Recap: DesignMeets… Public Policy in Ottawa

The Night Designers Met Public Servants 

Design and government is akin to oil and water. Everyone knows that and the worlds couldn’t be further apart. Government will never understand the value or importance of design, and design is forced to squeak out an existence in spite of the government’s best bumbling efforts to keep it down. Right?

On November 11th, a rainy Monday night in the Nation’s capital, we packed a pub with designers and public servants to let the fists and barbs fly — except they didn’t. Instead, we challenged that notion and were witness to a lively discussion that was a first of its kind on a large scale in Ottawa on the intersection of design, policy, and government.

PrintJust as in healthcare, civic design responses are best integrated with human research that validates the proposals. –Peter Jones (@designforcare)

With mounting examples springing up around the world of progressive governments embedding human-centred design principles into the core of their service offering, citizen engagement and policy forming, DesignMeets…Public Policy shed light on the Canadian state of affairs.

With a strong cast of speakers, the night was moderated by HUB Ottawa’s Executive Director — Vinod Rajasekaran — and quickly became an accurate representation of the passion, frustration, and optimism surrounding this space in the Canadian context. Participants and attendees came from a massive breadth of backgrounds, and found graphic designers rubbing shoulders with policy analysts.




Laura Wesley

Getting things kicked off was none other than the Web Usability Lead for the Government of Canada. As part of a growing movement of user-centred design practitioners in government, Laura had essentially been working in secrecy on creating the open-source web experience toolkit in order to improve information and services delivered to the public. She shared the process that went into creating it, solicited feedback for crowd ideas on what government could become, and future thoughts on creating a stronger design presence within government.



Dom Saul

Dom of Akendi took off the kid gloves and brought a fresh and honest spin to the evening supported by a backdrop of kitten after kitten. Key takeaways are that design is not a democratic process. Design by committee and design by consensus don’t work.



Mary Herbert-Copley

Mary pulled on over 25 years experience within the government to deliver a talk that did a great job of providing evidence for where we’ve been, and where we’re going in the space. Her current work with the Canadian Council on Social Development as well as her notion of forming “collaboratories” — as an evolution from labs — to solve complex social problems proved inspirational by seeing a veteran of the public service still striving to innovate and re-imagine engagement.



Erin Gee

Erin represented the energetic and inspired new face of public service. She’s tired of the status quo and is taking it into her own hands to identify pain points and ultimately make change. In her upcoming design jam with public servants she is imploring the government to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.



Blaise Hebert

Policy Horizons Canada is tasked with generating foresight and knowledge in the public service and Blaise shared the fundamentals of foresight and the potential future implications of a policy direction. His ability to simplify “looking into the future” while turning foresight into something you can use represented the significant scope of this conversation on design and policy.



Jess McMullin

Jess’ wealth of experience in the design and policy sphere with The Centre for Citizen Experience was evident with many enlightening comments including the fundamental realization that policy making itself is a design process and decision DNA. While design is playing a larger role in social change, when you want to make change in organizations, you’re going to have to go deep enough to run into policy.

Presentation from DesignMeets… Public Policy 


The main takeaway from the night as we prepare for the Toronto edition of DesignMeets…Public Policy was that it seems we’ve reached a critical mass of awareness and enthusiasm to form a working group comprised of individuals both within and outside of government to further user-centred design for public good. Whether it’s mandated by the government or not, design shouldn’t be subject to the constraints government can impose that for a host of reasons frequently don’t have the citizen’s best interests in mind. While design must understand the context within which it hopes to make change, there is a simmering movement of like-minded people ready to elevate this conversation to the next chapter.


Special thanks to our Ottawa counterpart, Michael Grigoriev, for planning this DesignMeets and writing this recap — well done, Michael!


Up Next: DesignMeets… Public Policy in Toronto

When? November 26th, 6pm-8pm

Where? Loftraum @ Urban Amish
Toronto, ON
66 Gerrard St. E. M5B 1G3