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We are hosting one of three new research fellowships created by the AHRC and ESRC to build the evidence base on design in the public sector, along with Skills Development Scotland and the new Policy Lab at the Cabinet Office.

Design is one of the AHRC’s priority areas and these fellowships will help to identify gaps in the evidence base and build knowledge on the best measures for design work in government, as well as the types of evidence that policy makers and civil servants need about design.

We will be working with our researcher to define a 6-12 month project linked to our delivery work. This could focus on a key area  such as design and policy making or scaling up design work in government. It could also be a broader mapping study on where design has been used in government or look at measurement methods, whether qualitative or quantitative.

Application details are available from the AHRC and the deadline is 31 April 2014.

The Fellowships and the wider AHRC programme are important because one of the most common critiques of design work in the public sector is a lack of robust evidence on social, organisational or economic impacts. Many existing evaluations focus on social return but economic measures are also needed. Whilst good case studies exist, there is also relatively little by way of a general overview on where design has been used i.e. how many of the local authorities in the UK have used design; what kinds of service or policy areas are most common; which methods and at what point is design useful in the development of a new service or system?

As both a practioner and advocate for design in government evidence of impact is an important issue at the Design Council. We measure return on investment of our own programmes and contribute to wider reports explaining the concept of design in the public sector, see the recent A&E evaluation and Design for Public Good report.

Examples that explain which methods were used and where in a project are particularly useful as is real clarity and consistency of language, see an earlier post on this. Resources pulling together different types of design methods are also extremely valuable; the LUMA Institute’s ‘Taxonomy of Innovation’ is a good example which takes 36 common design tools and orders them for different stages of the innovation process. An interactive version was recently featured in the Harvard Business Review.

As interest in design moves up to more strategic levels in government, we now need more focus on the types of evidence and advice that is useful to policy makers. There are some good lessons in this excellent piece by Chris Tyler from the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology on the relationship between scientific evidence and policy.

Partly lack of evidence indicates how new much design work in the public sector is. But few with budget and decision-making powers are going to invest resources in design if outcomes can’t be measured. For design to be used more widely, its advocates and practitioners need to develop better mechanisms for measuring impact.

The Fellowship is an important way for us to work closely with an academic researcher to assess the impact of our work and build the evidence base for design.

Just get in touch with me or Dylan from the AHRC if you would like to discuss the opportunity.

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