Policymakers sometimes struggle to see how data can be used to create impact in the world. They know that open data is relevant to the digital economy and building better public services but fail to see the many other ways that data can be used

We have produced some re-usable solutions (design patterns) that help government policymakers to see how data could be used to create impact. We have made them open so that anyone can use them and share what they learn.

What are design patterns?

A design pattern is a general reusable solution to a commonly occurring problem within a given context. It is a familiar concept within the software industry and in other parts of engineering. Along with many other people we have found that the approach is more broadly applicable. We thought we would try applying them to policy.

A problem-oriented approach

The policy design patterns take a problem-oriented approach. This works best when research has been performed to help understand the needs that a new policy must address.

The patterns allow policymakers to easily understand whether data can be used to address those needs and provide some examples of where this pattern has been successfully used in other cases. Policymakers can then explore and test whether this pattern will meet the need in their particular context.

Two examples: a more informed market and a reduction in inspections

For example, a policymaker may decide that they want a particular market to be better informed and work more efficiently. Overvaluing of assets can cause instability in the market and cycles of bubbles and crashes. Government can organise for the collection and dissemination of information about the market to prevent bubbles from forming and improve the decision-making capability of the organisations that operate within it. This pattern underlies the open publication of data such as the price paid for houses and cereals.

Another policymaker may be responsible for regulating the behaviour of other actors in society and have to make routine checks on that behaviour. Often these checks are costly to perform, and costly to be on the receiving end of, so the policymaker has the challenge of finding ways to reduce the number of checks while still tackling the problems that caused regulation to be put in place. This will be beneficial for everyone concerned. This challenge can be met by getting organisations to provide data directly, rather than it being gathered about them, or by creating models that help target inspections more effectively. This pattern was used in New York City to reduce the number of fire inspections and make them more effective.

Ways to use the patterns

The patterns are available in an open document and also as images that can be printed on postcards. The patterns use language that we think is suitable for a policy audience. The two formats are useful for different purposes.

The open document provides a reference point for people who have identified a problem and want to see which design pattern might help; or for people want to collaborate with others to improve the design patterns.

We have found the postcard format patterns useful for interactive policy training or development sessions. In a learning context, groups of people might select a few cards and share whether they have seen these problems in the past, how they tackled it and debate whether data might have been an effective approach in their context. This encourages people to learn from each other’s knowledge and experiences. In a policy development context, someone might flick through the cards to see if their needs match one of the patterns.

We know data is useful, we hope the patterns are too

We know that data can help improve government policy. As data becomes ever more abundant and useful infrastructure for our societies, then data will only help more and more.

We hope these design patterns will provide a way for more policymakers to understand how data can be used to create more impact in order to improve our societies. We will only discover if they are useful if more people use them. Do let us, and the rest of the community, know what you learn.

Share your feedback

If you have any feedback on the patterns, or want to share your lessons please leave a comment on the open document, tweet us @ODIHQ or email us at [email protected].

If you have ideas or experience in open data that you'd like to share, pitch us a blog or tweet us at @ODIHQ.