Open Policy Making Manual

Quick tools

Tools that don't take too much time but help make more open policy.

Change cards


  1. Introduction
  2. When to use change cards
  3. How to use change cards

Change cards: an introduction

Change cards are questions that help people think outside of the box and discuss possible directions of a policy. They are cards with questions on them like ‘what if we had no budget?’ and ‘what would a start-up do?’ that help people think outside of the box with policy ideas.

When to use change cards

Change cards are useful in the early stages of designing a policy when you are trying to understand what users need and want from a policy area. They are also useful when you have gone through all the usual ideas and need to think differently.

You can combine change cards with other tools to quickly understand and generate ideas with users and experts. Role play, challenge panels and hack days all work with change cards.

How to use change cards in a 1-hour workshop

Before the workshop create some change cards on A5 pieces of card. You will need to decide whether the cards pose a question with words, or stimulate debate with images. Find a space to work where you can stick things on the wall to enable discussion and free flowing ideas as you present cards to the group. Ideally find a space with several tables and chairs so that people can work in groups of about 4 to 6 people. Artefact and Policy Lab provide advice and guidance for creating change cards from. These ideas for questions may also help:

  • what if we had no money? / what if we had an unlimited budget?
  • what if people were our only resource?
  • what if we did the opposite?
  • what if we exaggerated the idea?
  • what would we do in 2040? / what would we have done in 1920?
  • what would we do if there were no computers? / what would we do it we had to provide it all online?
  • how would a child design it?
  • what if we merged 2 ideas?
  • what would an entrepreneur do?
  • what would they do in the USA?
  • what would the public want us to do?
  • what would we do if we couldn’t legislate? / what would we do if we could only recommend best practice?

At the workshop

You should give people permission to be creative and work differently. An icebreaker exercise or facilitators can help you make the session flow more freely.

During the exercise people should define their own challenge and organise themselves into teams with people from different backgrounds to stimulate new ideas. Doing a hope and fear card or knowledge safari before you start is often a good idea. You should then discuss the policy area as a group before individually working with change cards.

People should look at the change cards they are given and then present their ideas one by one, explaining the criteria they are using. After the exercise you can invite people to vote about which ideas work best and discuss together which ideas to take forward.



  1. Introduction
  2. Examples from around government
  3. When to use crowdsourcing
  4. Principles of crowdsourcing
  5. Ways of crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing: an introduction

Crowdsourcing uses online surveys and social networks to works with users and experts to get solutions to problems from a more diverse range of individuals with varied skills and experiences. It allows policy makers and the public to work together to come up with a large number of ideas and to test whether policies are practical and can be implemented.

It is particularly helpful for keeping policy up to date in a fast moving world. Crowdsourcing is not new, but digital technologies have made it much easier to do on a larger scale.

Examples from around government

  • 2010 Spending Review Challenge asked the public to send in ideas to help the government cut costs. This was repeated in 2015 with the Chancellors Public Sector Spending Review Challenge that used Survey Monkey to ask public sector workers how they could save money. 2010 was a totally open challenge but 2015 involved only public sector workers.
  • The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills used crowdsourcing to ask businesses and individuals about their experiences with regulators.
  • NHS Citizen brought citizens together to work together on how to solve problems in their local NHS trusts.
  • DfID’s Amplify project brought together designers and communities to help improve safety in cities.
  • Fix My Street allows the public to report holes in roads.
  • Lapor is an Indonesian portal where citizens can report corrupt officials.
  • The Dementia Challenge created a debate around what policies were needed to deal with dementia.
  • Crowdsourcing is also used regularly in the private sector and science. Wikipedia crowdsources content. Amazon get the public to review its products. NASA even uses crowdsourcing to help map Mars. A form of physical crowdsourcing is a hack day or idea jam.

When to use crowdsourcing

You should use crowdsourcing when your policy area would benefit from engaging with a broader and more diverse set of people than your usual stakeholders and you’re looking for new ideas. It can be done with small specialist groups in private (for example by using a closed LinkedIn group) or with larger numbers of the population.

A good social media presence can make crowdsourcing easier and quicker. Using a departments twitter to announce a crowdsourcing campaign is probably easier than setting up a new one. Have a look at our social media engagement advice for more information.

