January 20, 2021 – By Alberto Rodriguez Alvarez + Dana Chisnell

Over the past year, we’ve seen human-centered design move upstream in the policy process. Rather than being brought in only at the implementation stage, designers and design practices have been active in rulemaking and in problem definition. Designers are working side-by-side with policy analysts, sketching and prototyping new policy programs, running design sprints to revamp delivery processes, and even setting up collaborative and iterative digital teams to implement policy and deliver government services.

Policymaking has a lot of design processes embedded within. Most of policy design as it is taught in graduate schools relies on data, cases, and white papers that abstract the human experience. Design practices offer ways to make the needs of the public less abstract. But it may not be obvious to policymakers how and when policy making matches up with the processes that designers use.

We saw an opportunity to help both policymakers and designers translate their methods so they can collaborate and ultimately deliver better policy outcomes. So we stacked the processes into a new map to visualize simple design techniques and tools, and how they can help during each phase of the policy cycle. We call it the UCP Cycle Map (or User-Centered Policy Cycle Map). You can also review our working document for more in-depth information on policy cycle explanations, user needs, stakeholders and user-centered methods and techniques.

The User-Centered Policy Design Map

We designed this visualization to meet policy makers and designers where they are. Through examples and shared vocabulary, we matched up a classical policy analysis framework to select design methodologies and tools that make it easy to bring the public into policymaking. It is a unified visual guide that shows new ways of approaching policy design. We hope policymakers will use this map to find frameworks that suit their level of involvement with a policy process and make it easy to learn first hand about the needs of the people they want to solve problems for.

This tool can help everyone involved in government policy implementation and service delivery choose the right framework to ensure better results for both their work and the impact they strive for.

To develop the UCP Cycle Map, we interviewed practitioners and instructors from the Delivering Better Outcomes Working Group, a mix of experts brought together by the Beeck Center in 2019-20 to develop resources for human-centered design in the policy-making process. Those interviews helped us understand common characteristics between policy design and product design, and identify effective methods that should be easy to implement in the policymaking process.

We also identified a classical model of policymaking that depicted a process that most policy analysts are familiar with from the Handbook of Public Policy Analysis. It divides the policymaking process into stages according to the actors and activities typically involved. We analyzed these stages through a user-centered lens, and used what we learned from our working group members to map the common policy practices and design tools that are best suited to help policymakers depending on the stage they normally work in.

Like all models, both the policymaking model and the design process model we chose to match up are simplifications. So the UCP Cycle Map does not mark the only stages or the only stakeholders involved in public policymaking, but instead centers around the most visible. The idea is to ease anyone in the policy world into matching accessible design tools and frameworks. It focuses on the most used design frameworks and design tools that are easily available. This simplification takes into account that both the public policy and design worlds have a significant body of research.

The UCP Cycle Map is a companion to builds on our initial tool, the User-Centered Policy Organization Assessment, which we released to help policymakers assess whether a user-centered approach could be used in their processes. The Assessment tool includes the basic steps for user-centered policy design. In true agile form, we want to take user experience to continue iterating. If you test it out in your own work, we want to hear about it so we can continue making improvements and providing useful resources – reach out at dana@ncoc.org.


Read Part 2 – Harnessing the Policy Power of Stakeholder Mapping

Creating a User-Centered Stakeholder Map


Alberto Rodríguez Álvarez is a former Beeck Center Student Analyst and a recent graduate from the Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University. He is Currently a Senior Program Manager at New America. Prior to joining the Beeck Center he was an advisor to the National Digital Strategy at the Office of the President in Mexico. Follow him at @arodalv.

Dana Chisnell is a Senior Fellow at the National Conference on Citizenship and a Non-Resident Fellow in the Belfer Center Technology and Public Purpose project at the Harvard Kennedy School. She was in the founding cohort of the U.S. Digital Service in the Obama White House, and a co-founder of the Center for Civic Design. Follow her at @danachis.

A Tool for Policymakers

The Delivering Better Outcomes Working Group aims to design an easy, step-by-step guide directed at policymakers and public servants to help them better understand how their projects impact different actors and organizations in a policy ecosystem.
We developed a stakeholder mapping tool to help public service teams focus on the people the policy is serving. By using the stakeholder mapping template and prompts, teams develop shared understanding by creating a visualization of the different relations among stakeholders.

Why stakeholder maps?

