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Challenges in applying design thinking to public policy: dealing with the varieties of policy formulation and their vicissitudes

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Policy design is a type of policy formulation activity centred on knowledge application in the creation of policy alternatives. Expected to attain public sector goals and government ambitions in an effective fashion, it can be undertaken many different ways. The current literature on policy design features an ongoing debate between adherents of traditional approaches to the subject in the policy sciences and those importing into policymaking the insights of design practices in other fields such as industrial engineering and product development: ‘design-thinking’. Issues examined in more traditional approaches to policy design are very wide-ranging and address a wide variety of formulation modalities and their strengths and weaknesses. Efforts to promote ‘design-thinking’ in the public policy realm, on the other hand, focus on policy innovation and rarely deal with issues such as the barriers to implementation, political feasibility or the constraints under which decision-making takes place. This article discusses these differences and argues adherents of design-thinking need to expand their reach and consider not only the circumstances facilitating the generation of novel ideas but also the lessons of more traditional approaches concerning the political and other challenges faced in policy formulation and implementation.
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Keywords: design thinking; policy design; policy formulation; policy learning; policy tools; policymaking; public policy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Simon Fraser University, Canada

Publication date: January, 2020

This article was made available online on September 9, 2019 as a Fast Track article with title: "Challenges in applying design thinking to public policy: dealing with the varieties of policy formulation and their vicissitudes".

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