Crowdsourcing is particularly useful for:

  • Testing out a policy to see if it is practical and can be implemented effectively
  • Giving power to and engaging with citizens
  • Getting a broader range of ideas about a policy area
  • Creating transparency

If you have already decided what action you are going then crowdsourcing will add little value. However, even if your minister has decided on a course of action, you may still want to consider crowdsourcing idea for how to implement the policy.

Principles of crowdsourcing

Talk to your digital team/press office

They will be able to advise on your social media strategy, help get conventional media coverage and also advise on which tools your department has access to (see tools below).

Decide on the question or problem you want to solve

Work out your overall question and stick to it. Keep it simple but broad enough to gather meaningful ideas. For example: ‘How do we improve public safety?’ may be too broad a question. ‘Should we put more lighting on Mosley Street?’ is too narrow. While ‘How do we improve the safety of young women at night in poor, urban areas?’ is more likely to draw out clear solutions. Ask questions clearly and set parameters eg how much money is available.

Don’t build it and assume they will come

Crowdsourcing is a good way to get ideas from a wide selection of people, but you have to make an effort to reach them. If you don’t already have a good network of stakeholders, create one and ask them to spread your message through their networks. People tend to respond more readily with ideas if the project is championed by people they know. Talk to people where they usually congregate eg community blogs.

Communicate clearly with your audience

Make it clear to your audience how you will use their ideas. Will the best ones be presented to the minister? Are you looking for ideas for a particular urgent policy or just gathering views? You should feedback to the public regularly on progress and which ideas are being taken up so that they do not feel disillusioned with the process. Lobby groups may also try to hijack a crowdsourcing project, but this is usually obvious and should be dealt with in the same way as in a traditional policy making process.

Develop ideas

The ideas that are initially submitted may still need development or research to turn them into policy proposals. One way to manage this is to send out an initial call for ideas and then sift these for the best proposals. You can then work with the public and experts to develop the ideas further until they meet your requirements. The Amplify project is a good example of how this works in practice.

Be diverse

Whilst you can define your target audience by stakeholder mapping, the point of crowdsourcing is to reach different people. Try to engage with a mix of different ages, genders, professions and cultural backgrounds for a wider range of ideas. Using local radio, newspapers and TV as well as local events and partner organisations will help you reach people who might be digitally excluded. Media channels are often interested in running articles on crowdsourcing projects and can help you get the word out easily.

Provide content

It can be helpful to give your audience background information on the question you are interested in. Link to reports and articles on the topic and give them data and statistics and also ask them to share their useful content. The more informed your audience are, the better ideas your crowdsourcing project will generate.

Be transparent

You should also make it clear that ideas will be published openly unless there is good reason not to do so. You should be aware of data protection rules and not share personal information like email addresses gathered from crowdsourcing.

Ways of crowdsourcing


The easiest and cheapest way to start crowdsourcing is to start by emailing users and experts.


If you would like more detailed data from your responses, ask people to complete a survey by using an online tool. Surveys allow you to ask people to give more detailed and structured data about for example their ages or occupations. This would give you a better understanding of who has responded and how diverse or representative they are.

Social media

You can use many types of social media for crowdsourcing including. The Social Media Playbook has all the information you need for using social media online. Tools that you should

  • Twitter now lets you poll users from within a tweet
  • LinkedIn can be used to create groups of people to engage with in private or public

Online crowdsourcing

  • Citizen Space was used for the Deputy Prime Minister’s Northern Futures project to collect ideas on how to create a new economic hub in the North of England. The Treasury also used this tool to gather ideas for the Spending Challenge.

  • NHS Citizen is a specially created site that gathers and develops ideas on how to improve hospitals and the health service. The project is in development and the source code will be available freely for other people to build similar platforms.

  • Wordpress platforms have been used by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills to build a bespoke site to allow the public to comment on regulations for the focus on enforcement project.

  • Wazoku has been used The Ministry of Justice, NHS England and the Department for Education have used Wazoku to crowdsource ideas. The Ministry of Justice used it to gather public opinion on out of court disposals. Wazoku can be used for both open and closed crowdsourcing projects.

  • Citizens Foundation is ued by Reykjavik City Council crowdsourcing ideas and let thethe public vote on them. The best ones are debated every month by the City Council. You can use this platform for free, although Citizens Foundation also offers paid consultancy.

  • Open Ideo is a ‘global community working together to create solutions to problems’. The Department for International Development uses the OpenIdeo platform for its Amplify project to help reduce poverty rates.

  • Crowdicity is used by the NHS, the third sector and businesses to crowdsource ideas from their employees. This crowdsourcing platform can be used for projects where you do not want the ideas to be automatically open to the public.

  • Hackpad is great small scale projects where you want a more fluid exchange of ideas. The Government Digital Service uses Hackpad to ask the public to discuss design changes to GOV.

Data tool cards


  1. Introduction
  2. When to use
  3. How to use

Data tool cards: an introduction

Data tool cards are questions that help policy makers work with data scientists to think and discuss possible data that they might need to include in their policy project.

Data tool cards have questions on them like ‘what would be proxy data for your project?’ and ‘What would someone’s phone tell you about your policy?’. The cards and questions are presented to policy makers to help them understand how data can impact their policy area and discuss what data they may need.

Policy Lab has created three types of cards that can all be used together.

  1. [InlineAttachment:Data discovery cards data.pdf]
  2. [InlineAttachment:Data discovery cards inspiration.pdf]
  3. [InlineAttachment:Data discovery cards projects.pdf]

When to use data tool cards

Data tool cards are useful in the early stages of designing a policy, when you’re trying to understand what data you will need to understand users, the policy problem and also measure success and impact.

Data cards focus on facts and inspiration through words rather than images. Interesting facts are used to try and help policy makers see the importance of data in their policy development.

How to use data tool cards

You should use data tool cards during or after you have generated some ideas. The cards work best when they ‘disrupt’ the thought process.

  1. Once everyone have spent a bit of time developing an idea, ask them to pick up a change card to help them push their thinking in a different direction – they can pick as many or as few as they like
  2. Get teams to present their ideas one by one, with other people giving constructive feedback and explaining the criteria they are using
  3. Invite participants to vote about which ideas work best
  4. Discuss together what ideas seem to work and what you want to take forward

Guerilla Testing

Guerrilla user testing is a low cost method of user testing. The term ‘guerrilla’ refers to its ‘out in the wild’ style, in the fact that it can be conducted anywhere eg cafe, library, train station etc, essentially anywhere where there is significant footfall.

Read the full advice and information for guerilla testing from the Government Digital Service

Hope and fear cards


  1. Introduction
  2. When to use hope and fear cards
  3. How to use hope and fear cards

Hope and fear cards: an introduction

Hope and fear cards use images to inspire people to express their objectives and concerns for a policy or a problem. You should use them at the earliest stage of policy development so that you understand the aims and needs of your team members, stakeholders and users.

They can be used with anyone involved in a policy project and are a good way of quickly understanding a group’s way of thinking about a particular problem and start debate on the problem.

When to use hope and fear cards

This technique works well in any setting because all you need is paper and pen.

Using photo cards can make the activity more thought provoking and get people engaged quickly. The images act as metaphors for people’s hopes and fears – helping them articulate what they think already, and potentially encouraging them to think differently.

How to use hope and fear cards

You can create your own cards or use some standard cards made by Policy Lab.

If you want to design you own, start by picking as many pictures as possible. Inserting a small text box into the picture to encourage people to use a word or phrase to describe their hope and fear.

Leaving too much space risks people writing long sentences when the image should to do the talking.

During the workshop:

  1. lay all the cards out on the table – try and spread them out so that each picture is visible

  2. provide large coloured pens for writing: these work better than biros as they stop people writing too much and are much easier for everyone to read

  3. decide whether you want to address hopes or fears first

  4. give participants a set period of time (say 5 minutes) to pick the card that speaks to a hope/fear they have for the project/issue/challenge

  5. ask them to write 1 or 2 words in the space on the card that summarises their hope or fear

  6. depending on the size of the group, bring everyone together to share their hopes/fears, or ask people to get into groups and share among themselves

  7. display the cards on a wall or table where participants can return during the day

  8. repeat the process for fears/hopes

  9. reflect on the 2 sets of cards: is there anything interesting or surprising, any particular clusters, or vastly differing views (eg one person’s hope being another’s fear)

  10. encourage participants to revisit the hopes and fears throughout and at the end of the workshop to add to, remove or change what is there



  1. introduction
  2. Examples
  3. When to use sketching
  4. How to use sketching

Sketching: an introduction

Asking policy makers to sketch their ideas disrupts conventional ways of working where people rely on words.

