Joined by various other partners and coordinators, including the British Council Mexico, Aura, Birds of Paradise and advisors from the Policy Lab UK and Design Council UK, STBY recently concluded an ambitious and novel project to encourage a more open and accessible form of cultural policy making in a post-pandemic Mexico. We used and experimented with a combination of various co-design methods, including dozens of interviews, community polling, stakeholder mapping, policy timelining and various activities with a group of 25 ‘ambassadors’- like collaborative workshops, auto-ethnography and speculative fiction. The main deliverables of the project included a set of policy recommendations, crafted with the cultural community of Jalisco and a toolkit-like resource to help others learn from the process and methodology.
A squiggly 5 stage process helped us all move in the same direction together
5 main steps framed our overall journey: understanding, engaging, exploring issues and opportunities, validating and prioritising and finally, recommending policy. These stages were quite fluid, and there was often some overlap between them. Some activities even continued throughout all of the stages, such as 1-1 interviews.
While there were blurry lines and some continuous activities throughout, it helped to have a shared overall journey that kept everyone on track. Even though it felt overly simple at times, it helped keep everyone on the same page and proved an essential sense-making tool when things got a bit complex.
Kick-starting the project by getting the lay of the land
Policy co-design never starts with a blank slate. For Innovation for Culture, we started with learning about the history of cultural policy making in Jalisco, and who is involved in the cultural sector at the moment. We used expert interviews and desk research as the methods to work with. We then created a Stakeholder Map and a Policy Timeline to communicate results in a written report. These are all well-used tools that do not require extensive training, but they do require conversation and discussion to make sure that the many different perspectives that all stakeholders have are present in the results. It is inevitable that new perspectives and stakeholders will present themselves as the policy co-design develops. Therefore we kept interviewing people as the next stages evolved, and updated the Briefing Report as we went along.
Zoom and Miro enabled virtual collaboration with 25 ‘Ambassadors’, along with robust tech support and facilitation
Innovation for Culture took place completely virtually, so we had to get creative in terms of creating a safe, hospitable and warm environment. We factored in a lot of core values in the design of our collaborative workspace on Miro, which we used throughout the project. Having people’s faces on the board helped things feel more personal. When we split into breakout rooms on Zoom, we also split into separate tables on Miro, with profile photos and name tags for each seat. We added some plants, which also made things feel more informal. While these little things take more time and effort, it is worth it in the end. Participants said it added a lot in terms of making them feel more welcome.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) were at the core of the programme
Our participant group of 25 included people with various disabilities- including visual impairment and learning disabilities. We had a dedicated EDI lead in our team who constantly had us reflecting on how to make our process and activities accessible to all. We also worked with an external party, Birds of Paradise, with significant EDI experience, as advisors along the way. All activities were designed with EDI in mind and there was a budget dedicated to this from the get-go.
Constant communication helped avoid scope creep and misunderstandings amidst complex stakeholders
Our team included a mix of expertise in terms of policy making and cultural policy, policy research, participatory innovation management, inclusion and diversity, branding and communication design and event management. We were constantly learning from each other, and coaching on the go was the norm from day one.
The roles and responsibilities were fixed at the beginning of the project, but these became a bit fluid throughout. This was sometimes a positive and sometimes a negative thing. On the plus side, it allowed us to be flexible and adaptive. In other cases, it led to a bit of confusion and ‘scope creep’. Weekly team meetings helped us stay aligned in terms of who was doing what, but even so we sometimes dropped the ball amidst the complexities of the project. Being open and understanding toward one another was crucial to getting things back on track.
Building community and confidence needed constant effort throughout
The people involved in policy co-design make all the difference. Inviting and selecting people requires much attention and is rarely a smooth process along a set path. To get a grip on how we could achieve our goals regarding a diversity of Unique Perspectives of the people involved, and being as inclusive as possible, we made an Engagement Plan and carefully considered our approach to Incentivising and Retentaining participants. Offering reasonable payment for the time spent was central to this. For 25 places in the working group (similar to Citizen Advisory Groups) we received about ten times as many applications. This required extensive campaigning and encouragement of people from groups who rarely self apply. Once selected we put considerable effort into creating community by giving ample time for conversation in the (online) sessions. We also managed expectations regarding results and change carefully, to build confidence with the group that their efforts would not be in vain.
