Camilla Buchanan on Design and Public Policy

Camilla Buchanan from the UK Cabinet Office spoke about designing social investment.

She didn’t define the term and it wasn’t clear to me from context, but a quick search turned up a definition: “Social investment” is the use of repayable finance to achieve a social as well as a financial return. Essentially loans and equity arrangements to fund social programs around areas such as youth unemployment or homelessness.

With a background at the Design Council, Camilla was most interested in the design patterns behind successful government programs. She saw value in a grounded, practical discussion and complained that those types of tactical details were often missing from case studies in favor of broad themes and high-level strategies.

She made the observation that you need to be able to translate that high level vision into concrete results. How do you get there from here? In her experience, the policy folks are creative already and don’t need as much help with the empathy side as with the operational aspect required to take control of some aspect of the experience.

I heard this theme a few times during the conference from presenters who claimed no shortage of ideas among their clients but a real deficit in operational knowledge required for implementation.

Camilla shared some examples from her experience and showcased other organizations around the UK focused on similar goals. She also offered a framework of ideas around social investment:

Knowing the users

  • Questionnaires
  • User Research
  • Changes how we see our constituents

Clear and visual communications

  • Shouldn’t seem like gloss
  • Elegant and legible design
  • Clear presentation paves the way
  • Habits around legible mapping
  • Norms of visualization

Framing problems

  • Exploratory area
  • Design in a non-design context
  • Want to see higher level project patterns
  • Blueprints, etc

Camilla ended with a plea for others working in this area to share project patterns in order to help network with others working on these problems. From her perspective, design is good at generating insights but the handoff back to the policy team can still be a little rough.

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