How do ‘Digital’ skills fit into the Policy Making Cycle?

Jack Collier – Medium

It’s all very well saying that policy and digital should be better integrated, but what, a policymaker might ask, has digital ever done for us? This post answers that question, describing five areas where digital perspectives can add value.

The quotation marks round ‘digital’ in the title seem significant. The transferable skills are indeed valuable, but their value does not come from their being intrinsically digital. These are approaches valuable to policymakers because they are, or more often should be, policymaking skills.

Meanwhile, there is the suggestion of a sixth area, in which digital approaches might offer fresh insights for policy challenges where legislation is not an option. The promised future post on that should be well worth reading.

The civil service is in crisis. This must not go to waste

Andrew Greenway – Civil Service World

Do you best transform government by importing disruption and disruptors to overwhelm the status quo, or by nurturing and encouraging deeper but slower change which more gradually displaces the status quo? Or do both methods fail, leaving government – and the civil service – to stagger on to the next crisis, all set to try again and fail again?

The argument of this post is that those attempts are doomed to failure because the civil service is not willing to acknowledge the depth of the crisis it faces, and until it is, it will never take the steps necessary to fix things. It’s a good and thought provoking polemic – and the questions above are very real ones. But it underplays two important factors. The first is to frame this as being about the civil service. Arguably, that’s too narrow a view: if you want to change the system, you have to change the system: the civil service is the way that it is in large part because of the wider political system of which it is part. The second is one the article rightly identifies, but then does not really pursue. One reason disruptive outsiders tend to fail is that by definition they are brought in at a time when they enjoy the strongest possible patronage – and it’s an understandable temptation to see that as a normal state of affairs. But the reality is that such patronage always fades. Disruptors tend to sprint; they might do better if they planned for a relay – and that is as true for those attempting to disrupt from within as for those brought in to disrupt from without.

What does it take to work with Government Policy Officials?

Jack Collier – Medium

This is a really interesting perspective on when it is – and isn’t – sensible to bring digital approaches and expertise into government policy making. Digital has much to offer policy making, but the value of that offer is massively increased if it is made with some humility, recognising the need to understand and add value to the policy making process. There is a refreshing recognition that not all service design (and so even more so, not all policy) is digital and that the contexts and constraints of policy making can be very different from those assumed in agile development and delivery. That isn’t – and shouldn’t be – a return to the view that policy making is so arcane an art that only true initiates should be allowed to do it, or have an opinion on it. It is though a very welcome recognition of the value of an almost anthropological approach – the idea of sending product managers to be participant observers of the policy making world is a particularly good one.

Mapping service design and policy design

Andrea Siodmok – Policy Lab

This is an excellent reference post for two dimensions of policy design thinking.

The first part is a typology of government interventions (click on the image for a larger and more legible version), which prompts more rigorous thought about the nature of the design challenge in relation to the nature of the intended impact.

Slightly curiously, the vertical categories are described as being on a scale from ‘Low level intervention’ (stewardship) to ‘Large scale intervention’ (legislation). That’s a little simplistic. Some legislation is intended to have a very narrow effect; some attempts to influence – which look as though they belong in the ‘leader’ line – can have huge effects. But that’s a minor quibble, particularly as it is described as being still work in progress.

The second dimension is about the scale of design, from micro to macro. Thinking about it that way has the rather helpful effect of cutting off what has become a rather sterile debate about the place of service design in government. Service design is, of course, critically important, but it’s a dimension of a wider model of policy and design which doesn’t entail conflict between the layers.

How can service design help us make better policy?

Developing policy in government is hard; applying the perspectives and skills of service design can help. That’s the disarmingly simple premise of this post (and the new blog it comes from). If we understand where there are risks in developing policy, and understand the ways in which service design approaches can help mitigate those risks, then we should be able to get first to better policy and then, as a result, to more effective delivery. The aspiration is a good one and the potential benefit is large – but as Paul Maltby has described, there are some real obstacles to effective dialogue between the two perspectives which need to be overcome.

James Johnson – Design and Policy

Making OneTeamGov go mainstream in policy

Great practical advice on how to join policy and digital thinking together, applying the principle of going to where the user is – in this case the policy expert. Tracey writes with the empathy which comes from understanding both communities, and rightly reminds her digital audience of the merits of policy people – but also perpetuates two ideas, one tacit and one explicit, which risk hampering the ambition. The first is that policy people have much to learn from digital but digital people have little to learn from policy. The second is that the goal is for policy and digital to be recognised as being the same thing. Perhaps instead we can aim for inclusion while celebrating diversity. 

Tracey Williams Allred – Medium

WTF is policy?

A useful ladder of intervention for policy makers, which refreshingly treats legislation as the last possible intervention, not the first. As with other Policy Lab products, its value comes from prompting better questions rather than from providing direct answers, so the ladder may seem more ordered than the real world of policy development tends to be – which doesn’t stop it being good food for thought.

But the post doesn’t really answer the question very firmly posed by its title, Paul Maltby’s post may be a better place to start for that.

Laurence Grinyer – Medium

One Team Government: What digital and policy can learn from each other

Following his post explaining policy people and processes to their digital equivalents, Paul Maltby has now written a deeply sympathetic but rightly challenging post about the frustrations digital has of policy and policy of digital – and what each side needs to learn from the other.

There is a core insight in each direction. Policy can learn much from the data driven, delivery focused model of digital service design and should be no less comfortable starting with the user need. Digital can gain from appreciating the need to understand and reconcile conflicting goals and interests and the basic principle that politics is our basic method for making public choices – and that digital is political too.

Paul Maltby – Medium

One Team Government: a short guide to policy for government digital professionals

Published to coincide with this week’s One Team Government event, this is an excellent short guide to policy making in government. My only quibble is with its title: it’s addressed to government digital professionals, but that shouldn’t suggest to anybody else – including the policy professionals who are its subject – that they have nothing to gain from reading it.

Perhaps the most important insight it contains is that policy isn’t a single specific thing: good policy (and good policymakers) bring together a wide range of skills and disciplines to address some very different kinds of problems. The synthesis of all that is what we call policy – but the boundary between that and other approaches (not least, in this context, digital) is an artefact of language as much as it is a division of substance.

Paul Maltby – Medium

Reading list for government policy people interested in digital

Paul Maltby asked on Twitter

The collected answers – crowd sourced in short order – make up an impressive list. It’s inevitably a bit uneven, but there is a lot of good stuff there, and it’s well worth dipping in to.

Paul Maltby (assisted by the crowd)