Since 1994, the United Kingdom has had a formalised forum for dialogue among Parliament, government, educational institutions in the field of design, business and industry. That improves the understanding of the potential of design as a catalyst of growth and development in welfare services, says Barry Sheerman, MP for Labour, and Gavin Williamson, MP for the Conservatives. Furthermore, the forum also serves to generate knowledge, which lets politicians and civil servants address design policy from a more qualified basis.
By Hans Emborg Bünemann
“We believe strongly in the transformative power of design – for industry and for people – and we work hard to make sure that is well understood in Parliament,” says Barry Sheerman, member of the British Parliament for Labour, summarising his efforts to promote the acknowledgement of the potential of design in Parliament. He is one of the initiators and a long-serving co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group (APDIG), a British forum for debate among Parliament, government and representatives of British design and innovation communities, for example private companies and educational institutions. According to Barry Sheerman, until a few years ago few politicians took any interest in design. But since 2008, when the crisis set in, the situation has changed, he explains.
“Recently, working with partners in the design sector, we have seen some real progress.”
For example, the forum has managed to influence the government’s educational policy, Barry Sheerman points out.
“There are new options opening up in vocational education and a guarantee from government that design will be a part of the primary school curriculum.”
|Barry Sheerman is a Member of Parliament for Labour and one of the founders of APDIG. As one of the two co-chairs of APDIG, he continues to play an active role in the effort to convey the value of design to business and industry. From 2001 to 2010 he was chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee for Children, Schools and Families.
Until now, the status of design as a compulsory subject in British primary school has been under threat. Since a design commission under APDIG published the report Restarting Britain – Design Education and Growth in December 2011, there has been a greater focus on design education in the British Parliament. According to Barry Sheerman, recent years’ increasing concerns over the low growth rate of the British economy has led to a greater acknowledgement of the potential of design as a catalyst for growth. Among other initiatives, APDIG held a debate in the House of Lords with the participation of leading politicians, including several former ministers of education. Since then, government has specified the status of design in the primary school subjects Design and Technology and Art and Design. Both are now compulsory subjects throughout primary school (until the 6th grade).
|Gavin Williamson is a Conservative Member of Parliament and the other co-chair of APDIG. In his pre-parliamentary career he worked in the design sector, including a position as the managing director of an architectural design firm that has been involved in the design of schools and public sector and commercial buildings.
There is a clear need for a broad forum for dialogue in the design community, argues APDIG’s other co-chair, Gavin Williamson. He is a Conservative member of Parliament and emphasises the importance of the fact that APDIG’s membership includes MPs from all parties.“An advantage of an organisation like the APDIG is as a neutral but high-profile setting where the design community can come together and debate the policy that affects them,” says Gavin Williamson. He describes how APDIG has recently held a very successful first design industry summer lunch in the House of Lords, which attracted representatives from a wide range of companies and educational institutions – people with very different interests and perspectives.
“The ongoing dialogue among politicians, companies and civil servants contributes to an accumulation of knowledge, and thus, APDIG has become a knowledge reservoir. That means that politicians and civil servants don’t have to start the policy development from scratch every time a new design policy report is published,” she points out.
Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group (APDIG) was founded in 1994 as an open debate forum for British parliamentarians, representatives from the design sector, civil servants, researchers and other stakeholders. APDIG is one of several initiatives under the think tank Policy Connect, which aims to strengthen policy development by facilitating dialogue among parliamentarians, private companies and the public sector. APDIG’s mission is to convey the potential value of design and creative enterprises to members of Parliament. APDIG is mainly funded by companies that are associate members. Some individual projects and events are funded by research councils in the United Kingdom.
The Design Commission
The Design Commission, which is connected to APDIG, is composed of politicians and leading representatives from business, industry and the public sector. The commission explores how design can support society’s economic and social development, including how the special competences of the design sector can promote development in other sectors.
In 2011, the commission analysed the British design education system based on a premise that the UK was held back by low growth rates. The inquiry resulted in the report Restarting Britain, which offers input and recommendations to the political debate about how the UK should manage the economic crisis.
In the summer of 2012, the commission initiated a study of the potential contributions of strategic design and service design in redesigning public services. This work is expected to be concluded with a report in 2013.