The Design in the Public Sector programme is helping councils and partners find new ways of delivering effective children’s services using design methods. Jo Stephenson investigates

Tight budgets and increasing demand mean children’s services are under pressure to deliver more for less. One approach gaining traction in the quest to find new ways of working more efficiently and effectively is the use of design processes and methods. For the past few years, the Design in the Public Sector Programme, a partnership between the Design Council and Local Government Association (LGA), has been helping councils and their partners take a fresh look at some of their most complex challenges. Unsurprisingly a significant number have centred on services for children and young people with councils keen to revamp their approach to tackling everything from childhood obesity to teenage pregnancy and services for disabled children and those in care.

Since being taken on by the LGA in 2015 the programme has supported more than 60 projects. In the last couple of years it has honed in on public health and prevention with a total of 14 projects involving 18 councils chosen to take part in 2018/19. These include schemes to improve support for young parents in Surrey, enhance mental health provision for schoolchildren in Maldon, reduce smoking during pregnancy in Derbyshire and boost physical activity among teenagers in Birmingham and Solihull. 

Design thinking

So what is “design thinking” all about? And how does it compare with the way councils more usually approach a problem? One of the key principles is collaboration and the importance of bringing together people with different perspectives to explore a shared issue. “The more diversity you have, the more likely 
you are to come up with something original,” says Ellie Runcie, director for growth and innovation at the Design Council. Teams taking part in the Design in the Public Sector Programme must be multi-disciplinary or multi-agency. “In children’s services there are ever more complex issues such as knife crime,” says Runcie. “It isn’t just down to one agency or the local authority to try to tackle the problem, you need to work with multiple partners.” The process also promotes a “people-centred” approach where listening to service users or “customers” is key. After all – why would you design a product no one wants to use? As part of this, councils and partners are introduced to various design research methods such as journey mapping, semi-structured interviews and diaries.

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