Public health, led by design

With the nation facing significant public health challenges, councils across England are taking a design-led approach to address issues at both a local and national level, focusing on shaping new models based on prevention, writes the Design Council’s Abid Gangat.

Design Council’s Design in the Public Sector Programme, delivered in partnership with the LGA, is a 16-week intensive innovation programme enabling public health professionals to use design to improve health outcomes by working collaboratively with partners and the local community.

Cllr Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA’s Improvement and Innovation Board, said: “We recognise that there is a growing movement of design thinking and innovation in public services, and the LGA is keen to equip more councils with the necessary tools and knowledge. Public health is an area within local government being asked to deliver prevention strategies and improve the health of our communities, and we are pleased to be working with councils to support them in learning design tools and techniques to help achieve this.”

Seven councils across the north of England have already joined this year’s cohort, each aiming to effect positive change across their respective regions. One of these authorities, the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, has an ambition to create a healthy, vibrant district by bringing together area action planning, place and health & wellbeing with the built environment. In addition, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council is seeking to lower teenage pregnancy rates to ensure improved health and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people and their families, while Stockport Council is aiming to reduce social isolation.

Over the past three years, with the LGA, the Design in the Public Sector programme has supported 36 local authorities to tackle 40 challenges. While in 2017 the focus is on public health, in previous years the programme has addressed wider societal and economic challenges. An example is South Kesteven District Council, which took part in 2016 to address the supply and demand challenge of housing in the region, where it needs to deliver 14,000 new homes, in the right places, by 2036. Failing to meet this challenge would result in an increase in individuals struggling to get on the property ladder, increasing levels of poor-quality housing and homelessness, which has a potential impact on public health.

While participating in the programme, using design approaches based on Design Council’s Framework for Innovation, the team questioned the challenge they were addressing and reframed it from one of housing crisis to one of economic development, which in turn connected into the council’s housing strategy and provision.

Having learnt a range of best-practice design methods and tools, the team were able to collaboratively explore their housing strategy with input from a wide variety of stakeholders; gain insights from all councillors by running discovery sessions with 31 elected members; engage their partners; and incorporate local resident feedback. The positive response and trust gained by using this collaborative approach also instigated a different form of dialogue with stakeholders in other areas of the council’s work, including the overview and scrutiny working groups.

Enthused by the additional support and momentum of the Design in the Public Sector programme, the project team challenged other internal teams to adopt a design-led approach in their work. The revenues team were tasked with registering themselves for council tax. Experiencing the service as their customers do daily led to invaluable insights, resulting in a complete redesign of the council tax process and bill.

A year on, the design approaches adopted by South Kesteven helped produce a housing strategy that its members were able to support and which ensures the needs of the local community are met. With plans for a £40m investment programme in its local economy, design thinking is an integral part of the council’s drive towards ensuring South Kesteven is a great place to live, work and visit.




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