What’s next? A design journey into the Future of Government

A small group of people from within and outside of government gathered in London last week for our workshop on Envisioning the Future of Government.

Co-hosted with our friends at the Royal College of Art Service Design, the event was the first in what will be a series of discussions where we will bring together a diverse range of perspectives to consider what the government of the future should look like and do.

The main aim of the event was to stimulate some initial discussions and start visualising alternative ways in which government could work, from national to local level, from ministries to frontline. To help do this, students at the Royal College of Art designed a process aimed to take participants on a creative journey from identifying challenges that governments are currently facing through to approaches that could be taken to tackle them.

See more tweets from the event.

Harnessing the power of design

The choice of using a design methodology reflected a need to push creative boundaries in thinking about the future of government and to look beyond prevailing structures and beliefs. Whilst not aiming to give definitive answers, the design process helped raise important questions, and encourage participants to think openly about what aspects of government’s work should change and how.

Armed with post-its and sharpies, the participants split into groups, with each focusing on one of following aspects of the future of government:

  • Government’s relationship with citizens
  • Public servants’ ability to drive change
  • The way government defines and measures success
  • Government’s role in relation to other actors in society


A call for change

Although coming from different starting points, some challenges resonated strongly across groups. For example, the lack of diversity in decision-making environments and the consequent struggle to recognise and meet the needs of different communities featured highly.

The pressure of austerity, and what that implies for citizens’ trust in government, also resonated across groups. Government’s tendency to disguise the complexity of policy and reduce it to overly simplified aggregate metrics, was seen as an obstacle to building healthy public debate.

Across the room, there was a strong consensus that governments can do more to connect with citizens and deliver outcomes that really matter to them, rather than those that exist purely on balance sheets. There was also agreement that civil servants should be empowered to lead this process, by being given more autonomy and by being trusted as the catalysts of change they are.

The approaches designed by each group also shared some common traits. Making empathy central to policy-making, devolving power to local government and revising the incentives structures across the civil service, were all seen as crucial enablers of change. There was a resounding call for a shift away from individualism to collectivism, from working for citizens to working with them, and from a culture of management to one of meaning and value creation.

After the group discussions, the room came together for a final reflection of the attributes of the government of the future. Open, diverse, connected, value-driven, flexible, citizen-focused, trusting, experimental and empathetic  – these, amongst others, were identified as desirable characteristics for future administrations.

This is just the beginning #futuregovernment

A lot was gained from this workshop and we thank all participants for joining us in this discussion. At the Centre for Public Impact, we’re exploring how government can be better equipped for the future.  This marked the beginning of a conversation that we want to have with more people and in different places, and which we aim to translate to real change on the ground. 

If you are interested to get involved in CPI’s Future of Government project, please email us at futuregovernment@centreforpublicimpact.org or tweet using the hashtag #futuregovernment – we’d love to hear from you!