Crafting policy goals through conversations
Conversations were our key way to bring participants together, and sometimes connect them to experts as well. These Group Dialogues were strongly supported in a number of ways with online tools due to COVID-19 restrictions. In absence of a pandemic meeting in physical spaces using physical versions of the same tools, or a mix, would work just as well. Deliberative Mapping really helped to show how spoken words were noted and organised into overviews, insights and policy goals, which were expressed as Future Headlines eventually. To develop these using all diverse perspectives present, we asked participants to share their own Hopes and Fears and those of some of their peers, using Appreciative Inquiry in one of the fieldwork tasks for participants that they performed in between the Group Dialogue sessions and reported on the virtual whiteboard. We always put much effort in being inclusive, by allocating a generous budget first and then asking participants for their needs and finding tailored solutions.
Negotiating policy priorities and pathways
We collected many policy issues from the previous stage, and were faced with many topics and issue areas to address going forward. We knew we did not have the time to detail every single policy area and potential recommendation, so we had to create some focus. Prioritisation is always tricky and the response to “who gets to decide?” is never easy. We organised multiple activities to get a sense of which recommendations should receive the most attention and effort going forward, and which could be given less focus for now. In a workshop we split into groups after doing a round of dot voting on the “headlines of the future” to see where participant priorities lie. We discussed these chosen headlines in more depth to flesh out possible actions toward these goals. Informed by these discussions, we created a set of goals and actions per theme and built a community survey to validate our work, and discover knowledge gaps.
Proposing and discussing a spectrum of actions
It is difficult to define where exactly this stage begins and ends, as there were a few iterations of what finally became ‘final’ recommendations. We used the Government as a System tool, developed by Policy Lab, as we moved from general aims and actions crafted with participants, to more honed and specific recommendations. It helped us to consider different forms of action available to governments, ranging from powers of control that we often associate with authorities such as licensing, regulating, assurance and enforcement, to different forms of influence such as advising, agenda setting, role modelling and scrutinising. Once we were happy with the level of granularity, we created a draft version of the policy recommendations for final feedback from our participant group. We discussed this feedback in a collaborative workshop and arranged an expert panel, inspired by a Citizen’s Assembly approach to foster further critical discussion of our drafted recommendations.
Evaluation was frequent but light-touch and actionable
We used a mix of surveys and 1-1 interviews to get feedback after each session. We also assigned ‘observer’ roles for each session and had them take notes according to a simple, structured format. We tried to keep the surveys as light-touch as possible, so as not to burden participants and ensure we were able to quickly integrate their feedback into the planning of future sessions and activities. We were particularly keen to learn about the experiences of those with accessibility requirements and checked-in often to make sure they felt comfortable and supported. While surveys are more efficient, 1-1 conversations are more personal and constructive.
Creating ownership of policy recommendations and learnings
One of the biggest challenges throughout the project was assuring people that something would happen with the resulting policy recommendations. From previous experiences, some participants feared that this process would be tokenistic and lack follow through and commitment. This is a recurring challenge for many participatory initiatives, as there are so many factors beyond the control of project stakeholders that inhibit implementation, like budget, broader policy agendas and leadership capacity. It was therefore very important for us to accept this reality, but nevertheless emphasise our efforts to keep the ball rolling beyond the official end of the project.
Our government champion within Cultura Jalisco really helped with sharing and advocating for the process and its results throughout the ministry. They are currently seeking more budget to start acting upon some of the recommendations. A website, which showcases the entire programme, acts as a public hub to showcase the project and our learnings, but also create excitement, public accountability and collective ownership.
We are not quite sure what will happen next, but we do know that we have laid a solid foundation upon which to build upon. We also have a plethora of learnings shared via a freely available Playbook, so that others can build on and adapt what we have done.