Top Tips: Learning from your projects
1. Think about what you want to learn from the outset
The iterative nature of design prompts a different approach to evidencing your work. In order to be effective, evaluation needs to be thought about strategically right from the beginning and should be planned into the project from the outset. Despite often coming together at the end of a project, evaluation isn’t just an end-stage action, but in fact something that should inform the project design from the start.
Look at Nesta’s Standards of Evidence, which show the different forms it can come in, and build evaluation into your programme so that right at the beginning you are thinking about what you want the outcome – not just the output – to be. This means it can feed into the problem definition right at the very beginning.
2. Track your insights as well as outcomes
Reflection is an important part of the learning process, and the valuable insights that are gathered along the way should also be recorded. Did something surprise you? Was there an unintended outcome? What were the learning points? Look beyond just the design tools to also capture broader insights that relate to the general philosophy behind your work, and the learning points that are specific to your sector or project.
3. Build in structured time to reflect, share and apply your insights
Make the most of your insights by clearly documenting your reflection processes and learning, and translating these into something actionable. Your learning is valuable not only for your own individual and team learning, but also for a wider audience. By planning in the time for reflection you are reinforcing its importance to your process and practice. And by sharing the knowledge with others who join the team, or teams who are trying to implement similar techniques elsewhere, you are embedding a collaborative approach and a culture of continuous learning.
4. Build your evidence into the story you tell
Think of evaluation and impact as a core part of your innovation story. If you’re going to need to persuade the senior level of an organisation that something is worth doing, you will need to have a strong understanding of why it makes a difference – and proof of that. Bring several strands of evidence together to create a compelling narrative. Can you show what the financial or budgetary impact would be, both in the immediate future and the long term? Can you point to the difference you can make for citizens?
5. Create probabilities and visualise new futures
Design approaches can help us to visualise new futures and solutions. In particular, the prototyping approach offered by design-led innovation can help us to create probabilities and better manage risk. This can turn complete uncertainties – such as the effect of future population changes – into risks that can be quantified and managed better. Doing the methodical work to track, measure and evidence this should be an important strategic priority because it helps to translate uncertain possibilities into risk, which the public sector understands and can work with.