PROTOTYPING POLICY: Applying Service Design to the Policy Process.

Author:Hebert, Marc K.
 
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"I didn't know it would take this long, or what the next stepes were. I waited a long time and had to hurry to complete some forms before a deadline. What a hassle. I almost didn't go through with it." Some variation of these words has been shared with me over the years from clients, contractors, and employees of various government departments trying to get something done. I've even said something like this myself. There are many reasons why policies produce inefficient service experiences and ineffective outcomes.

Two of those reasons are how policies are implemented and evaluated. Let's start with policy evaluation because it shapes implementation. (1) This isn't inherently bad. Taxpayers, clients, policymakers, and administrators all have an interest in knowing whether and how policies are working--or not. Policy success metrics can also help to inform the design of services and programs. Unfortunately, policy evaluation can have negative follow-on effects where the teams who implement can feel pressure to prioritize measuring service outputs over how people experience policies (service delivery) and the intended results. (2) This can negatively shape program implementation, (3) harming the public and frontline employees.

What could be done to call attention to evaluation's follow-on effects the next time policy is being created at any level of government? How might stewardship of public funds be balanced with allowing new evaluative criteria for policy to emerge during implementation rather than all of its success metrics being predetermined? One way is to apply service design to the policy process. (4) This approach aims to bring about measurable change through iterative learning. It includes "prototyping": building and testing a mock artifact, service, or space with the people whose needs we're trying to meet through policy. Each round of testing leads to insights and a revised prototype. Prototyping policy is a particular approach to change, using small-scale testing prior to scaling up.

In government, when speaking of change efforts, we may be more used to talking about "pilots." Pilots are also about creating change. While there are many types, the way some are implemented creates helpful contrasts with prototyping. It's understandable to feel prototyping is piloting by another name. But lumping them together risks losing the emphasis on iterative testing and building, which not all pilots share. Moreover, there is space to insert...

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