Understanding the role of design in supporting reflective practice in evidence-based policymaking

Spaa, Anne Fleur (2022) Understanding the role of design in supporting reflective practice in evidence-based policymaking. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

Text (Doctoral Thesis)
spaa.anne_phd (17017846).pdf - Submitted Version

Download (6MB) | Preview


Designers have an increasing understanding of the social and ethical responsibilities of practicing product design and are venturing outside of their traditional domain of product development into traditionally non-Design domains. In doing so, they have become concerned with addressing social problems and have led some designers to aim to influence the setting of public agendas by getting involved in policymaking.

In this thesis, I investigate the role of Design in policymaking and policy design practices in UK Government. Whilst Design literature addresses epistemological differences between Policy- and Design-oriented approaches, Policy literature emphasises a neglect by the Design discourse of the constraints of UK Government. Positioned at the intersection of Policy and Design, I research the practical act of designing policy within Government in order to bridge these perspectives and focus, in particular, on how these tensions meet at the nexus of evidence and decision-making practices.

Through three qualitative studies, I collected reflections from professionals working in and around policy design about the role of Design-oriented approaches within these practices. I found that: 1) policy informers mediate an interactive dialogue between research and policy; 2) policy designers facilitate an alternative approach to policy design which mobilises reflective practices of Design; and 3) policy teams negotiate between Design- and Policy-oriented perspectives as they take a generalist approach to idea development. Informed by these findings, I identified three roles in which designers may contribute to policy design practice: As human-centred specialist advisors, as speculation experts in addressing disruptive policy issues, and by facilitating reflective practices.

Firstly, when designers aim to inform policy with knowledge and outcomes of design research, this may be done effectively in the role of Policy Advisor positioned outside of the policy team. For this, it is important designers develop strong communication skills that meet the expectations of a policy audience. These should highlight a recognition by designers of their agency in processes of developing human-centred policy design advice.

Secondly, working alongside policy teams, designers can contribute their exploratory and generative practices to facilitate processes around public issues that are likely to disrupt existing policies. As an approach alternative to evidence-based policymaking, these practices may need to be legitimised through formal recognition by Government, requiring designers to engage with the design of bureaucratic and administrative procedures.

Thirdly and arguably the most noticeable contribution of Design is its reflective practices, which thus far have been engaged with implicitly. To leverage this contribution to Policy, it should be made explicit that the supposedly unexplainable designer mindset actually describes characteristics of the reflective practitioner. Anchored in Government’s processes, recognising this practice may support policymakers effectively in moving back and forth between problem identification and solution proposition, and aid policymakers in their ability to acknowledge their agency in design processes.

Overall, I argue Design will be most influential in mediatory roles that go beyond its human-centred remit and which are embedded in bureaucratic and administrative structures that organise policy design processes in Government. I suggest directions for future research into how designers may engage with Government in formalising Design-oriented practices and making them part of Government’s procedures.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: design for policy, policy design, design thinking, design methods, future-oriented and human-centred practices in design
Subjects: W200 Design studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Design
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 26 May 2022 07:28
Last Modified: 01 Jul 2022 08:01
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/49196

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics