AHRC-ESRC Design Research Fellowship at the UK Cabinet Office PolicyLab

Policy Lab Innovation Unit MOJ workshop

At the beginning of September I began a one-year research fellowship in the UK Cabinet Office’s PolicyLab, created by an open call by the AHRC and ESRC.

The Policy Lab was set up in April 2014 by the Open Policy Making team of the Cabinet Office, part of the UK Civil Service. It aims to experiment with bringing creative problem-solving, design thinking and user centred design approaches to policy-making in central government by undertaking projects with the 17 government departments funding the lab. Led by experienced designer Dr Andrea Siodmok, this is a one-year experimental pilot that aims to bring creative approaches to the early stages of generating policy, by focussing on people’s experiences, using data analytics, digital tools and prototyping to engage a more diverse group of people in policy-making.

The Policy Lab builds on similar activities elsewhere, notably in Denmark, which set up a cross-ministerial innovation unit MindLab over a decade ago, as well as Nesta’s Public Innovation Lab, France’s 27e Region, and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation. It sits alongside other related Cabinet Office initiatives such as the Behavioural Insights Team and the Government Digital Service.

Most of the existing literature on these initiatives currently comes from reports, conferences and blog posts. See for example the recent report on i-teams (innovation teams) by Nesta. There is comparatively little academic writing about using “design” approaches in policy making in central government. This research fellowship will draw on academic research in design studies, participatory design, participatory governance, participatory action research and management research to provide a thorough review of this emerging initiative. It will present an account of what such approaches do within central government policy-making, aimed in the first instance at the PolicyLab’s key stakeholders.

My research will anchor the Policy Lab’s activities within a strong evaluative framework supported by academic research and co-designed with its major stakeholders through a collaborative process. This framework will enable the Lab to evaluate and analyse the impact its approach and methods have on developing and implementing policy.

My two main outputs will be a report summarising the evaluation framework and a literature review that combines different fields to support further academic research into this emerging area.


Published by

Lucy Kimbell

Professor of Contemporary Design Practices and Director, Innovation Insights Hub, University of the Arts London. Associate fellow, Said Business School, University of Oxford. Former AHRC research fellow, Policy Lab, Cabinet Office. Author of Service Innovation Handbook. @lixindex

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