Asking people to sketch things instead of writing brings out new ideas that are more easy to understand and improve. Research into how designers go about their work shows the act of sketching or making is where ideas emerge.

Examples from around government

Policy Lab has helped civil servants and users to use sketching to come up with new solutions to the lack of new homes being built.

HMRC has organised collaborative with involve young people that used sketching to redesign the letters that give them their National Insurance number. They also used sketching to generate ideas for other parts of their lives (like school) where they could learn about the importance of National Insurance.

When to use sketching

The main reasons to do sketching are:

  • to generate lots of ideas fast
  • to create a broader range of ideas, including some unlikely ones that may help you reframe current understandings of the issue
  • to create a shared understanding of the opportunities quickly
  • to get and keep people engaged in a project
  • to broaden the range of participants able to contribute to solution finding

How to use sketching

  1. Ask people to sketch touchpoints – points at which users, frontline staff, or other people involved such as family members or volunteers, interact in relation to the issue you are considering. They don’t have to just be from government or public services.

  2. These touchpoints could be:

  • web pages
  • leaflets
  • smartphone apps
  • emails and text messages,
  • signage
  • products, packaging
  • media, eg websites, TV programmes or adverts
  • environments and places such as homes, offices, clinics, cafes, schools or shops public spaces such as parks, sports or community centres, bus stops or trains
  • mundane things in the built environment such as posters, signs or bins
  • journeys or cartoon strips

Probably many or most of the participants in a workshop will not be that good at drawing, which helps to break down hierarchies. Keep the focus more on what people draw, rather than the quality of the drawing and there’s more room for surprise.

Social media engagement


  1. Introduction
  2. Examples
  3. Ways of using social media
  4. How to use social media

Social media engagement: an introduction

Social media can help you to understand people’s views and needs, and work with them to design policy.

Working with people through social media can help you to connect with their opinions and existing experiences. You can use it to crowdsource ideas and quickly test how ideas will be received and used in the real world.

Social media can be very useful for a quick link to the people your policy will impact. Running ideas, questionnaires or consultations through social media can significantly increase the number of people you reach.

Remember that by choosing to work with people on social media you are choosing to work with a small selection of the audience.

Social media analysis is helpful for analysing your engagement or finding existing data from social media platform.

Examples from around government

  • the NHS Constitution consultation used social media to spread the word about changes to the NHS constitution
  • the Public Sector Efficiency Challenge used social media and crowdsourcing to share ideas about where money could be saved across the civil service
  • UKTI’s Export Jam used social media to ask people what their experience of exporting was and for their ideas to improve it
  • the Government Digital Services and HM Revenue & Customs uses Twitter to help people when they have a problem with a service or policy

How to use social media

The Government Digital Service Social Media Playbook is the government guide for using social media. It outlines the available platforms and the ways that government should speak and use them.

Choose the most appropriate channel

Combine a range of different channels depending on who you need to reach.

You may wish to use a traditional open social media site like Facebook or Twitter, or something more closed like Hackpad or LinkedIn groups. You should find one that works for you and your users.

Remember this is a dialogue not a monologue

You should not simply broadcast what government wants people to hear. Any social media campaign should create a dialogue where government responds to individual people.

Be prepared for negative comments

Social media is a democratic forum and people may want to express their displeasure with the government or a particular policy.


Find the influential people who are already talking about your area on Twitter. Follow them and talk to them to see if they will help you increase debate around your crowdsourcing project.

Provide relevant information

Tweet useful information to get the conversation flowing. Infographics, pictures and links to relevant articles will make people more likely to read your tweets and more likely to engage with your question because they have some background data to work with. Ask them to share their information as well.


Most social media is open about the ideas and conversations taking place.

For some specialised or sensitive discussions you might want to use a more closed environment. You can use a members-only groups on LinkedIn, Slack and Hackpad to let people to discuss things which might be commercially sensitive or that they might not want to share openly.

On very sensitive topics such as sexual assault, you may need to let people to comment anonymously, ask them if you can use their contribution anonymously and remove any identifying features from any information they allow you to publish.