Design and Public Services - RSA

Design and Public Services


  • Design
  • Public services

This morning I went to the launch of a new report by the Design Commission, 'Restarting Britain 2'. I was lucky enough to have been part of the process of creating the report - as a member of the Public Services Inquiry Steering Group, we met every few weeks or so in the House of Lords and interviewed everyone from Government employees through local councils to leaders in the service design field.

Design can make a huge impact in public service but is not commonly used to do so. It is still often misunderstood as being all about posters and soft furnishings, and not seen as a discipline that has potential to create enormous change that is better for the end user and saves money to boot. Good design turns problems on its head and starts with walking in the shoes of the users, not with the problems of the providers. During the inquiry we heard many examples of how great design had created huge organisational change, bringing empathy and kindness into public service, bearing in mind inclusion and access at all times, and, of course, saving vast amounts of money.

Cover of the report

Barry Quirk, co-chair of the Inqury & Lewisham Council's Chief Executive said in his speech this morning that design honours the past, captures the opportunities of the present, and builds the future. Our public services were created in the 20th century (usually the 1950s), are currently running in 19th century buildings, but now need to address 21st century problems and opportunities. He also said that incremental change won't get us anywhere new; we need radical design thinking to create new opportunities which are heading us beyond the Mayor of London's 2020 vision to a horizon of 2070.

The other co-chair, Baroness Kingsmill urged us not to let it end here. We now have this fantastic report but what can we do to take it further? We need to change people's attitudes to design, especially the attitude of the government and decision makers in public services.

I highly recommend that you download the report - it's an excellent read and very well put together by Jocelyn Bailey and her team at Policy Connect, and declares itself part-polemic, part-manual.

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