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Open Policy Making toolkit

Cabinet Office
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3. Development: generating ideas

This section shows how to translate user needs into policy and services and how you to work collaboratively with users and specialists

An introduction to development


In the development stage you should bring together the understanding and insight from diagnosis and discovery to start creating ideas that will answer the needs of users.

The ideas you generate at the beginning of should be low quality and emphasise quantity over quality in order for you to have a full and wide spread of innovative and ‘outside the box’ ideas. You should then quickly iterative your ideas and move from quantity to quality - finishing the stage with a few, well thought out ideas that you can begin to prototype and test with users in delivery.

What you should achieve

1. Start with quantity

You should begin development with a white sheet of paper and no limits to ideas. Forget the real world, think about utopias and dystopias - would ideas would happen and why? By playing with extremes and having the mindset of ‘no idea is a bad idea’ we can play with innovative ideas and stretch our imagination as to what will and won’t work. That is not to say that all ideas are good - but some bad ideas have good bits. So start with quantity and then work down to a few good, well thought out ideas.

2. Finish with quality

You should finish with ideas that have been prototyped, tested and iterated to a point of deep understanding about how it could be implemented and how users will react to it. You can prototype your ideas quickly on paper or through acting to help you iterate them.

3. Create a safe and respectful space

When developing ideas you should make sure that you provide a safe and respectful space for idea generation. All ideas are good ideas and shutting down an idea because it is too expensive or impractical could mean truly innovative ideas are lost and making a collaborative space is key to good idea development.


Tools and techniques

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.

Hack days


  1. Introduction
  2. Examples
  3. How to run a hack day

Hack days: an introduction

Hack days are events that let policy makers collaborate with experts to work together and create solutions to policy problems.

Making solutions is not always the aim of a hack day. Instead the aim is to bring people with multiple talents, expertise and perspectives together to approach problems from new directions and look at ways to solve them.

Hack days happen across the public and private sector as a means of opening up innovation to include the people that are most eager for change, and able to create that change. the NHS, Amazon and the Government Digital Service (GDS) all hold hack days.

Hack days often rely on making as much data around the policy problem openly available to those attending. This makes sure that people at the event are as informed as policy makers and able to react with the best knowledge possible.

If you want advice about opening up your data contact the open data team in the government digital services for advice

Examples of hack days from around government

  • NHS Hackathons help the NHS innovate with new ideas
  • [UK Health Camp] brought health and care professionals, policy makers and service managers together with designers, digital specialists and technologists to design solutions to the everyday problems of the NHS.
  • GDS hack days showed how a problem can be solved quickly - often by building software prototypes.

How to run a hack day

1. Before the event

You should have a good understanding of the policy problem before you consider running a hack day. This will mean a large amount of qualitative or quantitative data that attendees can freely use to help them design or code experiences and ideas.

You will also need to have an aim for the day. This could be an entire policy problem or a small part of it that you want examined. The point of a hack day is that attendees should be able to go in whatever direction they feel like as long as it focuses in improving the policy area.

Finally, it’s important to advertise this to the best crowds. A strong social media presence is advised and advertising in the right channels is equally important so that the best people attend the event.

2. At the event

The Hack Day manifesto has all the information you will ever need on running a hack day from locations, types of wifi and even food and snacks.

Idea days and policy jams


  1. Introduction
  2. Examples
  3. Principles of an idea or jam
  4. How to run an idea jam

Idea jams: an introduction

An idea or policy jam gives policy users and experts an opportunity to work with policy makers and designers to understand a policy problem and create solutions together.

The ideas created do not always need to be realistic or sensible. Instead the ideas can highlight the needs of users and help policymakers understand what kind of solution they need to create.

Ideas days and policy jams are a way to help policymakers understand how people experience their policies in the real world and work together to create better policy.

The jam itself is a day, or more, in a location outside of government where interested parties, policy makers and users talk through their problems and create solutions together. They often involve interacting in new ways like sketching, hope and fear card exercises, journey mapping and acting.

Policy jams and idea days are a examples of ‘design thinking’ that builds, service, policies and government around user’s needs and experiences. Read an introduction to design thinking.

Examples from across government

UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) Ideas Lab held nine Export Jams around the country in 2015 to help them understand what was holding back small to medium sized companies in the UK investing overseas. They worked with users to understand their current experiences and brainstorm future ideas.

Principles of an idea jam

1. Understand what you want to achieve

It’s very easy to hold an ideas day (all you need is a good location, pens and paper), but it’s more difficult to gather useful information and data from it. You will need to work out what you want to achieve before you begin - and make sure the aim is sensible and achievable. Most idea jams either choose to look for solutions with users and citizens, or to work out what their current experience is and to identify the problem.

2. Listen, don’t tell

The point of an idea day is to listen to the problems and ideas people have at them and work with them in an open and productive manner. Rather than shutting ideas down and telling people why things won’t work, look outside the box and think of unrealistic ideas that can then be adapted. You should facilitate and guide discussions and tasks so that they are fixing the problem the idea jam was set up to deal with.

3. Empower people to think differently

An ideas day is a space for both users policy makers to think outside the box and engage in meaningful debate and ideas. What would happen if there was no budget? what would be the perfect answer? What would a major company do?

How to run an idea jam

1. Before the jam

You must plan and structure an idea jam to make sure you gather the best data and ideas from the event. Bringing in expert help and facilitators can help you do to this. The Cabinet Office’s Policy Lab have run several idea jams in the past and will be able to advise or run one for you.

2. Running the jam

You should use a facilitator when running a ideas day. Facilitators let the discussion flow more freely for those at the day, but can also control it to make sure it runs in the direction policy makers need. Their neutrality can enable a more open and level playing field of discussion.

Email policy lab at if you want some help and advice.

Idea development sheet

The idea development sheet is a quick tool to help you understand and plan the next steps for your ideas. It works well in a workshop or on your own and is very easy to use.

Simply download the idea development sheet and get to work.



  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.