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From Making Public Policy to Designing Public Value: How Design Practice Can Support the Creation of Public Value in the International Policy-Making Arena

During the 90s, an attempt to innovate public policy making was to make policy and its services more efficient. The proposal was to turn away from bloated and bureaucratic policy making structures by adopting a management rationale that incorporated business optimization and state downsizing in public governance (New Public Management). Since then, and reemphasized by 21st century’s either ad hoc or permanently present, sophisticated issues that policy needs to solve for, e.g., wicked problem areas such as a pandemic, growing inequality, new and emerging technologies’ impact on society, climate change, etc., we witness yet another fundamental paradigm shift: Calls upon policy to optimize for achieving greater public value (e.g., Mazzucato 2018).

With the latter implying that ‘the public’, i.e., the policy recipients or “policy users”, be at the core of each policy decision to be made and to create value for, the public sector has turned to new mechanisms and procedures that set out to enable closing the gap between the policy recipients and itself. In particular, and given its core function of bringing the perspectives of the users into the making, the public sector has increasingly been borrowing from the design space, adopting approaches like design thinking, design research, service design, or policy prototyping, or developing a dedicated discipline of design as design for policy.

With this work, the researcher proposes to go away from the operational and methodological focus of introducing design in policy or public service delivery (e.g., grounded in the policy-making cycle; questioning the utility of particular sub-disciplines of design practice or the design (thinking) process itself), where most of the research on design for policy in the past decade sits. She takes a step back to adopt a strategic view, to ask whether design can aid policy-making in its core underlying function: namely the creation of value for the public.

Since 2016, the researcher has had the opportunity to actively be engaged in three international policy-making settings that have enabled her to both craft herself and observe the practice of design in policy: the EU Commission’s EU Policy Lab (Brussels), the World Economic Forum and its Centre for the 4th Industrial Revolution (C4IR, San Francisco), and a leading technology company's global experimental, collaborative governance program.