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Designing a toolkit for policy makers

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: News, Skills, tools and techniques


"It doesn't matter whether you call it open policy or better policy. this is about making sure we develop world class policy advice and solutions to some of the most complex and pressing problems in society"

Maria Nyborg, Head of Open Policy Making

At the end of the last parliament, the Cabinet Office Open Policy Making team launched the Open Policy Making toolkit. This was about giving policy makers the actual tools that will enable them to develop policy that is well informed, creative, tested, and works. The starting point was addressing their needs and giving them what they had told us they needed to develop policy in an ever changing, fast paced and digital world. In a way, it was the culmination of the open policy journey we have been on with departments for the past 2 years. In the first couple of months we saw thousands of unique visits.

Since we launched the toolkit in April we haven’t stood still. We’ve been working hard on how to improve it both in terms of content and design. We’re launching the new toolkit today after months of hard work — this is what’s new.

 Understanding the problem

Our first version toolkit has had over 20,000 hits. This gave us a huge audience to talk to to make sure that we continue to meet the needs of policy makers and keep the toolkit relevant and useful. Although people have really enjoyed using the toolkit, user testing quickly showed us a few problems.Here is what you told us:

Firstly, some weren’t clear about what Open Policy Making was, even after they’d used the toolkit. This was because we had kept the toolkit separate from the blog where the detail on what OPM is and case studies are published. The blog still exists but we have made a better link between what OPM is and what the toolkit can do for this reason.

Secondly, the weighting of information on the toolkit created confusion. Users found it tricky to know if they were about to read a 10 minute exercise, or an entire design philosophy that would take a few evenings to read. We wanted to make a website that helped people understand not just what something was but also when they should use and in what context.

And finally, navigation was not easy. Users found it tricky to find tools and techniques and often got confused about how to navigate up and down layers of the site. We realised that we needed to make the whole user experience simpler.

We quickly identified two clear user needs for the second version of the OPM toolkit.

  1. I need to know what Open Policy Making is.
  2. I need to know what tools to use, how, and when to use them.

 Designing solutions

We knew what we needed to do. Help people understand what Open Policy Making was, how it impacted their policy making, and then to make it as simple as possible for them to know exactly what to do next.

So we came up with some quick ideas on pen and paper and tested them with people. We quickly discovered what not to do. People didn’t want a philosophy— they wanted to know exactly what to do, practical answers, and when to do it. They wanted a sort of design manual for policy.

Matt Edgar tweeted something in November that framed our problem perfectly:

When people ask “what is user-centered design?” I point them to the wonderful principles in ISO 9241–210…but the doc costs £100+ for just a few pages. The world would be a better place already if these principles were open and free.

How might we make their good intent as widely known and adopted as, say, the Agile Manifesto?


How do we make user-centered design and open policy making as understood as agile?

We decided to organise the tools around the journey of a policy maker. What might a policy maker need to understand their users? How could they co-design ideas? How could they test policy? We looked at what tools and techniques they could use at the beginning, middle and end of a project, and organised tools accordingly.

We also added sections to remove confusion and hesitation. Our opening section ‘Getting started with Open Policy Making’ provides people with a clear understanding of what open policy making might mean to them, but also some practical considerations. Sections for limited timeframes and budgets help people realise that open policy can be done in almost any situation.

And finally we’ve created a much cleaner and simpler design that lets people show as much or little of the information as they need.

“Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3, testing…”

In designing the toolkit we’ve worked alongside users to make sure it becomes something that they want to use and will use in their day to day policy making.

We’ve done guerrilla testing with people around government departments and even done some lab testing at the Government Digital Services research lab. With every bit of research and testing we improved our designs and content to make sure that it answered the complex user needs of policy makers from every government department.

When using the lab we were even able to react to people’s comments and feedback on the spot. Between each person coming in we could change the design and content to react to their needs and then test it 15 minutes later.

And we’re going to keep doing this. We’re handing the Toolkit over to the Policy Profession, who will continue to test it users to make sure it meets their needs.


When launching the toolkit this morning, Matt Hancock, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General said "it's an exciting time to be a policy maker".

So go and check out the new toolkit and make more open policy yourselves.



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1 comment

  1. Comment by mickie47 posted on

    "With every bit of research and testing we improved our designs and content to make sure that it answered the complex user needs of policy makers from every government department."
    I do not agree:


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