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Uscreates BBC Radio 4 the Fix – microphone

BBC "The Fix" or how to use design practices to tackle complex social issues

It was often a challenge for me to offer up early stage prototypes made out of cardboard and balloons at the end of an innovation day, but at least people could see things. What was I supposed to do on radio, when listeners would just be listening to the rustle and pop of our prototyping equipment?

This was the immediate challenge I was left with when I was invited to facilitate and co-present a BBC Radio 4 series called “The Fix” on how design practices such as ours (and increasingly used across the world by Governments in Denmark, the UK, Singapore, France and Mexico) can tackle tough social challenges, such as childhood obesity, alcohol consumption, affordable housing and reducing re-offending. As I listened to the brief, more opportunities plus related challenges started to appear.

Listen to “The Fix”: affordable housing

Listen to “The Fix”: childhood obesity

Listen to “The Fix”: reducing reoffending

Follow a day in “The Fix” – LIVE on the BBC:
Reducing the harm caused by drinking

Listen to BBC "The Fix" on Apple podcast – Uscreates Cat Drew RSA Matthew Taylor

My task was to take three teams of non-experts from a variety of different professions (data scientists, ethnographers, artists, economists, designers, entrepreneurs, etc) who hadn’t met each other before, through a day-long design process to create never-before-thought-of solutions to some of the UK’s age-old and trickiest problems. (Why did I agree again?) Let’s take these one by one:

Uscreates BBC Radio 4 the Fix - a team working together to solve a complex problem
Photo – Vianney Le Caer

So we took them on a design process to help them get there. Governments are indeed trying to get policymakers to adopt this approach. Sometimes I don’t think it is much different from really good policymaking in theory (speaking as a well-schooled policymaker from the Government graduate scheme over a decade ago). But more often than not it doesn’t happen in practice because policymakers have a fairly narrow perspective on things. And this is how design can broaden it:

Uscreates BBC Radio 4 the Fix - workshop photo during prototyping
Photo – Vianney Le Caer
Uscreates BBC Radio 4 the Fix - workshop photo during prototyping
Photo – Vianney Le Caer

After three of these days in a week, I was completely exhausted. I spent Sunday on my sofa watching rubbish films and doing some more intellectual reflecting:

I’ve been quite quiet I know about the ideas that were emerging. That’s because I’m not allowed to say! You’ll have to listen to “The Fix”, BBC Radio 4, 8pm Wednesdays from 16 August, for a month.

Listen to “The Fix”: affordable housing

Listen to “The Fix”: childhood obesity

Listen to “The Fix”: reducing reoffending

Follow a day in “The Fix” – LIVE on the BBC:
Reducing the harm caused by drinking

Listen to BBC "The Fix" on Apple podcast – Uscreates Cat Drew RSA Matthew Taylor

And can I just say that I am incredibly grateful to and inspired by Adam St-John Lawrence, Beatrice Andrews, Andrea Siodmok, Francis Rowland, Matthew Taylor and all of the Uscreates team for all of these thoughts and techniques and BBC Radio Four for exploring a new format for solutions journalism.

Cat Drew is Uscreates’ Delivery Director. She oversees delivery and direction of projects by using data and design techniques, ensuring that they link to the client’s wider strategic objectives and deliver impact. Previously Cat was a senior policy advisor at Policy Lab, working with government departments to promote design-based techniques in policymaking, and Head of Policy IT & Digitisation Policy at the Home Office. She was responsible for supporting police forces to digitally transform their services and processes by working with tech experts and other forces to co-design digital capabilities that set out what a digital force looks like. Prior to that Cat was Head of Neighbourhood Policing at the Home Office, and a researcher at IPPR.

Uscreates BBC Radio 4 the Fix - pitching
Photo – Vianney Le Caer