Open Policy Making toolkit

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Cabinet Office
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4. Delivery: prototyping and improving ideas

This section includes tools to help you move from low fidelity ideas to policies and services that can be delivered to users

An introduction to delivery

Definition

Delivery policy is the longest and most complex stage of the policy cycle. During this stage you should start at low-quality ideas and test them with a small group of users and slowly increase the number of people testing a policy, whilst continuously improving the experience and design.

Testing with people you ran user research or ethnography with is a good start - and can be done very quickly. You can test ideas on paper, by acting at the beginning of your delivery stage and then move to more hi-fidelity ideas and mockups later on as your ideas become more cemented and concrete.

You should never deliver an untested or prototyped idea to a large number of people.

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Tools and techniques

Prototyping

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Why you should prototype
  3. Examples from around government
  4. When to prototype
  5. Issues to be aware of
  6. Types of prototyping

Prototyping: an introduction

Prototyping is trying an idea out to see how it might work, before the pilot stage. Prototypes can take many forms, from simple physical models to role play and more elaborate digital or physical mock-ups. Deciding on the right approach depends on the questions you want to answer, the stage you are at in a project and the resources you have available.

Why you should prototype policy

  1. It can save money. Prototyping can spot and fix design flaws that can be costly, even in small scale pilots.
  2. It makes abstract concepts visible and tangible in the context of the lives of users. This helps policy advisors to understand what a proposed solution might be like, raising assumptions and issues early on.
  3. It gives confidence about the likely benefits and implications of a proposed direction or solution, so that it can be trialled on a larger scale in a more rigorous way.

Examples from around government

In a Home Office workshop involving senior police, academics, civil servants and victims’ representatives, groups used simple craft materials, Lego and video to quickly build and share ideas on new ways to report crime. They then combined these ideas into prototypes of solutions, and discussed them to clarify which ones they valued most.

This worked well because the home office was able to try an idea on a small scale.

Building on early rapid prototyping of the first example, the Home Office is now working with Sussex and Surrey Police to try out a new online crime reporting tool and use feedback to improve it.

HM Revenue & Customs wanted to come with up with new ways of communicating with young people about National Insurance. They ran a workshop where young people re-designed the letters and worked with a group of policymakers, youth engagement specialists and frontline staff to improve these prototypes. The resulting versions of the letter were then presented to and discussed with another group of young people to find out which would be most effective.

An example of what not to do.

A local authority which spent £200,000 on a recycling pilot that was a failure because people did not understand the uses for the different coloured bags that were provided. If they had tested the bags on a single street first, they could have avoided a costly mistake and redesign the experience to work with the users and avoid confusion and wasted spending.

When to prototype

Prototyping is especially important at the early stage of developing policy, when an issue is not defined, there are many possible solutions, and the cost of changing your mind is low. Prototyping is typically used iteratively, improving continuously, to build up confidence in a proposed solution so that an idea is ready for a larger scale trial.

Prototyping can accelerate a project by putting ideas through their paces by making them tangible and exploring their implications early on and make policy more deliverable by finding out very early on which ideas work or don’t.

You should use prototyping to:

  • get feedback from people who have knowledge of the policy area, especially the lives of people connected with it, including frontline staff
  • understand what a policy change might be like for the people who will be directly affected by it
  • build momentum and interest in a policy area and in possible solutions

Issues to be aware of

Prototyping requires some clear thinking about what you are trying to learn. You might start with an idea about how people will respond to the concept (deductive reasoning) and use prototyping to test it. Or you might also have a more general proposal as part of a prototype – “what if the solution was like this?” and be very open to people’s different responses.

Prototyping for policy making is different to trialling or piloting. Prototyping is often ‘quick and dirty’, involves lots of variables and does not produce statistically valid results. Trialling or piloting usually has fewer variables, clear outcome measures, and an experimental protocol to produce reliable evidence, with a sufficiently large sample size. Prototyping builds evidence, momentum and a public interest in the issue. It often generates new insights, whereas trials produce evidence in response to a clearly defined question.

Types of prototyping

There are many types of prototyping that can be used at various stages of policy creation to test and express ideas and solutions. Check them out in the sections below.

