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Spreading Design through Organisations

Cat Drew reflects on her experience as an expert to the EU Policy Lab, who are trying to bring design-led approaches to European Commission policymaking, and what that might mean for organisations closer to home who are creating their own internal innovation capability.

Design Workshop Lil
Lil from Uscreates taking workshop participants through a gap analysis between user need and system need

In August 2016, just after the UK voted to leave the EU, I found myself starting an 18 month stint as an expert to the newly created EU Policy Lab. I and other experts such as Geoff Mulgan (Nesta), Stephane Vincent (27e Region), Marleen Stikker (Waag Society) and Francoise Waintrop (Ecole Nationale d’Administration) had been asked to act as design advisors to a Lab Connections programme which sought to bring together policy or innovation labs across Europe and link them with European Commission policymakers to help them understand the citizen perspective of the problems they were working on.

During a large event in October last year which brought together over 40 labs across Europe, we led workshops on a number of different policy challenges that had been put forward by Commission policymakers from the various Directorate Generals. These ranged from how to create an e-citizen portal? how creative hubs could prepare young people for work in the digital age? how to end segregation and discrimination of Roma communities? how to create ‘third spaces’ to bring about place-based change? The workshops co-designed an initial design methodology to produce answers to these questions. We’ve spent the last year negotiating/refining/adapting these methodologies and carrying them out in workshops and immersive sessions across Europe. Today – at our final meeting in Brussels – was a chance for us to swap notes, learn and reflect on the challenges and opportunities of bringing citizen voice into the heart of bureaucratic decision-making.

As more organisations start to create internal innovation labs – and build their organisations to do so – there are some reflections that will be relevant for the UK audience:

It’s been a privilege to be part of such a thoughtful and experienced expert group, to meet and be part of the wider network of policy labs across Europe, and of course work with ‘real people’ – young people using cultural hubs in Limerick, Cordoba, Marotta and Matera. Although the UK might be slowly and sadly leaving the EU, our work with European partners is strong, with other Uscreates projects with the EU Policy Lab on the use of blockchain in healthcare, and with the Commission to create a knowledge hub.  

height line up
Makerspace users and workshop participants lining up by height as an ice-breaker