Service designers use stakeholder maps to create visual representations of all the possible actors that can influence a particular project. Product teams in the business and financial sectors use stakeholder maps as tools to ensure that projects are successful by preparing thorough strategies to engage the stakeholders and understand their needs. If you’re a designer on a policy implementation team, you probably already create some version of a stakeholder map to identify the core user. But you might not think about the power that each of the stakeholders may hold and the political acceptability of the policy proposal or the solution you’re helping to implement.


More resources:


If you’re a policy analyst, you probably already do some version of stakeholder mapping. You probably have a list of stakeholders, in order of priority or the amount of power they have in the problem space, but you may not create a visual map of stakeholders. In the policy world, any person or organization can represent difficult obstacles or powerful allies. A stakeholder map is an easy tool that has the potential to bring the user to the center of focus. At the same time, by looking at the political acceptability and power in the ecosystem, it helps policy projects and processes be more successful.

By pulling these ideas together into one visualization, a cross-functional team now has a clearer understanding of the relationships among the actors in the problem space, as well as the dependencies among them. In addition, we can anticipate second-order effects by examining the impact not only on the core user but on all of the stakeholders in the map.

Running Your Policy Stakeholder Workshop

Whether you’re a policy analyst, a design researcher, or someone else on a cross-functional team practicing user-centered policy design, the best way to create a robust stakeholder map is collaboratively. We recommend a workshop, which you can do in person or remotely. What follows is a quick guide to help you and your team identify all the stakeholders in a policy problem space and analyze the underlying questions needed to understand their stakeholders.

The workshop is divided into two sessions of 50 min, and includes these activities:

Session 1 – 50 min

Goal Setting (5 min)

Setting a central goal of the policy or program. This could be the mandate for the project or the general change you want to create with the policy intended.

  • Guiding Questions:
    • What is the goal of your policy or program?
    • What is it that you want to achieve?

Goal: Anchor the activity on a common goal.

List All of the Stakeholders (10 min)

Identify all of the organizations and actors (or individuals) that are related to the policy project in a list. The list should focus on identifying 2 types of stakeholders: those directly affected by the policy or program and those indirectly affected by them. List the stakeholders in order of priority.

  • Guiding Questions:
    • Who are all of the types of individuals or organizations who have a stake in the problem you want to solve?
    • Who is directly affected if your policy is successful?
    • Who is indirectly affected if it is successful?

Goal: Identify all stakeholders relevant to the policy or program.

Identify the Core User (5 min)

As you list your stakeholders in order of priority, put the key person or actor who you want to solve the problem for at the top. This is your core user.

For example, in a policy project around student loan debt forgiveness, your policy might make the borrower the core user, or the lender may be the core user in your policy design. Depending on who you choose to serve as the core user with the policy solution, you’re going to propose very different goals and objectives. (Ultimately, you may end up with multiple stakeholder maps for multiple policy proposals.)

Place and Cluster (10-15 min)

Using the first list, place each stakeholder on a Ripple map with the core user in the center. The closer to that user, the more affected by the policy or program they are. Document the answers to these questions.

  • Guiding Questions:
    • If this policy is successful, who is it successful for?
    • Who is directly affected by the policy being successful for the central user / beneficiary?
    • If the policy is successful for the core user, how does the problem space change for the other stakeholders in the map?

Goal: Identify the actors that need direct and indirect engagement.

circular target-chart for stakeholder map

Categorize (10-15 min)

To understand the relationships among the stakeholders, cluster them in the map according to some affiliation, such as whether they’re private or public, what part of government they might be, topics, nature, and so on. Non-profit organizations tend to have similar characteristics and having similar engagement strategies is easier for the general project.
In a map for student loan debt forgiveness, for example, there will be multiple federal agencies. You might want to cluster those together. There will also be multiple financial institutions. You might want to cluster those together, too.

Goal: Identify the main characteristics of the relationship between the team and the relevant stakeholders.

Session 2 – 30 min

Catch-up (5 min)

Brief summary of the last session’s insights.

Goal: Making sure the participants are comfortable with the upcoming process.

Political Analysis (15-20 min)

Answer the following questions to assess the capacity and “weight” of your stakeholders clusters. You can answer the questions for each stakeholder or for each cluster depending on how you want to engage them. Document your answers.

