Dr. Lucy Kimbell: Exploring how design interacts with activism, social innovation and policy in the UK

LucyKimbellIn its latest installment of the Ideas Lunch series, the GovLab hosted Dr. Lucy Kimbell, a visiting Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Fellow at the UK-based Policy Lab, an experimental policy innovation center within the Open Policy Making team of the UK Cabinet Office. At the Policy Lab, Dr. Kimbell is exploring how the organization applies design principles to improve the UK Civil Service, and how the Policy Lab’s practices relate to academic research in the field.

Dr. Kimbell joined the Policy Lab with a background in journalism, design, and academia. She is a Principal Research Fellow at the University of Brighton and an Associate Fellow at Said Business School at the University of Oxford, where she teaches service design within the MBA track. Throughout her work in academia, Dr. Kimbell has written extensively on design thinking and service design. Her most recent publication, “Social Design Futures: HEI Research and the AHRC”, chronicles existing scholarship on Social Design and explores cases where design interacts with activism, social innovation, and policy in the UK.

During her tenure at the Policy Lab, Dr. Kimbell is working closely with its head Dr. Andrea Siodmok to pursue a more engaged version of scholarship in social design. Dr. Kimbell’s research seeks to gain a greater understanding of how design is making a difference in UK policy-making. Most recently, the Policy Lab team explored how co-design and prototyping can be used within policy work through a set of practical experiments. The team is also exploring what kinds of organizational behaviors and capabilities must exist in order to encourage the adoption of new design practices, like prototyping, within policy-making.

Based on her extended inquiry into the current state of play in design’s impact on policymaking and social innovation, Dr. Kimbell’s talk focused on four key takeaways:

  1. There are long traditions of design activism and social design that can inform how we utilize design in policy today. At the same time, there is a great need for additional research and analysis on social design’s historical background.
  2. In order for the study of social design to mature and grow, researchers and practitioners must engage with adjacent fields like healthcare, governance, and social enterprise.
  3. Although there is an abundance of “gray” research on how design thinking has impacted policy, there is a lack of substantive academic knowledge building in the field. Christian Bason’s edited book “Design for Policy” (2014) is an important step toward building this.
  4. The recent growth of design projects, studios and labs poses a great opportunity for academic research in other fields to have impact. This is because of design’s orientation towards making change happen, the ways it materializes issues, and how it engages with and constitutes publics in research, idea generation and solution-making.

To read more about Dr. Kimbell’s work in social design, please refer to the following links:

Mapping Social Design Research and Practice

Keynote: Some futures for art and design in higher education

Rethinking Design Thinking: Part 1

Rethinking Design Thinking: Part 2

The Social Design Methods Menu

Check out the GovLab Wiki to learn more about design thinking.


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