This inaugural forum, which took place in Brussels in December 2015, is a key activity within BEDA Integrates, one of four distinct strands of the BEDA ‘Design Europe 2021’ project, which promotes and strengthens design for cultural and creative growth across Europe. The aim of the forum is to achieve insight into how design, as an approach and a strategy, can help and improve the way that policy is made to the benefit of the citizens of Europe.
Mark Nicklas, Deputy Head of the Innovation Policy and Investment for Growth Unit in the European Commission DG Growth, outlined the three lines of the Unit’s Action Plan on Design Driven Innovation, which emerged out of a drive to foster competitiveness:
- Better understanding the impact of design on innovation, using a robust evidence base.
- Promotion of design-driven innovation in businesses as a tool to strengthen competitiveness (the highest priority in the Action Plan)
- Design for the public sector
In the context of this plan, he shared the Unit’s web-based platform, www.designforeurope.eu, which enables people to learn from each other through success stories and detailed case studies.
Andrea Siodmok, Head of the Policy Lab at the UK’s Cabinet Office, shared examples of their experience of pushing boundaries of design in the context of public services and government.
One of these is the redesign of all UK government websites since 2012; as well as saving a total of £3.65bn since 2012, the websites are now more joined-up, easier to navigate and better for users. Siodmok emphasised the user-centred approach at the centre of this action, extending this design principle to locate the end user at the centre of policymaking. Through this ‘Design +’ process, questions are often reframed to open up new insights; for instance, in promoting exporting to businesses, by reframing the question around ‘international trade’ (the business term) rather than ‘exporting’ (the government term), many more businesses were engaged.
Peter Dröll, Director of the Innovation Union and European Research Area in the European Commission’s DG Research, described how he had set his staff to focus all research and innovation policy on openness, creating a bigger role for design thinking.
He considers user-centred innovation as being at the centre of the debate, with co-creation in principle offering a bridge between policy and user. In practice, design is vital in facilitating the connections between problem and solution. An example of this working in practice is that in the Netherlands, the user is now placed at the centre of public procurement projects, which shifts the way that procurement is formulated and implemented.
Dröll emphasised the importance of gathering evidence of the impact of design and design thinking, to prove its value in more diverse mainstream contexts.
A workshop session invited participants to generate insights on key barriers preventing a more design-based approach to policy-making; the top three issues were - Resistance to change - Risk aversion - Lack of metrics on impact.