Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 September 2022
Taking a design approach to addressing policy failings is about having a strong sense of what the alternatives could be; it is an inherently optimistic approach. Design principles have clear appeal in the current policy context. Design presents an alternative to mass-processing, allowing user adaptations to facilitate differentiation and deal with complexity. Rather than being wedded to a ‘policy presumption’, design opens up the possibility to experiment and learn through doing and possibly failing. Moreover, design places the citizen or user at its core. These principles have a broad appeal to those seeking greater democratic legitimacy for policy. But this normative thrust is not naive. A design approach is fundamentally about the substantive and instrumental ambitions to achieve better policy outcomes. Grounding this approach in the work of Herbert Simon means that design is not about generating an optimal prescription of policy in a perfect world, but about questioning that ‘policy presumption’. If we understand policy design as ‘the pursuit of valued outcomes through activities sensitive to the context of time and place’ (Bobrow and Dryzek, 1987, p. 19), it both opens up the inner workings of policy making, allowing us to understand the interrelations and interreliance of different elements of current policy, but also provides a means of generating alternatives.
This chapter considers the parameters of debate on policy design before setting out its key elements of power, vision and grammar. These elements are common to different policy designs, but are manifested differently. The chapter begins to build a heuristic as a means of understanding policy design. The heuristic sets out contrasting policy designs – conventional and co-productive – based on the notions of power that underpin them. This contrast encourages lateral thinking about how policy design works and the potential for redesign. Power is often a hidden struggle in policy design, but it fundamentally informs and shapes the vision – the valued outcomes pursued – and the grammar – the activities used in this pursuit. To bring this hidden element out into the debate, we develop our heuristic further by setting out the contrasting ways in which power is interpreted in conventional and co-productive policy designs.