  • Guiding Questions:
    • How trusted by the public is this stakeholder?
    • How much power do they have in the policy process?
    • What expertise do they have?
    • What is their capability to mobilize?

Goal: Understand how to prioritize engagement with key stakeholders.

Setting Actions (10 min)

After the map is done, and you’ve assessed each stakeholder, the next step is to use it! Start with the stakeholders that directly affect or will be directly affected by a change that benefits the core user and set an action.

At this stage, you may only have guesses – then you can investigate your guesses and assumptions during the project and update this to reflect what you’ve learned.

Your New Stakeholder Map Informs Policy Design

At the end of the workshop, the stakeholder map can be a great foundation to mount any strategy for a new program or policy. However this map will change as you advance with your process. And as we said, you may end up with multiple stakeholder maps for multiple policy proposals. We recommend that your team periodically check back on it, and update accordingly.

Read Part 1: Bringing Design to the Public Policy Cycle


How to lead a workshop for stakeholder mapping

January 21, 2021 – By Hayley Pontia

In a perfect world, policymakers and designers work together to better understand the services they create. Working in a cross-functional team in government shouldn’t be a rarity but it’s still new to many. This blog describes how to pair policymakers and designers to use their skills to understand stakeholders so governments can design services specifically to meet stakeholder needs.

If you work in policy analysis or policymaking, you’re used to examining who holds a stake in the policy space and what they might support. Hopefully, you’ve looked at the users of a certain policy you’re implementing, too. But you might not be so sure where to begin or who your most important user is. It can be daunting to define the interconnected audiences, but it’s a necessary step to take before continuing your policy process.

Service designers use stakeholder maps to create visual representations of all the possible actors who can influence a particular project. Product teams in the business and financial sectors use stakeholder maps as tools to ensure projects are successful.

It’s not hard to start thinking about stakeholder mapping. As a policy analyst, you may have a list of stakeholders that appear in order of priority or power in the problem space, but you may not have a visual map of stakeholders. In the policy world, any person or organization can present obstacles or be powerful allies. A stakeholder map is an easy tool that has the potential to bring the user to the center of focus. At the same time, it helps policy projects and processes be more successful by clearly defining key players across teams.

If you’re a designer on a policy implementation team, you probably already create some version of a stakeholder map to identify your core users. But you might not think about the power that each of the stakeholders hold.

One simple visualization can give a cross-functional team a clearer understanding of the relationships of different actors who have a stake in the problem your team is trying to solve. They can begin seeing the dependencies among stakeholders. Through mapping this way, you can anticipate second-order effects by examining the impact not only on the core user but on all stakeholders in the map.

This is where the policy stakeholder workshop comes in.

Whether you’re a policy analyst, a design researcher, or someone else practicing user-centered policy design, the best practice is to collaborate. A workshop, which you can do in person or remotely, is a great place to start.

The Delivering Better Outcomes Working Group, led by the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation designed an easy, step-by-step guide directed at policy makers and public servants. The goal is to help them better understand how their projects impact different actors and organizations in a policy ecosystem. Here’s an example of what an early first draft of a stakeholder map might look like.

target-like graphic with titles listing indirect and direct stakeholders and core users
Example of stakeholder mapping

The stakeholder mapping workshop can help public service teams focus on the people the policy is serving. This works through an adaptable template and simple steps for identifying and prioritizing people and organizations that care about a proposed policy. For the workshop, the guide includes scripted instructions about how to map the stakeholders in your problem space with a team. By looking at a visualization of various stakeholders, teams can create a shared understanding of the work they are doing. After mapping stakeholders, participants will have a clearer understanding of how a policy affects the core users.

Workshop Outline

The workshop is divided into two sessions of 50 minutes, and includes these activities:

Session 1 – 50 minutes

  • Goal Setting (5 minutes)
  • List all stakeholders (10 minutes)
  • Identify the core user (5 minutes)
  • Place and cluster (10-15 minutes)
  • Categorize (10-15 minutes)

Session 2 – 30 minutes

  • Catch-up (5 minutes)
  • Political Analysis (15-20 minutes)
  • Setting Actions (10 minutes)

A more detailed stakeholder mapping workshop template is available here.

Hayley Pontia was a 2020 Student Analyst at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation and graduated with a Master of Arts in Communication, Culture, and Technology from Georgetown University. Follow her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hayleypontia/.

