Open Policy Making toolkit

1. Diagnosis: finding the policy problem

This section includes tools to help you understand a policy problem or policy area and the challenge facing you.

An introduction to diagnosis


The diagnosis stage brings together existing knowledge, evidence and people to share understanding and define and create a single project challenge.

This stage should be defined by group work and collaboration across people, departments and organisations. This will ensure that the project is in full control of the facts, and the next steps can be planned fully.

What you should achieve

1.Know who your users are

You are not expected to understand every single user, but a good understanding of the demographics and groups of users interacting with a service or policy is fundamental to organising user research. You can segment users to help you understand their needs or plan research.

2. The user experience and/or user journey

Understanding how people use or interact with a policy or service is also very important. You should have an understanding of why and how people start using a policy, interact with it and then leave it or stop using it. This will not only help you to explore the context of your policy area, but also the pain points that you will need to learn more about and focus on in the discovery section.

3. User needs

Knowing who your users are and what their experience of a policy is will be the basis for understanding their needs. What do you think they want to achieve? What are users trying to do and why? All of the above can (and may) be disproven by user research in the discovery section but it is important to have a basic understanding of user needs, even if they change or adapt in the future.

4. A team

You should use the diagnosis stage to bring together a core team of 3-9 people that will own the policy project and push it forward. A team should be as multidisciplinary as possible and include people from a variety of backgrounds; i.e. designers, user researchers, ethnographers, data scientists, civil servants and policy / area experts. Each person should have an understanding of either the problem or bring an approach / specialist knowledge to the project.

It is also important that the team has final say on the project and is able to hold themselves to account. Long decision chains will hamper innovation and slow down the project.

A good understanding of extended stakeholders and interested parties should also achieved before moving onto discovery.

5. A challenge

Perhaps most importantly, you should have a project challenge that everyone in the team understands and agrees with. This challenge will likely change and adapt as a more rich understanding of users and their needs occurs in discovery.

6. Research questions

Having brought together existing evidence and insight in the diagnosis stage, you should also have created a set of research questions about the things you don’t know, or want to clarify in discovery. It is impossible to know everything about users and their needs without user research and the key aim of the diagnosis is to understand what to do in discovery: what questions about users, their needs and the possible policy solution do you want to answer?


Tools and techniques

Challenge setting


  1. Introduction
  2. When to use challenge setting
  3. How to do challenge setting

Challenge setting: an introduction

Challenge setting lets you work with users and groups of people to define the challenges that are important to your policy.

Challenge setting frames a person’s fears and needs as questions that begin with ‘How can we’. The challenges that are created can then become collective issues to debate and investigate further.

When to use challenge setting

The hope and fear card exercise helps frame the problem for users. You should usually do this before challenge setting.

Use challenge setting at the beginning of a project to help you understand what people need and want from a policy area. The tool works well alongside other tools like journey mapping and idea days or policy jams.

Using challenge setting at an early stage of a project helps you look at your problem from a users’ perspective and understand their needs and desires. It also helps you to find people to work with to design policy.

Challenge setting works with users and experts as well as any other interested party.

How to do challenge setting

To start using challenge setting you will need thick marker pens and challenge setting cards.

Challenge setting cards are A5 sized with ‘How can we…’ written on them. There should be space for people to write a challenge. Challenges should be as short as possible and no longer than 4 lines long.

To do challenge setting, give members of the discussion the cards and ask them to write down their aims or needs from a policy, event or experience. If you have completed the hopes and fears exercise you can ask them to base their ‘how can we’ on some of the hopes and fears you have previously discussed.

You should then discuss everyone’s challenge setting as a group. Placing everyone’s challenge on a scale often helps to show the variety of challenges you will discover. The scale could be small to grand challenges or cheap to expensive depending on the policy area.

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. Data Discovery data cards
  2. Data discovery inspiration cards
  3. Data discovery project cards

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.

For example: * Once everyone has 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 * Get teams to present their ideas one by one, with other people giving constructive feedback and explaining the criteria they are using * Invite participants to vote about which ideas work best * Discuss together what ideas seem to work and what you want to take forward

Evidence safari

  1. Introduction
  2. When to use an evidence safari
  3. How to do an evidence safari

An introduction to Evidence Safari

An evidence safari lets everyone involved in a project look at all the data, evidence and knowledge surrounding a policy issue. An evidence safari sets a level playing field and can help a team to see the gaps in their knowledge that may need to be filled with further research, or look at all the evidence available and form a direction for the project or generate ideas in response to challenges. It is also helpful in clearly grounding the project, and other exercises like using personas, in evidence.

This tool works best alongside other tools like challenge cards, hope and fear exercises and journey mapping.

When to use an Evidence Safari

You could use an evidence safari at the beginning of a policy problem or project or after you have collected together fresh evidence. At the beginning, the ‘diagnose’ phase, this will help make sure that everyone involved has a similar understanding of a project, and will help bring in new evidence and data. At the develop phase, this will help people discover any fresh insight (e.g. data science, stakeholder interviews or ethnography) gathered and help inspire ideas.

In most cases, you will need to spend some time making sure that there is a large amount of data available to everyone involved in the safari, and that the data is presented in an easy to understand way. This does not mean giving everyone a report for them to read. You should break down the data into quick facts or graphs, photos or quotes. This can take some time.

If you have limited time and data, you could do a low-fi version where you ask everyone in the workshop to write down three to five bits of evidence or tacit knowledge. Then, ask them to group them into different clusters in different areas of the room. And hey presto! A pop-up safari. This is not as robust, but would give you indications of where to go and find the evidence.

How to do an Evidence Safari

1. Get the evidence

You should begin by collecting all the evidence available. You should break down your evidence into different aspects that you may wish to explore in your evidence safari. These could be:

  • Official Government statistics and reports
  • Stakeholder reports
  • Academic research
  • Images from a service safari (where you go and experience the service or policy yourself, a bit like mystery shopping)
  • Quotations from qualitative research
  • Innovation and ideas (including from other countries)
  • Media stories and social media views on the policy area
  • How people are talking about it on Twitter

2. Make the evidence easy and simple to view

Once you have collected all of the evidence you should break it down and easy to read.

When you run your evidence safari it will be placed on walls for people to walk around and explore. You will therefore need to make sure that the evidence is easy to understand, read and view. You should make sure that the font is big enough and each sheet of A4 paper you stick to the wall has one piece of evidence on it. Using different colours to highlight the different evidence themes can help.

Breaking down large amounts of data and turning it into simple and easy to use evidence can take some time, but is essential to a safari working well.

3. Display the evidence

Find a space with enough room for everyone involved in the project and knowledge safari to walk around relatively freely. Then stick each sheet of evidence to the wall.

If you have grouped your evidence into themes you will want to use a different wall or part of a wall for each evidence theme. This is so different groups have space to discuss the evidence they are looking at without being crowded out by the next group. You will need to make sure that the themes are easy to see and understand.

4. Organise your workshop

Before you begin make sure you have A3 paper, post-it notes and sharpies.

5. Give people tasks

When people arrive for the evidence safari break them down into groups. These groups will be given an aspect of the policy problem to focus on. You could ask people to look for opportunities and barriers or to examine the experience of a policy. Some example questions are:

  • What is the current experience of the policy?
  • What are the drivers of this policy problem?
  • Who are the people that experience this policy?
  • Who will be the future users of this policy?
  • What future demographic changes could impact this policy?
  • What are other countries / organisations doing?
  • What are people’s views on this policy?

You could also give groups different personas, and ask them to go round and pick out the relevant information that would help to create a user journey for them.

People should then move around the evidence in groups, spending about 3-5 minutes with each theme.

They should collect their findings, views or thoughts on post-it notes or paper as they move.

6. Feedback to everyone

After everyone has looked at the evidence, each group should feedback what they found to everyone else. The aim of this is to ensure that knowledge is shared from multiple perspectives. You could use a challenge setting exercise to help people think outside of the box. It might also be useful to focus on what evidence was missing from the safari, as this could be an area that will need more research

Journey mapping and challenge setting exercises can work well after an evidence safari.

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 Policy Lab hope and fear cards.

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

Journey mapping


  1. Introduction
  2. Examples from around government
  3. When to use
  4. How to do journey mapping

Journey mapping: an introduction

Journey mapping helps you to understand a user’s experience of a service or policy over a period of time. By plotting the experience of a user you can understand the interactions and touch points that people have regardless of department or policy boundaries.

Journey mapping puts you in the shoes of users. This can help clarify the exact and various components of that journey and help you to join up different experiences and policies that people use.

An example of journey mapping could be the experience of someone falling ill and leaving work. Journey mapping will visualise their experiences across multiple government departments, charities and private companies. The government will see this as many experiences, but to the user it is one experience that may need improving.

Here are two Policy Lab journey maps. Print them off and use them in your workshop. They work best when printed A2. 1. (Highs and lows journey map)Highs and lows journey maps 2. (Emotions and needs journey map)Emotions and needs

Examples from around government

Policy Lab has worked with civil servants on journey mapping to examine how to better support people who have a health condition and are at risk of leaving work because of it.

It also used journey maps to describe the experiences of people who have been a victim of a crime. It used the technique to understand how, and why they do or do not report crime to the police.

Policy lab has also used journey mapping to help scope out a project to support people going through divorce or separation to use mediation services rather than going to court.

When to use journey mapping

Use this tool when you are at the early stage of understanding the policy problem and user needs. You can also adapt the tool and use it when interviewing people by asking them to map out their journey to help explain their experiences.

