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Know features from the past

There are very few policies or services that are absolutely new. In most cases, there is a succession of things that have been tried in the past. They will have been designed and built to respond their own particular time and context. Some of these will have been successes and some will have been failures. Thinking about each of these predecessors as set of features and considering how valuable they were, will help you decide which types of features might be most useful to use in your design.

When to do it

Try doing this before you start designing the features of your policy or service solution in the activity in generate ideas to test.

How to do it

You should:

  • list all the policies and services that have operated in your problem space in the past

  • set out the features of each policy or service

  • rate how effective each individual feature was

  • reorganise the information from all the policies and services into groups of common features

  • rank the types of feature from most effective to least effective

  • consider what combination of features might have most powerful effect on your problem

  • consider the smallest number of features that will achieve the outcome you want

Try this activity

This activity will help you identify the features that other people have used in their design of similar services or policies and how effective they were.

Time, space and materials

  • 45 minutes

  • any space with a wall, sticky notes, paper, and pens for a face-to-face event

  • or for a remote event use a video conference and online whiteboard that will take the place of the wall and enable participants to add and move online ‘sticky notes’

People to include

  • subject matter experts on your problem space (long experience is best)

  • your team

  • any number of people

  • a facilitator to give the instructions


The purpose of the activity is to understand which features of similar, historical policies or services were effective and might be reused.

  1. List each policy or service that has operated in the problem space in the past. Write one per sticky note. You have 2 minutes.

  2. Stick your notes to the wall and remove duplicates.

  3. Divide participants into small groups and assign some services or policies to each group.

  4. Under each policy or service list its the features. Features might describe things like: people, processes, technology, money, time, products, decisions, governance. Think about the headline characteristics. For example, different recruitment service might have different features like:

    • “provide advice for employers about how to recruit new staff” or “find and select new staff for employers”;

    • “interview groups of people in a workshop” or “interview one-to-one using a video conference”

    • “charge a flat fee per person” or “charge as percentage commission of salary”

  5. Write each feature on a separate note. You have 10 minutes.

  6. Rotate each group to the next set of polices or service for a further 5 minutes to review the features and add more where needed.

  7. Keep rotating the groups until everyone has reviewed each policy or service.

  8. Now everyone should individually revisit each policy or service and vote for which feature was most effective. You have 3 votes for each policy or service, and you can distribute your votes how you chose. You might give one vote each for the best three features or you might vote three times for one excellent feature. Make your vote by putting dot on the sticky note. You have 3 minutes.

  9. Now reorganise the features so they are grouped by common types of feature.

  10. Add up the votes for each common feature group and rank them from most effective to least effective.

  11. You now have a ranked map of past features.


  • You might expand or contract the timings or size of groups based on how many predecessor policies or services that you identify

Next steps

Further reading

Find out more about this topic by searching the internet for:

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