May 11, 2020 | By Alberto Rodríguez Álvarez, Dana Chisnell and Vivian Graubard 

Policymakers, lawmakers, and government leaders are increasingly exploring new ways to ensure that laws and policies are centered around people’s needs while improving how services are delivered to the public. In Mobile, Alabama, community involvement informed updates to blight reduction laws and, at the national level, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services worked directly with doctors and healthcare workers to improve the implementation and delivery of a new value-based healthcare law. 

To help policymakers interested in following these successful models, we are launching the first tool of the Delivering Better Outcomes Working Group from the Beeck Center, New America, and the National Conference on Citizenship: a User-Centered Policy Organization Assessment. It is our hope that teams crafting policy inside and outside government will use the assessment to center their policy-making activities around the people — or users — most impacted by their proposed programs and policy ideas.

In recent months, scholarship has emerged to explain and illustrate user-centered policymaking as a more effective and inclusive approach to crafting policy. At Harvard University, Nick Sinai, David Leftwich, and Ben McGuire examined human-centered policymaking in the context of medicare. Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs offers a graduate course to teach the concept. Code for America’s Jennifer Pahlka published a paper on delivery-driven policy, and the Public Interest Technology team at New America used a human centered design process to generate recommendations for the Farm Bill, adopted in 2018. Government organizations like the U.S. Digital Service and the UK government have been applying design thinking to policymaking and policy implementation as well, prioritizing agile and iterative methodology rather than the more traditional “waterfall” method of designing, building, and executing a policy without pausing for public input and pivots where needed.

Experienced design practitioners inherently employ user-centered methodology in their work, but newcomers may not know where to begin. This tool builds on the existing case studies, reports, and blogs, and gives policymakers actionable, concrete steps to shift their current approach slightly and put users at the center. We learned that the concept of user-centered policy making sounds great to many government leaders and this tool helps them know how and where to start.

There are some natural synergies between the policy design processes and human centered design practices. Grassroots organizers, for example, have long understood the importance of understanding the needs of communities at a human level. With this tool, policy teams can start to expand their outreach beyond experts and community organizations to reach people everywhere.  

This assessment provides public servants with a set of guiding questions that are designed to help teams understand the people who receive government services or benefits, the stakeholders involved in the policy, and the metrics that are being used to define success and measure progress. 

To create this tool, we started with a working group of more than 20 current and former policy makers — some were traditional subject-matter expert policy professionals, others were leaders in government technology, and some had specific design training and expertise. Most worked in the executive branches of their governments and some had legislative experience as well. We interviewed members from this working group between August and October 2019 to better understand their expert take on user-centered policymaking. 

The concept of user-centered policy is still being defined by a wide community of policy makers, designers, and innovators. The Deliver Better Outcomes working group landed on this definition: policy that is intentionally designed and implemented with the end user as a co-designer. In our project, end users are the people who receive a government service or benefit, or that are impacted by a specific policy. That makes users the ultimate experts on what the experience of interacting with the government is like. Our theory is that centering the policymaking process on these end users’ needs and including them directly in the policy design process produces better results, increases trust, and ensures that policies reach their intended outcomes with as few unintentional consequences as possible.

We created the User-Centered Policy Organization Assessment to foster more user-centered policies in government. This project is part of the Digital Service Collaborative at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, which is strengthening the network of data and digital professionals in government through action-oriented research, tangible resources, and user-centered policies that can be shared and scaled throughout the network. 

This assessment tool is being tested now by members of the Deliver Better Outcomes working group in their policy processes. In true agile form, we will take what they learn to continue iterating on our tool. If you test it out in your own work, we want to hear about it so we can continue making improvements and providing useful resources.

Alberto Rodríguez Álvarez is a Beeck Center Student Analyst currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Georgetown University. Prior to joining the Beeck Center he was an advisor to the National Digital Strategy at the Office of the President in Mexico. Follow him at @arodalv.

Dana Chisnell is a founder-partner at Project Redesign at NCoC.org, co-founder of the Center for Civic Design and served as a “generalist problem solver” for the United States Digital Service in the White House. Follow her at @danachis. 

Vivian Graubard is the Senior Advisor for Public Interest Technology at New America. Prior to joining New America, Graubard worked at the White House under President Obama where she was a founding member of the United States Digital Service and also served as a senior advisor and chief of staff to the United States Chief Technology Officer.