Develop communities of practice around the ideas you’re developing

5 min readAug 8, 2021

Even if you’re testing ideas in different ways, keep developing the community of people around them. Help them to spot the connections, the spillover effects or the unintended consequences of testing one idea on another.

Help them be inspired by the different methods you’re using to open their imagination into how they could apply them in their context and to help them learn where in the change journey these methods are most effective.

The Policy Lab has developed a useful set of categories of the different communities you can create around issues:

Design in Policy, Policy Lab

4. Continue researching even while you’re prototyping

When you’re developing prototypes based on the insights of the initial hypothesis, make sure to create sub-hypotheses to make the prototype even more focused.

Think about how you’re going to assess the prototype, particularly if you’re testing more than one, this could be desirability, viability, feasibility. Don’t think that because you’re now prototyping that you shouldn’t do more research. Prototyping isn’t just about making stuff you can see and touch, it’s about testing different ways to achieve an outcome, and that can be through.

Share with people why you’re prototyping and be open about the hypothesis so that people know why you’re resting the idea. Be open about how you’ve had to pivot, so people can see why you’ve changed, what lessons you’ve learned, and so they can see that they can challenge the idea because you have yourself.

A version of the double diamond by @policylabuk

Sanjan Sabherwal adjusted the Double Diamond to focus on what happens “in-between” the diamond, the space for speculation and provocation.

Be open about how people are responding to the idea or prototype so that you’re creating a conversation, not just between you and a user of the service, but between people so they can feel collective responsibility in tackling the issues.

Use journey mapping & multiple cause diagrams so you can see the world through people and the system. This can help you see issues that can’t just be resolved through improving provision, i.e. residents who are in work poverty not having the time to access retaining, no culture of continuous learning, compared by a changing and automating jobs market that will require this, challenges faced by small businesses to provide more flexible work.

5. Don’t just meet people’s needs, challenge what they need

Don’t just accept the status quo of the system and focus on what you can do as an organisation and what the user can do. This can be tempting, but further individualises people’s situations and evades collective responsibility other players in the system needed to take.

Nudge or behaviour change can be effective but if it’s not the only lever you’re using, it’s like you can make a form to apply for Personal Independence Payment easier, but if you the criteria means that it makes people suffer or affects their dignity, you’ve only tackled a process issue not had a positive impact on people’s lives.

You need to sometimes be provocative. Challenge what people need as well as understanding their needs. Work out won’t work as much as what will.

Test the different layers of the system, so you could test change at a geographic level, like a neighbourhood, at a sectoral level, at an organisational level, like with specific organisations or at a systemic level (i.e. basic income). You could also test different layers in a way that helps people get involved, so you could run tests that are broken down into “what can you do yourself, what can your street do, what can your neighbourhood do, what can your employer/council/shop do, what can government do”.

Citizens Assembly on Climate Change, Camden Council

6. Test different social norms

Instead of sanction-based accountability, which is pervasive across the welfare system, why not test collective accountability through a peer support network, like family group conferencing, Circle or Lambeth Living Well Collective have shown.

Lambeth Living Well Collective

Instead of just focusing on a service meeting a need, how about the support that can flex, helping understand wider issues (three causes) or support other issues (Life)?

Reframe what good means based on what’s important to residents, “good work” may only mean money but more?

When you’re working on a project that wants to design with residents, start from their needs & motivations and test ideas that meet those, it can be difficult when there isn’t consensus. There are examples of ways to come to a consensus, but can be helpful to reveal the trade-offs that may be needed, i.e. between focusing on a targeted cohort or service for all, between prioritising a particular need over another.

Design and systems change share sufficiently similar values that there is space for them to mingle and collide at the edges. What we can learn from both is that it’s often in the “in-between spaces” that change happens. Why not between these two disciplines? For those interested in this subject, the Design Council are working with The Point People to “host series of workshops and events to bring together designers working in systems change, designers who are interested in how they could play at part, and funders who need their help and aims to develop a set of principles and practice around design for systems change”.




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese