Embedding design in the public service

Following the publication of Better Public Services in May 2023, the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery, and Reform (DPENDPDR), has announced a new Action Plan for Designing Better Public Services.

Published in December 2023, the action plan calls for a “fundamental shift in how we approach government,” adding that “building a smarter government is the cornerstone for smarter solutions”.

The action plan has been based on 10 design principles which were established in a previous DPENDPDR publication, Designing our Public Services: Design principles for Government in Ireland, which was published in October 2022.

Using these principles, the Government believes that the role of design can be enhanced in order to improve delivery of public services, and central to this is the integration of new and emerging technologies, as well as viewing design as a strategic priority for the public service, increasing capability, and fostering a design culture which seeps through all aspects of the public service.

Demonstrate design commitment

The action plan outlines the objective of strengthening the State’s public service by “embracing design as a strategic priority and embedding it across the entire public service”.

To achieve this, by the first quarter of 2024, the Department is aiming to establish a dedicated design function to support public service bodies to embrace design values and principles in their organisations.

Another objective is the establishment of new funding mechanisms, with the aim of aligning existing mechanisms to include opportunities for organisations to secure additional funding for design related initiatives. The objective outlined by the Department is for this to be completed by the third quarter of 2024.

The development of a national framework for public procurement of design services that is able to encourages greater participation of small businesses is another means outlined by the Department which it believes will demonstrate design commitment from above. It is expected that this will be published in second quarter of 2024.

Another facet of demonstrating design commitment is the aim to “work with public service bodies” to integrate design as a core consideration in all relevant public service projects, which DPENDPDR says will be completed by Q3 2024.

Increase design capability

To increase design capability, the Department states in the action plan that it will increase capacity and empower public servants with design skills and resources to drive innovation and deliver human-centred solutions.

By the fourth quarter of 2024, the Department says that it will roll out design programmes and formal learning pathways to upskill and reskill current public service staff, however, the contents of these prospective plans have not been outlined.

The action plan outlines that, by the second quarter of 2025, the Department will facilitate staff exchanges between public service, academia, and private sector with the objective of enabling knowledge transfer and skill enhancement that can be applied in a public service setting.

In addition, there will be “tailored, useful and practical frameworks,” created, along with resources and assets to support learning and enable effective use of design across the public service, by the fourth quarter of 2024.

To adapt to these new demands, new design-specific job descriptions will be created which align with current public service grades and competencies, with the objective of ensuring that design expertise is “recognised and integrated into job functions”. It is intended that this will be completed by the third quarter of 2024.
Foster design culture

To act as a pump primer, DPENDPDR commits to nurturing a design-driven culture across the public service, which it says will be done promoting “creativity, collaboration, experimentation, and continuous improvement”.

In the first quarter of 2024, DPENDPDR states it will “communicate, socialise and promote the successes, impacts, and key learnings from a design approach across the public service”.

As part of this, there will be an important role for collaborate between DPENDPDR and other organisations on projects that showcase the impact of design and serve as examples for other organisations to adopt a design approach.

The action plan also says that DPENDPDR will facilitate design-focused innovative challenges including sprints, hackathons, and deep dive workshops that it believes will encourage experimentation and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

It will further collaborate with industry partners to host design-focused events to gain knowledge, best practice, and creative inspiration from experts.

Minister for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, expressed his confidence that initiatives and strategies which come to a design approach, as is called for in the action plan, will “influence and elevate our public service landscape for many decades to come”.

“Embedding design thinking from the outset, and consistently throughout our process, ensures that our solutions and initiatives not only work better for people, but offer value for money and contribute to creating a better society for all.”

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