UK Government Civil Service Training

United Kingdom
Type of client
National government
Funded by
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
18 months (ongoing)
Design support
Design Council


There was a recognition within the UK government that policymakers needed to start doing things differently. Their objectives included: giving civil servants a better understanding of user needs, allowing them to do more with less, and breaking down silos of information.

The UK government’s Civil Service Reform Plan published in 2012 called for the Civil Service to become “pacier, more innovative, less hierarchical, focused on outcomes, not process”. It set out the government’s desire to find “new ways of delivering services” and to create policy “linked to implementation”.

Design thinking methods promise solutions to many of these needs, but awareness of its benefits among UK civil servants is relatively low.

We need better skills, better technology and a mindset that revolves around the user, not the producer.

Rt Hon Francis Maude
Minister for the Cabinet Office, UK Government

How design helped

Civil Service Learning, the team responsible for providing professional training for public servants, commissioned the Design Council to help boost understanding of design methods in government.

The result was a series of half-day introductory workshops given to cross-departmental groups of civil servants, with a particular focus on policy specialists.

During the interactive workshops civil servants were led through:

  • Examples of how design has been applied to policy challenges
  • Examples of how design principles have helped public and private sector organisations to change
  • Hands-on work with key design methods including prototyping, visual mapping and user observation
  • Expert sessions on applying design principles to policy development and implementation
  • Hands-on training in achieving innovative, tangible, people-centred results

The workshops were delivered by the Design Council’s Design Associates, a network of design experts recruited and trained to deliver coaching programmes like these. The Design Associates are leaders in their field with experience across a range of sectors having worked for the likes of Philips, Tesco and the National Health Service.

We know that we need to give civil servants new kinds of skills in order to tackle today’s policy challenges. It was great for us to be able to offer design training for the first time, as expected the demand for places was extremely high.

Layo Ajibade
Policy Profession Coordinator, Home Office

The outcome

  • 99% satisfaction rate from participants
  • 400+ civil servants trained
  • 14 workshops run

Satisfaction rates were measured using a post-workshop survey and responses were overwhelmingly enthusiastic. The workshops had a 99-100% satisfaction rate with 100% agreeing or strongly agreeing that they would apply design to their policy work as a result.

A clear measure of effectiveness will only be possible when enough time has passed to see whether participants make long-term use of these methods, whether they pass on the learning to others and, ultimately, how much difference is made to policy effectiveness. However, the initial responses strongly indicate already that these skills meet real needs in terms of civil servants’ day-to-day work and long-term aims.

As a result of the workshops the Design Council has been invited to give further training directly to a number of government departments in the UK and internationally, and has been asked by UK Home Office (the department responsible for immigration, security, and policing) to work with them on a major new policy project.

I probably didn't realise at the time how much the programme had shifted my thinking. It takes a while for it to percolate through to all aspects of your work. It's been the most useful and transformative pieces of personal development I've done in a very long time.

Tony Roberts
Senior Public Health Coordinator, Lancashire County Council