More room for design thinking at Justice and Security

Design-based thinking is increasingly playing a role in policy making at the Ministry of Justice and Security. So said Dick Schoof, Secretary General of the Ministry, during the Embassy of Safety conference in the Natlab Auditorium in Eindhoven. “The way designers think helps us to look at policy in a different way. After all, policy is also a form of design,” said the top official. “Designers arrive at solutions through a completely different process. We want to give impetus to this way of thinking in our department. After all, you need forward thinkers in a ministry.”

Type Update
Published on 7 November 2023
Part of Embassy of Safety
More room for design thinking at Justice and Security
Part of Embassy of Safety

Schoof was a guest during a packed programme that focused on this year’s theme: ‘Making (amends)’. You can interpret that term in two ways, said moderator and creative lead of the Embassy Tabo Goudswaard at the start of the conference. “How are you going to fix mistakes? But also: how do you make something the right way? We believe in creative power and the way in which creative professionals work together.” 

According to Schoof, the current number of designers at the ministry is still relatively small. “We shouldn’t overdo it. I’m talking about some eight to ten designers that we employ in our department. That is out of a total of 120,000 employees. These are still small numbers, but I see them as bright spots.” 

The top official indicated that design-based thinking is necessary in a society that is changing rapidly. “Our society is now very different from, say, 25 years ago. It is therefore questionable whether all policies are equipped to cope with all the changes. You always have to be thinking about what you can change to become better prepared for the future.”

‘It's important that they get a larger platform. That is also one of the reasons why I am here at Dutch Design Week. This way of working should be more widely recognised, also outside of the Hague.’

Complex issues

Schoof praised the Makers Collective, the designers who have united within the ministry. “They are working together to give the department a push. It’s important that they get a larger platform. That is also one of the reasons why I am here at Dutch Design Week. This way of working should be more widely recognised, also outside of the Hague.” 

The fact that design-based thinking is not automatically integrated into a department emerged from a question from Caroline Hummels, professor of Design and Theory for Transformative Qualities at TU/e. She asked Schoof what he thought about the conflicting nature of design-based thinking, in which there must also be room for error. “What I hear from people within ministries and in government in general is that there is a culture of accountability,” Hummels said. “That people don’t dare to fail.”

Schoof agreed that this approach is ingrained in the system. “We are not in an environment where it is appreciated that maybe nine out of ten things don’t work out. While this is one of the characteristics of innovation. You can’t approach security as an issue in which you strive for total security either. It is a management issue. In addition, issues are often incredibly complex and involve many players. There is also a tension between politics and society, which sometimes wants simple answers to these types of complex issues.”

The story of victim and perpetrator

Before Dick Schoof was our guest, the presence of ‘experience experts’ Jordi and Gwen made an impression. Jordi was convicted of committing seven robberies. For those crimes, he was detained between the ages of 19 and 22. Gwen is the victim of a knifepoint robbery in her own home. Jordi and Gwen sought out victims and the perpetrator via Perspectief Herstelbemiddeling, an organisation that connects victims and perpetrators of crimes, accidents and other major events. That contact helped, the two emphasized, both from their own perspective. “I wanted to hear what it did to the victims,” said Jordi. “I also wanted to let people know that what I did was not personal.” For Jordi, contact was an important part of the straight path he is now on. 

This approach also helped Gwen. “It’s almost like Stockholm syndrome. As a victim you may have many questions about and for the perpetrator: Who is he actually? And why did he do it? What is his story? I believe that when treating anxiety, you should actually face your fear. It would help if it became clearer that this way of helping really works.”

Greetje de Haan, policy officer at Perspectief Herstelbemiddeling, explained that where the meeting between victim and perpetrator is concerned there is plenty of scientific research showing that getting in touch with each other helps in processing what happened. “Perpetrators are often also victims in some way. In many cases, punishment alone is not the solution for them.”

