Prototyping: sessions at Fast Stream Conferences and Base Camp

A couple of weeks ago we went armed with boxes of cardboard, stickers and balloons to the Fast Stream conference in Westminster. This two-day event, organised by those on the Government graduate scheme, was all about introducing these future leaders to the latest trends in making and delivering policy. We walked past start-up ventures, VR demonstrations and digitally enabled healthy eating schemes until we came to our session where we were to demonstrate the value of prototyping – or mocking things up at a small scale. It is an earlier stage than piloting and a great way of spotting risks early and avoiding waste or demonstrating value and securing buy in.

The best way to learn is to do, so we started off with some quick 5 minute challenges to get people to understand that prototyping is generating ideas and insights through making rather than writing. One team made a way for an older person to put on a sock, another team a board game to teach young people about financial management. The ideas… well, I’m not sure they would ever get to market in their raw form. But the value was in the conversations along the way which understood how older people could access technology, or what motivates young people to be financially responsible. We went onto a second – slightly longer exercise – and here again, they gained insight through the making the thing. Teams role-played or storyboarded how citizens might experience public services, speculated what future scenarios would look like, or physically made what people might use to access services. Very different from drafting a couple of paragraphs and sending it round for people to comment using tracked changes. Creating these spaces for dialogue are important in thrashing through how people will actually experience policies, and how they will actually get implemented, which is where policy often falls down. More can be discovered by working in collaboration than isolation.

I remember back to when I used to be a Fast Streamer 12 years ago. Our induction to Government felt very different, and I was extremely impressed with the curiosity and energy about what other sectors are doing, and how they could bring them into Government. They loved the boxes so much, one even went missing! I can close my eyes and imagine a workshop about VAT using nothing but pipe cleaners!

The next week, I was back at a Fast Stream Base Camp, a week-long intensive school for more senior Fast Streamers. This time around, speculative design, which I’ve blogged about a lot while I worked at Policy Lab, and we are using to explore AI in healthcare in our new R&D Lab, ‘Hatch’. While at first, they seemed bemused by some of the examples I gave of critical design (family portraits of people living to 150, machines learning people’s facial expressions to suggest what teapot they should buy), when we introduced our ‘Hatch’ cards around AI, they understood how using these provocative examples could help them un-constrain their thinking and come up with transformational ideas. Future scenarios about how bots, virtual reality and machine learning could transform healthcare as we know it soon led to conversations about Government’s role in regulation and ethics of machine learning.