Tabletop prototyping

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Why and when to use tabletop prototyping
  3. Examples
  4. How to use tabletop prototyping
  5. Additional resources

Introduction

Tabletop prototyping involves creating simple mock-ups or physical models showing the intended result of a policy in the real world in order to bring the idea to life through role play or storytelling. Tabletop prototyping lets people quickly understand a potential solution from the perspective of end users or other people involved such as social workers, GPs, other frontline service staff or family members. This enables a discussion about the possible benefits or drawbacks of the proposal and can help define ideas at an early stage.

Why and when to use tabletop prototyping

Table top prototyping is quick and uses cheap materials and engages people creatively and critically to develop and assess ideas when they are still early in development. Although the tool can be used at any point of policy design, it works best when the understanding of a problem and its solutions is unclear.

Using table top prototyping often works well with hack days or idea and policy jams because it allows people to work together to generate lots of ideas, and explore and consider them from the perspective of people the policy would affect.

Examples from around government

Policy Lab has helped civil servants successfully try out tabletop prototyping as part of a workshop with a wide range of policymakers. For example, a mixed group of of about 20 people, most of whom had never met before, spent an hour together responding to “What if visiting a GP was based on the idea of ‘the patient will see you now’? How would this change the whole primary health care system?”

Participants self-organised into 3 groups, found somewhere to work together, and used craft materials, flipchart paper, sticky notes and pen to come up with ideas.

Policy Lab staff provided practical advice and encouragement, for example suggesting looking at 3 phases – making appointments/arriving, seeing the doctor, and after the visit, and focussing in on 1 persona representing a particular group of users and their needs. Policy Lab also gave each team a ‘challenge card’ to provide an extra focus, for example “What if the service was people-powered?”

For 45 minutes participants analysed what did not work in the current patient experience of GP surgeries, and generated ideas about how to redesign the service based on the principle of ‘the patient will see you now’, giving it physical form. People who had never met before worked together to explore a complex area, and generate, realise and share their ideas in an open, creative way.

The workshop ended with a 2-minute presentation by each team and feedback from the other people present. All the presentations involved some degree of roleplay and performance, bringing their ideas to life and helping everyone understand how patients would interact with the new service. Their service concepts were rough-and-ready but complex, combining organisational processes, people’s behaviours and interactions, established technologies (buzzers, digital devices or wifi) used in new ways, and communications and spatial design.

How to do tabletop prototyping in a 1-hour workshop

You will need materials to help people express their ideas. Some examples are:

  • Lego
  • small cardboard boxes
  • sticky notes
  • marker pens
  • bluetack
  • scissors
  • coloured card
  • paper
  • sweets (not to eat, but used as small, colourful items)

You’ll also need a space to work where you can stick things on the wall, ideally with several tables and chairs that people can work at in groups of 4 to 6

During the workshop:

  1. give people permission to be creative and work differently with an icebreaker
  2. set a challenge or ask people to define their own challenge
  3. get people to self-organise into teams, ideally with people from different backgrounds
  4. give people a clear timeframe and set expectations about what kinds of things they can make
  5. invite them to respond to the challenge by exploring it from the perspective of people involved, not the system; 6. come up with ideas using the materials and present their idea for feedback, for example using simple role play to show how someone would interact with or walk through their model or mock-up; take photos or use smartphones to video each presentation
  6. get teams to present their ideas one by one, with other people giving constructive feedback and explaining the criteria they are using
  7. you might invite participants to vote about which ideas work best
  8. discuss what ideas seem to work and what you want to take forward

After the workshop:

  1. summarise the ideas generated and the ones you want to take forward and why
  2. share the photos and videos

Additional resources

Touchpoint prototyping

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Examples
  3. Why and when to use tabletop prototyping
  4. How to use tabletop prototyping

Introduction

A touchpoint is an interaction between a service and a user which could be digital, material or person to person. For example a touchpoint could be a letter, a website or app, a form someone fills in to claim or apply for something, or a session with a care assistant or other service professional. Prototyping takes very little time, uses cheap materials and helps people develop and assess ideas when they are still at an early stage.

Examples from around government

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) wanted to improve the way they communicated with young people about National Insurance (currently a letter sent out a few months before someone reaches the age of 16).