Journey mapping works well when you have little time or money, and you want to understand an issue from the perspective of citizens, users or frontline staff. It can also be useful when you want to involve a range of people in exploring an issue, some of whom have deep knowledge of the lives of people and some of whom may be operations or delivery-focused, or when your understanding of a policy problem is still unclear.

How to do journey mapping at a workshop or hack day

Work with groups of people who interact with your service or policy area and ask them to map their journey for you. User journeys can be fictional or real life – this will depend on the people you are working with.

What you’ll need:

  • long rolls of paper
  • sticky notes
  • bluetack
  • good quality fine point marker pens – they make everyone’s drawings legible and better looking

What you need to do:

  1. put several long pieces of paper on the wall before you start – 1 for each team

  2. you could also start with a persona creating exercise to help participants think about the issue as a whole (this exercise is explained in the next section)

  3. ask teams to pick 1 person whose journey they want to map – they should map out on the long piece of paper the main phases of this person’s journey as they experience the issue

  4. encourage participants to maintain a strong focus on the person’s activities and their interactions with service touch points during the journey

  5. ask participants to describe things in the user’s terms and language, rather than that of government. If data is available from research, share this and invite people to use it. If not, use team members’ knowledge to create a rich, complete picture of a specific user interacting with public or other organisation or service over time

  6. prompt participants to provide lots of detail, however apparently mundane or unimportant. What is obvious to one person may provoke valuable insights in another

  7. ask them to identify emotional highs and lows

  8. get people to identify opportunities for improvements to service touchpoints or other kinds of interaction, or where no touchpoint exists but it would improve the experience

  9. invite participants to share their journey maps with one another

  10. discuss themes emerging across all the ideas people have generated

Journey mapping with interviews and shadowing

You can also map people’s journey by shadowing, interviewing and researching the experiences of people and mapping their journeys afterwards. This can help you to map exact experiences of your policy or service.

Other resources



  1. Introduction
  2. When to use personas
  3. Example
  4. How to create personas
  5. Persona templates

Personas: an introduction

Personas are fictional users and characters created to represent the different people that might use, or be impacted by your policy.

They enable you to consider the goals, requirements, needs and lifestyles of different audiences that your policy will reach and need to answer to. This can include users, ministers or managers and can be broken down into groups of age, abilities and beliefs.

Use personas to create empathy between policy makers and the people your policy will impact.

When you should use personas

You should create personas when you have a deep understanding of the people that your policy will impact or need to answer to. You will need to have carried out some user research and data analysis before you attempt to create personas.

Personas can work during any point of your policy design process as a way of creating empathy and reminding you of the people your policy has to work for.

Avoid letting your personas become stereotypes that limit your understanding of users and people. To do this you should include the people that your personas are supposed to represent when designing personas.

You should constantly re-evaluate personas based on user research so that they are up to date and relevant.

Examples from around government

The Government Digital Service (GDS) uses personas to understand their audience better:

When we thought about who would need information on the performance of GOV.UK, we considered a range of audiences from ministers and senior management through to GDS product managers and developers.

We interviewed the different types of staff who would need to use the dashboards and then we mapped them showing their level of seniority, whether they were in the department or outside it and key relationships. For key customers, we made personas to better communicate their needs and goals.

How to create and use personas

Personas should be based on user research, ethnographic findings and data analysis of users and people your policy will impact. You should create between 6 and 10 different personas so that the diverse needs of the people your policy impacts are represented fairly.

Including quotes from interviews, facts about what the segment a persona represents and aims for that particular persona will help you describe the character further.

Persona templates and design examples

Policy Canvas

Policy Canvas: an introduction

A policy canvas is an easy way of brainstorming and sharing everything you know about the policy challenge. It works in a workshop or on your own and is a good way of quickly understanding the scope and challenge ahead.

How to do a policy canvas

Download the policy canvas and fill it out in a workshop in groups, or on your own.

User segmentation

User segmentation: an introduction

User segmentation allows you to get a full picture of all the users of a policy or service and helps you to create personas that are more varied and archetypal, instead of stereotypical. It is a simple tool that relies on the knowledge of everyone involved. It works well in a first workshop as a way of helping people understand users and their needs.

How to create a segmentation sheet

You can either download Policy Lab’s user segmentation sheet or make your own.

A segmentation sheets is very simple. It is a large piece of paper (or wall space) with an X and Y axis. Each axis should have two defining characteristics.

For example; ‘time in job market high/low’ on one axis and then ‘personal resilience high/low’ on another OR ‘involvement with service high/low’ on one axis and ‘at risk of x high/low’.

You should then use post-it notes to put as many possible user types on the axis. One post-it note per user and as many users as possible.

You should ask everyone in the room to participate in this.

Once you’ve done this you should take a user from each segment and create in-depth personas for them.