Understanding and sharing the problem… finding opportunities

DesignCitiyChatThis photo shows a key moment for me when finally after 5 years of working on Service Design Leeds – Thinks & Drinks, Leeds Service Jam and Leeds GovJam… Tom Riordan, CEO at Leeds City Council walked through the door of Leeds GovJam with his colleagues to find out about service design and jamming. Matt Edgar and I have been running SDLeeds on a voluntary basis, creating a regional service design network, bringing the latest thinking on service design and nurturing a community to explore service design by doing and learning together. When Tom and his colleagues walked into the room, we had no set expectations… but were delighted a conversation could begin.

I have worked inhouse in large organisations and independently as a freelance consultant, something I’ve learned across all client situations is – the relationship with your client is critical. It’s important to work closely with clients, to ensure what they are asking for, is indeed what they need. Digital DWP and Leeds City Council attended this years Leeds GovJam on the hunt for new ways of working to enable them in the development of services whilst experiencing enormous cuts in funding. Small incremental change is not going to be the soloution, the time has come for more bold and radical approaches. I know service design thinking can help. As a service design practitioner and trainer, I am looking for opportunities to apply my knowledge and skills in people centered service design and service jamming.

When considering service design and service jamming I have asked myself two questions… how do I know this is what these clients need? and how do the clients know this is what they need? The answer to both is actually another question… do we each understand the problem/challenge that needs to be faced? I’m not going to sell clients my favourite design process/tools, if it’s not going to get them the results they need. And inturn, I don’t want clients to waste their time trying out high investment solutions, when they’re not quite sure what the actual problem is.

So is it possibly time for service design practitioners, (inhouse and externally) and service design commissioners to sit down around the table and explore the challenge/problem together, to discover how to respond to the GIANT cuts heading our way in the city’s public services?

Understanding the problem is the first job of any design practitioner/person planning a service redesign… it enables solutions that are worked on, to meet defined known and needed criteria, before then testing out in prototype form. The problem for Leeds City Council at face value seems to be losing enormous amounts of funding and cutting back on spending. My first question is then… what do you really need to deliver? what is essential? Then my next question would be – What services do you have now? Who are they for and who/how to provide that service? Auditing all services on a basic functional level would hopefully show where there are overlaps of need/service provision/staff capability. That then gives you an opportunity to merge and cross purpose services losing many extra costs. I wouldn’t run ahead without asking – how did we use to do things and what really worked and was efficient in the past – as cuts have slowly increased in social care over the past 20 years a lot of good practice and cost saving opportunities have been lost. Speaking to service managers on the ground level, with many years experience can reveal high value insights.

As well as starting to work/partner with service design and innovation practitioners I would also consider skilling up the staff inside organisations and services to use design tools and techniques themselves. Many people inside organisations are making design decisions everyday without having had any design training or support. There is an opportunity to equip the people inside organisations to work more effectively, learn together, share insights across the organisation and solve problems from the inside and not just wait for some design super hero to arrive on their steely charger. I’m sorry but the bad news is that designer/consultant/shiny agency does not exist.

So I have a hunch that together with my service design/jamming colleagues we can help Tom Riordan and his team to look at their public services challenge, we’d be lean, agile, MVP and full of enthusiasm. But I think first it’s time to talk to find out more.


About Kathryn Grace

Service Design and Innovation Consultant
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1 Response to Understanding and sharing the problem… finding opportunities

  1. Pingback: Leeds GovJam 2015 – the write-ups! « Leeds GovJam

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