Case study 2023: Diane Pochard

Digital Transformation Lead, Department for Health and Social Care

Diane Pochard is Digital Transformation Lead working in the Transformation Directorate at the Department for Health and Social Care. Her role focuses on embedding human-centred design methods into policy-making processes to ensure the delivery of better outcomes for citizens and patients.

My main responsibilities in DHSC are identifying opportunities for change in policy and helping policy teams to deliver a service or a policy using human-centred design (HCD) methods. The main elements to the work I do are cultural change and tech transformation, through embedding empathy-based methods into ways of designing and delivering policy.

Being part of the CAPE Policy Fellows Network has contributed to my work in several ways.

The CAPE Fellowship has introduced me to academics in the mental health and policy evaluation sphere that helped me to uncover problems within the policy-making process, such as barriers to implementation at a local level. A crucial outcome was co-producing research on ‘Mental health in a migration crisis’ with Professor Simon Deakin and Dr Adam Coutts along with representatives from the United Nations and International NGOs. This work provided policy recommendations for the design of front-line services for refugees, asylum seekers and local populations at risk in the UK, and was featured on Channel 4 news.

The value of the programme was that it opened up new avenues of collaboration and networks.

The connections I made through the Fellowship opened up a lot of new opportunities and rich insights into policy challenges. The diversity of people I met with was also important, as it gave me a different perspective and enriched my critical thinking and understanding of how policies in one area impact and influence the design of policy in another. For example, the asylum application process and how this impacts the mental health of refugees.

As part of my Fellowship, I had an interesting visit to Nottingham University where several academics were experienced in HCD, specifically from an engineering perspective. The Cambridge visit enabled me to create useful policy and knowledge links that I was able to use in my day job. I came with a range of questions on impact evaluation of HCD and gained additional dimensions to my questions.

The Fellowship and having access to the right academic experts, has led to a better understanding of the linkages between diverse policies and how they operate on-the -ground.

A meeting with Professor Nathan Crilly was particularly useful because his approach was to ask how we talk about these different methods – design thinking, systems thinking – without the dogma. In particular, he looked at how we could make HCD methods more practical, and what kinds of skills people gain when they are trained in these methods. He also shared initial findings of his current research which was directly applicable to my work – this more pragmatic approach was incredibly refreshing. Professor Crilly kindly agreed to give a talk about his research to colleagues as part of a collaboration with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. On top of the high attendance to the event, feedback was overwhelmingly positive and further engagement has been requested to bring his insights to inform transformation initiatives.

My meeting with Professor Dennis Grube was also particularly enlightening. I came with a question on the evaluation of policy-making methods; Dennis’ research is about the decision-making processes in policy, and the myriad of compromises and trade-offs which lead to decisions. It was interesting to take a step back and understand Dennis’ perspective, and question how we can evaluate a particular decision when decision-making is so opaque. He also put an emphasis on the often-ignored role of institutional memory. For example, during the pandemic a lot went wrong but there were some things that we got right. The question is how to keep a record of what we learned; this is not just about documentation, but also about keeping people in post for long enough to transmit skills, understandings and intuitions that are developed through time. This informed and enriched my thinking on policy impact evaluation e.g. how do we measure success in the context of our current civil service rewards systems and high turnover of role-holders.

Overall, my Fellowship provided me ground for deep reflections through giving me a more diverse view and perspective of what works and what does not in policy. I have a greater understanding of how successful policy really requires understanding local contexts and the collaboration of a diverse range of stakeholders from ministers, policy teams, academics, and civil society to those on the receiving end of policy.