A process of rapid touchpoint prototyping took place over a month. Working with a specialist service design agency and Policy Lab, HMRC ran a workshop where young people re-designed the letters. The agency combined these ideas and produced 5 letter prototypes. Another workshop with a group of policymakers, youth engagement specialists and frontline staff reviewed and improved these prototypes.

The resulting versions of the letter were then presented to and discussed with another group of young people to find out which one would be most effective.

When should you use touchpoint prototyping?

Touchpoint prototyping usually happens after you have done some research into a policy area and understood problems from the perspective of people directly affected – service users, frontline staff or volunteers. You might create a user journey map to understand how people currently experience the service and identify high and low points. Through this, you will identify touchpoints that you want to improve and explore ideas about how to do this.

Once you have identified potential ideas for newly designed touchpoints or new services that are worth exploring in more depth, you can mock them up and test them on service users or others who have first hand knowledge.

This could be a prototype letter, printed screenshots of websites, or a set of role play cards for a new type of conversation between a service user and provider. These tests will provide immediate feedback to use to improve your idea.

How to do touchpoint prototyping in a 1-hour workshop

You will need materials to help people express their ideas. Some examples are:

  • Lego
  • small cardboard boxes
  • sticky notes
  • marker pens
  • bluetack
  • scissors
  • coloured card
  • paper
  • sweets (not to eat, but used as small, colourful items)

You’ll also need a space to work where you can stick things on the wall, ideally with several tables and chairs that people can work at in groups of 4 to 6.

At the workshop:

  • give people permission to be creative and work differently with an icebreaker
  • set a challenge or ask people to define their own challenge
  • get people to self-organise into teams, ideally with people from different backgrounds
  • give people a clear timeframe to work within and set expectations about what kinds of things they can make
  • invite them to respond to the challenge by exploring it from the perspective of people involved; come up with ideas using the materials provided and be ready to present their idea for feedback, for example using simple role play to show how someone would interact with or walk through their model or mock-up, take photos or use smartphones to video each presentation.
  • get teams to present their ideas one by one, with others giving constructive feedback
  • you might invite participants to vote about which ideas work best
  • discuss what ideas seem to work and what you want to take forward

After the workshop:

  • summarise the ideas generated
  • share the photos and videos

Experience prototyping

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Examples
  3. Additional resources

Introduction

Experience prototyping is similar to touchpoint prototyping but rather than looking at one touchpoint it involves more than one touchpoint in the user’s experience of a policy or service.

Experience prototypes help quickly communicate and explore what an intended future experience could be like, so that it can be continuously improved. They help explore the possibilities and implications of future services which might involve personal interactions or situations in which someone is interacting with many organisational touchpoints.

Prototyping experiences allow a project team to explore, share and refine solutions involving key people such as service users or frontline staff, who have first hand knowledge. They also help build support from other stakeholders, explore assumptions and reveal unintended consequences.

The learning from prototyping helps build confidence for choosing a policy direction which might then later be followed by a larger scale trial, or help avoid costly mistakes by discovering a suggested proposal won’t work at later stage.

Examples from around government

A project for Cornwall Council aimed to create new ways to give unemployed people over 50 access to information about local work opportunities. Following interviews with older people who were out of work, but who did not visit job centres, several ideas were generated.

One of these proposed building on the connections that people have with shop staff they see regularly on the high street, adapting the traditional Cornish idea of the ‘huer’ who announces from the cliff top the arrival of fish in the sea. The service concept was then explored in more depth through experience prototyping.

Designers from agency ThinkPublic created an experience prototype with local pharmacists, bookstore owners, news agents and retailers whose day-to-day work involves significant contact with the public. They were invited to be a new kind of huer. Over a few days, the ‘High Street Huers’ were asked to identify people looking for work or in need of health care assistance. They were invited to use their interactions with customers or visitors to their shops to talk and to establish the most relevant and useful services for them. Then, if people required more information, the huer jotted down their contact details, and passed them on to the relevant Cornwall Council service provider,to follow up. Through prototyping this experience on a high street for a few days, the project team identified which of the high street huers were trusted as intermediaries for these kinds of conversations about public services.

Additional resources