BEDA Insight Forum: Putting Users First
On 25 November 2015 BEDA hosted their first Insight Forum for European policymakers, supported by the EU’s Creative Europe Programme.
The event targeted policymakers from across EU departments with attendees including representatives from the Joint Research Centre, the Directorate General for Research & Innovation, EASME (Executive Agency for SMEs) and EACEA (Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency). Design professionals were also represented through associations including Barcelona Design Center, Wallonie Design, Design Vlaanderen and Design for Europe partner KEPA.
The consensus at the event was that the design industry’s efforts to put design on the EU agenda and embed design in EU policymaking were bearing fruit – but there is still much to be done.
One of the key examples cited was the way in which design is now embedded in the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation funding programme. For example, the funding to help create ‘Inclusive, Innovative and Reflective Societies’ includes in 2016 a specific call supporting co-creation. Phrases like ‘user-driven innovation’, ‘a user-centered approach’, ‘co-creation’, ‘prototyping’ and other design-related concepts are appearing with great frequency across a wide range of Horizon 2020 calls. Consumer-centered approaches are now increasingly cited, as can be seen in the group of calls around ‘Secure, Clean and Efficient Energy’.
As well as supporting the use of design, the European Commission have begun to use design methods themselves with the creation of their new EU Policy Lab.
Speeches by the two speakers from the European Commission confirmed the growing support for design at EU-level. Peter Dröll, Director of the Innovation Union and European Research Area, declared himself a fan of design-thinking, and Mark Nicklas, Deputy Head of Unit of Innovation Policy and Investment for Growth (DG Growth), highlighted the role that design can play in helping to achieve the EU’s circular economy goals.
These words of encouragement from EC officials don’t mean that all the work is done however. Although design seems to be well-embedded in EU innovation policy and innovation units, it remains unfamiliar territory for other EU departments and policy fields. Many of the participants who spoke during debates at the event suggested that further awareness-raising is still needed.
A representative from EACEA argued that design is well-known at high-levels (high-ranking EU officials, the new EU policy lab) but not at a working level. Conversely during the insight gathering session, several attendees complained about the lack of engagement at the highest level (e.g. EC Commissioners). Clearly there is still work to be done for all these audiences.
BEDA’s Insight Forum specifically focused on how design can help policymakers achieve much-needed public sector reforms. To this end, BEDA invited Dr Andrea Siodmok, head of the UK government’s Policy Lab as keynote speaker. Over the last two years, she and her team have implemented transformative approaches to some of the UK’s most difficult policy problems. Andrea’s team is using new design approaches, particularly what is known as ‘speculative design’ – design thinking applied to emerging future scenarios e.g. the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population.
It’s clear that BEDA’s efforts, and those of the sector as a whole, are paying off, and design is gaining in profile at an EU level. But more is still to be done, during the insight gathering session, groups of attendees working on future challenges for design came up with some familiar problems still to be addressed: siloed thinking, lack of awareness and understanding (e.g. design still linked by many to the creation of objects), lack of data on the return on investment (particularly at EU level), the lack of skilled professionals and risk-aversion.