UK public services are gradually going digital, users are being asked to collaborate in service development and data is being made public.
This is partly a natural evolution, partly provoked by the media, and partly driven by the government's open public services agenda: increase choice for citizens, release data, diversify the range of providers.
Clearly, when it comes to developing new services, digitising existing ones, and understanding users, there is a role for design. Similarly, design can help in policy development at the highest level, with its ability to anticipate future scenarios and plan for them. But it must be a particular kind of design – less of the kind that comes up with new chairs, more of the kind that applies creative problem-solving processes to social and systems problems.
"There are now several initiatives in the UK and internationally in which design-based approaches are being used to support innovation and improvement in public services and tackling social problems," says Lucy Kimbell, who started as head of social design at the Young Foundation in January.
"This does not mean that designers should be running everything. It's more that different kinds of professionals are trying out design-based approaches and methods on projects: early prototyping for project teams and the publics they serve, paying more attention to people's experiences of engaging with services in situ, and explicitly getting diverse people involved in doing designing."
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