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A Day in the Life of a Policy Designer

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The Cast

Christian Bason, Doris, Anna, Cynthia, Todd, Yun, Conrad and Latif


This piece is inspired by Christian Bason, Director of Innovation at MindLab, a cross-ministerial unit for citizen-centred innovation in the Danish government. On January 15-16, 2013, Mr. Bason led staff at Policy Horizons Canada, and attending staff from fifteen other federal departments through a Master Class on Design-led Innovation for public policies and services.

This fictional piece illustrates some of the key messages put forward by Christian Bason and other leading design thinkers. One of the key messages is the value of connecting directly with citizens to understand their experiences and improve the development and delivery of government policy and services. This requires that policy analysts apply design principles to develop solutions with citizens rather than for citizens. This piece uses design principles to tell the story of policy analysts in the year 2025, dealing with an emerging policy issue. It does not, however, attempt to represent the views of Christian Bason or MindLab.

Scene 1

2025, Canada. Doris at home

Scenes 2 and 3

Anna’s Office, Year 2025, Interdepartmental Agency of Aging

Cynthia enters…

60 people went overseas for vision enhancement surgery alone! These out of country body modifications are getting out of hand. We don’t know how to manage it and it’s costing us an arm-and-a-leg. What should we do? Another information campaign?

What if we try something different

Outside of the box, eh?!

Scenes 4, 5 and 6

Design Team:

  • 8-10 people
  • a diversity of skillsets
  • freedom to make recommendations

Well, at Christian Bason’s design thinking workshop, we learned to work together and use professional empathy.

But we already work together and …Empathy? In the office?

Yes! But we are doing things ‘to people’ not ‘with people’! We need a new approach.


What do you suggest….

… what about a Design Team?

Now you’re talking! But lets go broad instead of big!

Scene 7

Introducing the Design Team!!

Scenes 8, 9 and 10

Nothing beats a day in the field:

  • Observe and listen
  • Focus on behaviour and motivation
  • Analyze results within 24 hours
  • Video is a powerful tool

I can’t believe they pulled me out of my chair to meet some old lady!

Ya, look at us! I feel like a giraffe out of the Savanna.!

“A giraffe!?”

Don’t worry. We’re gonna get better at this and we might learn something from what these people really go through.”

Ya…but how do we manage expectations?

We have to tell them it is about possibilities and what might work, not decisions.

Scenes 11, 12 and 13

Team, lets trust Cynthia on this one. Remember, it worked for others before us…like in Denmark and numerous other places! Lets go, Doris is waiting for us!

Can you tell us about your daily routine?

What is your situation now?

What would you change, if anything?

Scene 14

What is Evidence?

  • Meaningful insight can come from a small sample
  • Hard and soft evidence work together
  • Spend a day learning from experts


  • Quantity is more important than quality
  • Everyone is equal
  • There is no one best solution
  • Aim to get relationships right

We aren’t going to base this all on one person, are we?

The plan is to continue the field work and interview more people until we reach “saturation”

That means we keep going until no significant new patterns are identified in the qualitative data we collect.


Don’t forget that we still need analysis and general research

Back at the office in the collaboration room…

Scenes 15 and 16

We have to make sure we have the right problem definition. What did we hear?

I never thought of this as an employment issue.

You’re right, without this process, we would not have understood the complexity of the problem.

…and this is going to save loads of time and money!

Scenes 17 and 18

Provisional Consensus:

  • Agree to disagree
  • Document disagreements
  • Return to them if your prototype doesn’t work
  • Disagreement is gold!

…but it’s still a health issue too!

We don’t have to force compromise. We can always go through with one idea and come back to another one later if needed.

That’s why we are doing a Prototype.

Ideate, Prototype, Test. We return to the team 1 week later, working in the office.

The good news is; we have other potential solutions in our back pockets.

I think we will need to talk to Doris again and stakeholders and decision-makers

Scenes 19 and 20

This is the beginning not the end…

  • Test before you are wedded to your idea
  • Test with users

But it’s not done yet.

That’s the whole idea: fail quick and fail cheap.

I liked Doris. She’s a go-getter.

This is way outside my comfort zone… But it has worked so far.

Scene 21

A few weeks later at Doris’ desk…

Thank you Design Team folks. No one has taken the time before to ask me about my experiences. Doris

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Policy Horizons | Horizons de politiques

Policy Horizons Canada, also referred to as Policy Horizons, is an organization within the federal public service that conducts strategic foresight on cross-cutting issues that informs public servants today about the possible public policy implications over the next 10-15 years.

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