By Harsha Palmar, Disability Employment and Support Strategy, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
I am leading a project within the DWP to better understand what drives more meaningful engagement with Jobcentre Plus services from people with health conditions or disabilities. Evidence shows that where claimants engage voluntarily with support this tends to lead to more positive outcomes. So we want to build on this and find out how we can encourage increased voluntary engagement.
I was keen to take an open policy making approach. Having developed policy for a number of years it was great to see the introduction of open policy making tools – they brought fresh ways to better understand the experiences of the people we are making policy for.
My colleague Sam has already written about the initial stages of the project in an earlier blog where we agreed the scope and generated questions for the ethnographically informed research. I am following this up with an update on the ethnography, co-design and prototyping stages.
Following the depth research we held a number of insights sharing and design sessions with claimants, disability organisations and frontline staff working with Uscreates and Policy Lab. For me this was one of the highlights of the project – hearing first hand from claimants and frontline staff about their experiences of engagement and how it could be improved.
The film ethnography powerfully brought home claimants’ perceptions and experiences of interacting with DWP - the positive examples as well as areas where more could be done.
We then used the insights from the research to collectively develop ideas to improve engagement – we started off with a range of options and then refined down. There was a real buzz in the session with frontline practitioners and policymakers in the magnificent SKYroom at the Cabinet Office. As they had been involved at each stage of the design, operational colleagues were invested in the policy, enthusiastic and keen to make it work. This enabled us to quickly put together and test a number of prototypes – this included looping back and getting feedback from the ethnography claimants, I thought this was a great example of user centred design!
The project is now complete and we have a range of prototypes to test. We have shared our approach with colleagues across DWP who are keen to learn more. To summarise my experience of using the open policy making approach - I found it energising, collaborative, creative and truly user centred!