Make amends

That there are plenty of great examples in the field of security and justice where the power of making is deployed was demonstrated by Hannah van Luttervelt (designer at the Department of Extraordinary Affairs), Nina Timmers (strategic designer at the Judicial Institutions Department and member of the Makers Collective) and Emy Bensdorp, social designer at the Dutch Probation Service, also member of the Makers Collective). Van Luttervelt talked about the project De Lobby in which young people are prepared and counselled before, during and after their release. “About 55 percent of detained young people recidivate within two years,” said Van Luttervelt. “There is a lot they have to deal with when they are released.” She showed three of the eight pilots running under the guise of The Lobby. In one of the pilots, young people are introduced to forms of aftercare as a kind of tourist. “What we consistently hear from young people is that autonomy is very important to them.”

Timmers showed how young people who are detained struggle with self-motivation. The project Kamertijd (Inside time) helps them overcome that difficulty at times when the youngsters are in their rooms and no other programme is offered. “It’s crucial that it’s a co-creation with the young people themselves.” 

Bensdorp explained a project that examines how community service orders can be used in a better way. There are approximately 50,000 weeks of community service that need to be carried out every year, she explained. “We can make much better use of this time than just litter picking. But what is ‘something good’? And how can you make something right? That is what we are asking ourselves here with the help of visitors to DDW.” Bensdorp called on visitors to DDW to come and vote on how those working weeks should be used at a ballot box of the Dutch Probation Service, where 50,000 red coins can be distributed.

Panel - credits:

Panel discussion

After the break, a panel discussion examined the differences in the way of working of designers active within and outside governments. The topic of discussion was also the cultural change within the Ministry of Justice and Security. Nadiye Çakir, who works there as a strategic designer, made the comparison between marathon runners and sprinters. “In the ministry, we often take a long approach and sometimes we are like marathon runners. It’s great for us to be able to work with design agencies that are more used to sprints.” 

According to Annemieke van der Laan, responsible for HR transformation practices within KPMG, this collaboration between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the department helps. “It’s certainly great to see how designers can contribute to solving ‘wicked problems’. As a consultant I am used to working towards an end point. But designers look at issues very differently. There is a huge staff shortage at the ministry. Simply launching a new campaign for new staff won’t help, for instance.”  

During the panel discussion, Hummels said designers help transform old practices. “The power of design is that we make things experienceable. As designers, we should always try to learn and evaluate. Literally, by asking: ‘Where is the value?’” 

In this drive for innovation and change, it is important to see and achieve small goals, Çakir indicated. “Even if you just do one small action in a different way, that is already innovation. You can feel cultural change, but it is often not easy to measure.” 

Hummels argued for more vulnerability in the way of working and interacting with each other. “Vulnerability goes one step further than humanity. Vulnerability creates space for a completely different kind of openness to each other. At the same time, that also means that we have to develop more love for unfinished things.” 

While we were discussing all these different perspectives on rules, an intriguing question emerged: "Do we see rules as external constraints imposed on us or as agreements that we make and participate in collectively?
— Myrthe Krepel, designer

What are rules? 

That view resonated with Myrthe Krepel’s presentation that the performative designer gave at the end about following, breaking and making rules. Because what are rules anyway? Are they good? Can they be better? Or even more fun. Krepel gave an energetic explanation about Het Kamertje (The little room), an interactive performance that could also be seen and experienced at DDW. “There can be all kinds of things behind rules that we are not aware of,” Krepel said. At Het Kamertje, only those who questioned the rules and did not blindly follow them were ‘rewarded’, as it were. According to Krepel, ‘While we were discussing all these different perspectives on rules, an intriguing question emerged: “Do we see rules as external constraints imposed on us or as agreements that we make and participate in collectively?” That is to say, are we a kind of co-creator of this structure or do we feel that we’re just subject to the commands of others? This goes to the heart of many of the current conflicts and crises in which we find ourselves.

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