Action Plan for Designing Better Public Services
Studio Notes | Long Reads
Studio Notes | Long Reads
by John Lynch, Founder & Design Director
As design director I think it’s important we recognise a significant event this week.
On Wednesday 6th of December, at NCAD in Dublin, Minister Paschal Donohoe launched Ireland’s “Action Plan for Designing Better Public Services”. This marks the culmination of a lot of work by designers, design advocates, representative bodies, and by officials across government departments.
It’s something I’ve been hoping for, for a very long time, having directly seen the impact design, and service design has had within public services overseas.
The action plan is an important document, coming as it does just over a year after the publication of “Designing Our Public Services” the design principles for government in Ireland.
If the first document gave Irish public servants permission to use design, it is hoped that the new action plan will give them the means by which they can do so.
There are three themes to the action plan:
1. Demonstrate Design Commitment
Covering key actions to “kick start” and sustain the rollout of the design approach, the standout elements here are the establishment of a central design support function in the public service, and a commitment to work with public service bodies to integrate design as a core consideration in all relevant public service projects.
Integrating design means that along with economists, engineers, architects and other recognised disciplines, design should now be seen as a “must have” on projects which impact upon services to the public. The establishment of a central design support function means leading from within. These are both good things.
Other actions under this theme include funding, which I would assume should support integration of design in projects, and the development of design procurement. Hopefully these measures will help spark the change that’s needed, but make no mistake it’s the integration of design that will sustain this transformation.
2. Increase Design Capability
This is the thing I most hoped for. Real design capability inside the public service. This will hopefully mean an empowered, skilled workforce of designers, inside our public services, designing with evidence and challenging assumptions, prototyping, learning, implementing universal design, and ensuring systems work for all.
Actions here include training, skills transfer with academia and the private sector, learning resources, and vitally, role descriptions for designers in the public service. Jobs for designers. This is huge, it’s the action I was waiting for.
3. Foster a Design Culture
Over the past nearly five years, I have spoken about design in government with public servants from local authorities, agencies, bodies, government departments, I’ve talked about this with representative bodies, with students, and via networks like IxDA and Service Design Network (now Service Design Ireland).
One thing I always made clear… this is a ten-year journey, minimum. Precedent from overseas shows this doesn’t happen overnight. The action plan might target two years, but this theme, “Foster a Design Culture” will take longer than that.
There’ll be inertia, there will be upswings and downswings and kickback… but over time, design will prove it’s worth, and the key action under this theme is the communication and promotion of successes, impacts, and key learnings from a design approach across the public service.
I hope networks will emerge, across departments, across agencies and bodies. I hope that designers, and the design curious will talk to one another, and support one another. And I hope that all the wonderful energy and talent I have encountered in the Irish design community over the past twenty years will now become accessible to our public service.
More to do.
We’re at a turning point it seems, and I believe the future is bright. Thanks must go out to those across our public sector, and in our design community who have worked hard over the past years to make this commitment change a reality. You know who you are.
Now we all have to step up, and help make it happen.