Rosenfeld Media Civic Design 2022 Themes & Insights

Kara Kane
Rosenfeld Media
Published in
5 min readMay 11, 2022


By Ariel Kennan, Kara Kane and Sarah Brooks

Civic Design Conference 2022

The next Civic Design Conference takes place virtually November 16–18, 2022. It’s a global gathering of people interested in design in the public sector. Our call for presentations is open now until Wednesday, June 1 at 11:59pm ET. We look forward to learning about your ideas via our Call for Presentations.

In order to help support you in developing content, we recently surveyed the Civic Design Community. The survey has directly informed our three conference themes and we hope that it sparks ideas that resonate for you.

A screenshot of the Mural board where the curators analyzed the survey responses.

At this year’s conference we want to engage with even more international speakers and attendees. We hope that by sharing our definition of civic design, we’ll invite more people into our community. We’ll also continue to evolve the definition together as more people join and the practice of civic design matures.

Defining Civic Design

Civic Design is about creating public value. It encompasses design across sectors working inside, with, or outside public institutions. It happens in community-led organizations, nonprofits, academia, government, or the private sector.

A subset of civic design is government design or gov design — design-minded people working in, for or with government. We focused much of the conversation on this part of the work at the 2021 Civic Design Conference, but look to include more perspectives in 2022. Globally, we’re seeing the public sector adopt design methods and hire designers in differing capacities at varying levels of government. In places like the UK, the civic design conversation is centered around design in government. Public services are largely delivered by government either at a national or local level, and there are around 1000 designers working in government. Japan now has a Chief Design Officer, the French government has a service to measure the quality of their digital services, the city of Bologna created the Civic Imagination Office to create ways to better engage citizens with public administration, and the government of Cyprus has created design roles and recently launched a service standard. In the US, local governments and the federal government have been hiring designers, with emerging practices at the state level. There is also a large opportunity in the delivery of public services by nonprofits that fill gaps from the public sector.

“Civic” means democracy, citizens, citizenship, place (city). In the civic design community we talk about residents, not just citizens, because not everyone using a public service is a citizen of the place running the service. While gov design and civic design both use co-design methods, civic design intentionally shifts the power to people to participate, co-design and co-produce.

We detail the themes that our research surfaced below:

Theme 1: The Decade Cycle: 10 years back, 10 years forward

What have we learned from the last 10 years? And what do the next 10 look like? How do we continue to break down silos and institutionalize design?

In the span of 10 years, what was once new and agile becomes bureaucratic and baked into the system. There can be a multitude of political shifts. Leadership changes cause rapid change in priority, growth, and direction. And the thing that was once new and experimental might not be the vehicle for change anymore — another reformation is needed.

The Civic Design community says that they are challenged by:

  • Shifting political priorities, and surviving through the political shifts
  • Evaluating and telling the story of the impact of civic design
  • Continuing to get buy-in for user-centered ways of working, and developing a service-mindset — understanding the services we deliver and what they are
  • Learning from others and past work in order to not duplicate efforts

Theme 2: Power Structures: Shifting how and by whom design gets done

Many civic designers work on a spectrum of “Design For/ Design With/ Design By” to fit the opportunity for influencing change. Some civic designers have been able to become the facilitators for communities designing their own solutions, while others are having to fight to engage the people who use and deliver the service they are working on. As these power structures continue to shift, how do civic designers navigate within their own organizations, communities, and field of practice to know when to employ the right methods? Where does design provide craft that is different from other types of expertise?

The Civic Design community says that they are challenged by:

  • Continuing to evangelize and institutionalize human-centered ways of working so there is more design literacy across roles and levels
  • Building design capacity within siloed organizations
  • Embedding priorities for accessibility, inclusion, and equity throughout the design process and in the implemented solutions
  • Sharing decision-making power throughout the design process
  • Navigating design work across multiple vendors

Theme 3: Balancing Time Horizons: Shifting entrenched systems while chipping away at near-term change

Many of us are working to make structural changes in entrenched systems that require long time horizons — sometimes generations. While we do this, we also want to make services work better for residents and citizens now. How do we balance toggling back and forth between the skills, mindsets, and methods needed across these two time horizons?

The Civic Design community says that they are challenged by:

  • Influencing change for big systemic issues; e.g. I have a lot of impact on specific product work but feel like there are too many problems bigger than me
  • Shifting massive entrenched systems (specifically government hiring) to become more human-centered

Ranked Content from the Civic Design Community Survey

We asked survey respondents to select topics that were most relevant to them, informed by topics from last year’s conference and what we’ve been hearing in the field.

The topics are listed below starting with most relevant:

  • Working with other disciplines including policy, program, technical, product, and legal: 15 responses
  • Best practices for stakeholder management: 11 responses
  • Focusing further on underrepresented perspectives, including more practitioners from Asian countries, African countries, and Indigenous cultures: 10 responses
  • Political polarization and how this affects citizen and resident services delivered by government: 10 responses
  • More rigorous ways to interrogate and mitigate harmful bias: 10 responses
  • Case studies of the civic design field: 10 responses
  • Climate crisis and life-centered design: 9 responses
  • Tools for deepening your craft as a designer: 8 responses
  • The great resignation or re-think about how we work and take care of ourselves: 8 responses
  • Emerging technologies and the ethics surrounding them: 6 responses
  • Ways to transition your career to civic design: 4 responses
  • Equitable pandemic recovery and continued COVID-19 whiplash: 2 responses

Join the community

Attribution: Web Vectors by Vecteezy
  • Sign up to join the Civic Design community to get an invite to our Slack channel and our monthly calls
  • Explore the newly updated Civic Design Library — a crowdsourced data set of civic design resources and case studies created by global practitioners working at the intersection of design and the public sector

We look forward to reading all the Call for Presentation submissions. If you have a question about your submission you can reach out to the community curators on Twitter: Ariel Kennan, Kara Kane, and Sarah Brooks or contact



Kara Kane
Rosenfeld Media

Design Ops at BT. Previously Community Lead for user-centred design at the Government Digital Service.