Collaborative making to solve policy problems: lessons for legal research?


The Future Imaginaries series run by the Innovation Insights Hub at the University of the Arts London included a Policy Imaginaries workshop led by Director of the Hub, Lucy Kimbell and Noah Raford of the Museum of the Future in Dubai.

The workshop focus was on how the ‘future-making practices’ used by designers can be deployed in a policy context, using the field of nutritional heath justice as an example. As such it offered an insight into the kinds of techniques used by Policy Lab UK to facilitate innovation in government policy making.

At the centre of the workshop was a series of exercise performed in groups of three or four people who were generally not previously known to each other, and who came from policy, design and research backgrounds.

The question on my mind was: how might these techniques be used by legal researchers to speculate about the possible futures of each aspect of their research process (conceptualisation, data collection, data analysis, dissemination and reflection)?

Exploring the issue

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The first task was to pick an aspect of health nutrition, find out more about it using the internet or personal experience, and then create a visualisation or performance of it using materials supplied.

My table was supplied with different sheets of patterned paper. We spoke about the influence of packaging and presentation on consumer decision-making and visualised this by wrapping a banana in elaborate paper and placing it next to a paper mockup of a snazzily packaged chocolate bar.

Defining a challenge

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The next step was to identify a group of people and a challenge relating to them, nearing in mind a prompt supplied by the organisers. The prompt supplied to my table was ‘displays of sugary food at the checkout’ and we generated the question: How can we ensure that teens face a genuine choice at checkout displays?

Generating solutions

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The third step was to propose a solution to our problem, and to visualise or perform that solution specifically from the perspective of the user. We speculated about a device (represented by stickers on the user’s earlobe and finger tip) which would store an nutritional aspiration, voiced by the user at the beginning of the day. When the user reached out to pick up an item from the checkout display (modelled in paper and plastic toys) the device would privately replay the nutritional aspiration in the head of the user as a reminder.

Application to legal research

These tasks demonstrated that, given the right set of constraints and inputs, complete strangers with no subject expertise can quickly generate specific and possible solutions to real problems.

Why could legal researchers not use these techniques to generate solutions to the legal research problems?

Picture a workshop to which participants bring a specific problem they are facing in their legal research (for example, how to conceptualise their project, where to find data, how to analyse their data, how best to disseminate their findings) and collaborate to devise visualised or performed solutions.

I hope to run just such a workshop in the coming months.

Find out more

To find out more about the wider applications of these types of design practices watch this film on Lucy Kimbell and Guy Julier’s Protopublics project.