and their needs are central to each phase
Design thinking - a methodology of discover/design/prototype/test/repeat
Understanding the customer journey from beginning to end including pain points
Public engagement - open communication with citizens and stakeholders
Seeking and incorporating diverse views and expertise
You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that each of those points seem closely related to the others, and that there is a fair bit of overlap. There are some pretty strong themes of keeping the user central to the process, collaborating with stakeholders and engaging with the public.
Why do we need innovative policy approaches?
Essentially, changes in society and increasing complexity of social issues mean that policy makers need to think of new and innovative ways to develop policy. We need to ensure that we are including people and their needs in the centre of policy design and development.
Also, as a government, we want our people to trust that the policy we are creating and implementing is for them and has their interests at its heart. We want to be trusted to do what is best, and therefore we need to continuously learn and improve on how we develop policy. And we need to push the traditional boundaries of decision making and policy implementation.
So where in the world is doing it well, and how do they do it?
Co-design - The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) assists governments and organisations with co-designing policy with communities and stakeholders. While TACSI isn’t a government agency, it receives funding from the Australian government.
The Sydney Policy Lab are also doing fantastic things to enable collaboration – I attended a great workshop they held with Apolitical last month on storytelling.
Design thinking – Denmark’s MindLab was one of the first policy labs in the world to start doing policy differently. Its website is a great resource for information on methodology and insights. MindLab is closing down at the end of this year but it will leave behind it quite the legacy.
Diverse views and experience - The Laboratorio para La Ciudad, or The Laboratory for the City, is a project that was launched to assist with the development of Mexico City. It is focused on addressing issues through civic innovation and urban creativity, by rethinking, reimaging and reinventing the way citizens and government can work together. Among other activities, it actively promotes dialogue between government, citizens, the private sector and NGOs to create a more open, liveable and imaginative city. Their website has a lot of great information on the programs and projects they are running.
Customer journey and experience - The NZ government conducted a comprehensive study of citizen life journeys to identify pain points and areas where policy could improve experiences.
I also recommend you check out the NZ Policy Project and the great work they are doing to improve policy development and government decision-making. And the website even includes a comprehensive range of tools for the policy-maker!”
User-centred design - User-centred design was key to how healthcare delivery was redesigned in Singapore. They began by identifying ‘frequent flyers’ – patients with high readmission rates – thereby discovering a key reason for repeated hospital visits: some patients felt isolated at home.
As a solution, the team hired community nurses to make house calls on these patients and to work with other caregivers to develop individualised care plans. In 2014, the initiative reduced re-admission rates from an average of 3.5 readmissions per patient to 1.2 – a 67% improvement.
For more information and other examples from Singapore see here. And see here for a brilliant example of user-centred design when designing digital services for the elderly in Singapore, including the activities the team undertook with citizens and challenges faced.
Public engagement - I’m going to get a bit meta here. Research for this piece tells me that some of the most innovative government departments around the world use blogs to communicate what is happening, not just among government colleagues but also to citizens. This helps keep people informed of what is happening, and also engages citizens in the discussions on how policy is being developed. A great example of this is of course the UK Government’s Government Digital Service (GDS) website.
Co-design - The Policy Lab in the UK have developed a toolkit for Open Policy Making. Open policy is about harnessing new ways to learn about how policies are experienced and then designing collaboratively with service users, i.e. our citizens. Here is an example of how they worked with a team during their policy development. And here is an example of how a number of new policy products were co-designed and prototyped with the stakeholders involved.
What does it all mean?
It means that policy-makers around the world are thinking more and more about their audience. And that’s a great thing. Policy-makers tend to get a bit of a bad rap – all too often a new policy is released which just seems like no one actually thought about who it was going to impact and its effect. Here’s a fun listicle from the Independent UK on bad policy over the ages. It’s good to know we are moving away from policies that are created in silos and without the engagement of the people they will ultimately impact.
Here at DFSI we’re learning what we can from the other agencies in Australia and around the world who are utilising innovative policy development approaches to make sure that we are designing and developing policy that is relevant and helps people.
*Fun fact about Wikipedia
There have been a number of studies of Wikipedia’s accuracy versus the Encyclopedia Britannica over the years. This 2016 study found that Wikipedia’s accuracy was as high as 99.7% in the articles studied compared to textbooks. That’s phenomenal considering anyone can create and edit a page. But in fact, that’s what makes it great. Wikipedia’s accuracy can arguably be attributed to the power of collective intelligence:
SHARED OR GROUP INTELLIGENCE THAT EMERGES FROM THE COLLABORATION, COLLECTIVE EFFORTS, AND COMPETITION OF MANY INDIVIDUALS AND APPEARS IN CONSENSUS DECISION MAKING.
This has been a recurring message throughout this blog post, wouldn’t you agree? And yes, that definition is from Wikipedia.