If design is the bringing together of form and function, then design principles are the organising statements that help us to navigate the myriad decisions that we are faced as we create anything, be it a product, a building or in our case an organisation.

Design principles can also help us work through how we do things as well as what we do and this is how we used them at Cancer Research (link here for the design principles and here for why we created them – and yes I was that director with the fear of lamination of values).

As part of our strategy/not strategy work we are going to develop some organisational design principles collaboratively – and I imagine we will keep iterating these as we develop as an organisation (had a brilliant conversation on this with a colleague from Devon County Council thanks to an intro from Carl – hopefully more on that anon).

It would be disrespecting the process we need to go through to define design principles in advance – but its also disingenuous for me not to be open with what I think we need to at least explore. I’m using this post to capture what I think – and also as a starting point for the conversation I think we need to have in the different spaces I spoke about here.

At the moment I have areas where I think we need a design principle rather than formed thoughts. I’ve split these up to reflect the fact that some would inform how we structure ourselves and others are about how we do things. This feels important and a bit interesting as it gives us the ability to look at form and function at the same time – which is what you need to drive change.

They are a bit scrappy but I will use them to start the ball rolling and probably to design a couple of workshops to explore them more throughly.

Organisation design:

  • design for coproduction: Rather than creating an organisational design that is self-sufficient we need to create one with porous boundaries where we expect to be delivering with people rather than doing things for people
  • design in resilience and adaptability and not just be efficient
  • organise around place at the most granular level we can make work
  • have clarity of decision making and accountability and take decisions as close to the work and to our communities as possible
  • make sure we bridge the strategy / delivery gap

How we do things round here:

  • design both for constant incremental improvement of our services as well as the ability to deliver our most ambitious plans
  • be informed by data – and be curious about what that data is telling us
  • create safe spaces and design for inclusivity and diversity – finding strength in difference
  • think generationally while also be effective in the here and now
  • put net zero and a just transition at the heart of what we do
  • develop a multidisciplinary practice that means we work effectively across the organisation (this one may be an organisational design principle as well)

I was also reflecting back on what I said my leadership Wishlist – and much of that is reflected in these ideas – but the thing I would add to that is a desire for us to design for kindness – kindness to each other and being part of creating a place where kindness is there for everyone.

If you want to read more about this then I suggest the Design Council as an excellent starting point – and perhaps this report on systemic design.

Original source – Catherine Howe

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